A busy girl’s three-move total-body dumbbell workout

You don’t need to spend hours and hours at the gym to get in a good workout. And I’m living proof of that. Over the past few weeks, the time that I’ve had available to squeeze in a decent sweat session has dwindled significantly, as I’ve transitioned from working in a gym to a full-time role behind a desk each day. What that means is I’ve had to be creative and efficient with how I train — compound movements targeting the whole body are the way to go in my book.

A busy girl's three-move total-body dumbbell workout by A Lady Goes West

Before I go to the gym for a weights workout, I always take a few minutes to write out a plan in my phone. And I’ve come up with a few routines lately that are absolutely worth sharing. In fact, I even put my husband, Dave, through this particular workout, and he was one sweaty mess of a fan. Here’s what you need: 

  • 1 set of heavy dumbbells. (I did this workout once using a set of 15 lbs. and once using a set of 20 lbs. but even just one set of 10 lbs. will do.)
  • Optional: A bench. (But all of these moves can be done on the floor)

A busy girl’s 3-move total-body workout

Before you begin this workout, or any workout, you should warm up your body a little bit. In order to get warm, you can do some incline walking on the treadmill without holding on and pumping your arms (maybe 5 percent incline at 4.0 mph), or you can do some jumping jacks or dynamic warm-ups, like arm circles, high-knee runs and bodyweight lunges. It’s good to spend about five minutes getting warm and also doing a little foam rolling to get the blood flowing nicely to your muscles. Once warm, here’s the plan …

Three-move total-body dumbbell workout by A Lady Goes West

The moves explained with links to form demonstrations …

  • Dumbbell chest press with legs extended at a 45-degree angle: Lay on your back on a bench or on the floor. Extend your legs out and up to a 45-degree angle. Keep them super straight. Before you begin the upper-body work, brace your core and keep your lower back down on the ground/bench. If you feel your lower back arching and raising, then you should bring your legs up a little higher or bend your knees. To initiate the upper-body work, bend your elbows out at 90-degree angles and lower the dumbbells, keeping even with the the mid-line of your chest. Your elbows should stop at the level of the bench or the floor. Squeeze your chest in as you raise your arms back up. Repeat. Legs stay in the air in place until you finish the set.
  • Burpee with a plank jack to bicep curl to shoulder press: Squat down, put your dumbbells on the ground. Jump your legs back into a plank. Brace your core so your body stays long and strong during the plank. Jump your legs out wide in a jack, then back into the set position, and don’t let your butt or hips raise into the air. After completing two plank jacks, jump your feet up and wide back into a squat. Stand up. Do a bicep curl lifting dumbbells up in front of your shoulders, then push dumbbells up to the sky for a shoulder press. Return dumbbells to set and repeat. Make sure you keep your elbows close to your sides in the bicep curl, and brace your core in the burpee and plank jack. 
  • Deadlift to upright row: Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs. Feet are hip width. Keeping your back straight and shoulders pulled back, tip from the hip and take the dumbbells down the shins, brushing closely along the front of the leg and stopping just above your shoes. As you stand up, squeeze your glutes and keep your back straight as you return to the set position. Then let the elbows lead for the upright row, bringing the dumbbells to lower chest. Make sure your shoulders stay back and down. Repeat the entire sequence. Feet remain hip width and still throughout.

That’s it! Complete 10 reps, shoot for three sets, and you’re done. Once finished, be sure to stretch, revisit the foam roller, and then you can go on about your day.

And don’t let the amount of moves fool you. With the addition of having your legs in the air for the chest work and upping the cardio factor with the plank jacks, this combination of moves is killer. 

*Disclaimer: While I’m a certified personal trainer, I’m not your trainer. This workout works for me, but it may not be right for you. Please proceed with caution, and consult your doctor before beginning a new training program. Safety first, friends!

No time? Try this 3-move full-body workout with weights #FitFluential #fitness #workouts Click To Tweet

For more fitness inspo, find other short routines on my Workouts page.

Questions of the day

What’s your favorite dumbbell exercise?

Do you work out in the mornings or evenings?



  1. I love using dumbbells. And these are three great moves, burpees with a plank jack, bicep curls and overhead press are killers. I am also a fan of writing out my workouts before hand as well. It definitely helps to have a plan!

  2. Thanks for sharing – I’m saving this for when I’m pressed for time but still want to get in a good workout. I usually workout in the morning because I find it starts my day off on the right note, I make better food choices throughout the day because I don’t want to negate all of my hard work and if something comes up in the evening I’ve already gotten in my workout ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m a fan of compound movements as well! One of my favorites is a single-leg deadlift to an upright row (trying to remain on one leg while doing the row).

    Enjoy your day – nice to know we’re halfway through the work week already!

    1. Yes, I have definitely been trying to get my workouts done in the morning, outside of the evening that I teach. SUCH a better start to the day. And that single leg deadlift to upright row sounds killer == I’ll give it a try. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great day, Catherine!

  3. I love working out with DBs! I think my fave exercise is some kind of combo move… like a Renegade Row in a plank to a pushup, jump up to a squat and shoulder press!

  4. I just hurt thinking about the burpee > plank jack > bicep curl > OH Press… Ouch! I like to workout in the middle of the day… I don’t have oodles of stamina first thing, so when I do take AM classes, it’s something low impact like Pilates or PiYo.

      1. DANGG I AM SORE! I did this yesterday with 15 pound dumbbells… ouch! The burpees hurt so good. I’m not the greatest at the jumping back into plank, so I tend to step a little back then jump the rest of the way. Thanks for an awesome workout!

  5. Burpees get me every. single. time. They make me so dizzy. Any way to modify that doesn’t include a burpee but still gets your heart rate up? Thanks, Ashley!

  6. That second move sounds like a doozy. Can’t wait to give this a try. I love the deadlift>upright row combo. I also like to add on a tricep extension at the end, but not with 20 lb dumbells haha.

  7. I love different variations of dead lifts and random bouts of cardio thrown in with strength training. I workout when I get home from work but I prefer a late morning or afternoon workout because ive already had a good amount of fuel and water and have the most energy!

  8. Iโ€™ve really wanted to get into my strength training more, and I feel like this would be the perfect way to transition into it. I just did my first arm workout (in like a year, yikes!), and it killed. I want to try this one out soon!

  9. Love this! I’ve been trying to copy Barry’s style compound moves into my twice weekly weight sessions, and the press + leg lift is one of them. I am totally going to incorporate the other two. I did JUST glutes and hips yesterday one single move at a time, and it was so boring. Compound is the way to go!

  10. I used to be an early morning workout person. My youngest son is such a light sleeper and is in his lightest sleep around 4:30-5am so any sounds will wake him up, including me tip toeing down the stairs. So sadly I have become an afternoon workout person which I absolutely hate. But better late than never right?!

  11. Hi Ashley, thanks for sharing your views! I really like to do work out hard in the morning as it will give me energy for the rest of the day. After reading your blog I got 3 move total body dumbbell workout. I will surely include this workout also in my daily excises.

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