9 Ways to Substitute Dumbbells in Your Favorite Exercises

We’re big fans of functional pieces of equipment like medicine balls, kettlebells, and sandbags here at 12 Minute Athlete, but we know that not all of you have these at home.

And even if you work out at a conventional gym, they don’t always have kettlebells or medicine balls, and chances are that you won’t find a sandbag there.

In that case, a simple set of dumbbells can successfully replace a medicine ball, kettlebell or even a sandbag in many of the exercises we do. Dumbbells are a great investment for any home gym, and we’ve never been to a gym that didn’t have at least a few sets of dumbbells laying around. Even most hotel gyms these days tend to have a few.

Here are nine exercises that we typically do with other workout equipment, but that you can easily do with dumbbells as well:

Front Squats

Front squats are usually done with a kettlebell or a medicine ball, but dumbbells will work well for them too.

How to do them: Pick up a dumbbell in each hand and hold them at your chest. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward. Engage your core, pull your shoulder blades back, bend your knees and squat as low as possible. Make sure your knees are over your toes, but not beyond them. Keep the weight against your chest all the time. Squeeze your butt as you stand back up.

High Pulls

For high pulls, it’s usually easiest to use kettlebells because they have a handle. If you don’t have a kettlebell, you can do a similar exercise with two dumbbells.

How to do them: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip and let the dumbbells hang by your sides. Slightly bend your knees, keeping your back straight. In one movement, stand up by straightening your hips and knees, and at the same time, pull the dumbbells up to your shoulders. Return to the starting position and repeat.


Although we usually use a medicine ball for jackknives, dumbbells work well for this exercise as well.

How to do them: Lie flat on the floor, legs straight. Holding a dumbbell with both hands, extend your arms overhead. Tighten the abs and bring your legs and arms up at the same time, keeping your knees as straight as possible and trying to get the dumbbell as close to your feet as you can. Return to the starting position and repeat.

If this is too tough at first, try raising only one leg at a time.

Russian Twists

This is a great core exercise that we usually do with a medicine ball, but can easily be done with one or two dumbbells as well.

How to do them: Sit down and hold one or two dumbbells in your hands. Lift your feet off the ground, then twist your torso to the right and touch the ground with the dumbbell. Immediately twist left and let the weight touch the ground on your left.

To make this exercise a bit easier, try crossing your feet. If that’s too much as well, simply keep your feet on the ground.

Squat Thrusts

Although we often do squat thrusts with a medicine ball or sandbag, these can be substituted with two dumbbells as well.

How to do them: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Bend your elbows and hold the dumbbells at your shoulders. Do a full squat, then stand up explosively as you extend your arms overhead. Return to the starting position by bringing the weights back to your shoulders as you squat at the same time. Try not to pause at any point and tie all the movements together into one smooth motion.

Turkish Get Ups

Turkish get ups are usually done with kettlebells. Here’s how you can do the same exercise with a dumbbell.

How to do them: Lie on floor on your back, holding a dumbbell in your right hand and right arm straight up. The right knee should be bent and foot on the ground; left leg and arm and leg should be extended and on the floor.

Start by placing your left hand down and pushing your upper body off the floor. Then lift your hips off the floor and pull the left leg under your body. Place the left knee down, then stand up to your both legs, keeping the right arm still overhead.

To return, do everything in the reverse order. Place your left knee down, then place the left hand down. Straighten the left leg outward onto the ground and lower your upper body to the starting position, right arm up.

Repeat on the second side.

Weighted Burpees

Weighted burpees are usually done with a medicine ball or sandbag, but dumbbells are great for them as well.

How to do them: Start with a dumbbell in each hand and place them down in front of you (still holding them). Kick the feet back into a push up position and lower your chest towards the ground. Press your chest up, jump your feet towards your hands and jump up. Press your arms overhead and repeat.


You can do this exercise with pretty much any kind of weight—a medicine ball, kettlebell, sandbag, or one or two dumbbells.

How to do them: Stand with your feet about hips-width or slightly wider apart, holding a dumbbell or dumbbells in front of your torso. Bend your knees slightly and bring the dumbbell towards your right foot. Stand up and lift the dumbbell diagonally across your body to left shoulder. Repeat on the other side.


Although swings are usually done with kettlebells, you can do a similar exercise with dumbbells. Just be aware you probably will need to use a lighter weight since kettlebells have a handle and dumbbells are a little more awkward to hold.

How to do them: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart holding a dumbbell vertically with both hands at your waist. Make sure your arms are straight and you’re holding the dumbbell in the middle, not the end. Bend your knees slightly, swing the dumbbell back between your legs, then thrust your hips forward so that your arms come forward and the dumbbell comes to about waist or shoulder high. Let the dumbbell come back to the starting position and repeat, stringing the movements together.

Try these exercises out in your workouts and let us know how you liked them. Happy training!

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1 thought on “9 Ways to Substitute Dumbbells in Your Favorite Exercises”

  1. can you check your description against your pictures on the Turkish get ups? It seems, when I read it, that the pic shows left knee bent with right arm up holding weight… but description says right leg/right arm? I’m confused…
    Love your site and encourage my students to use It!


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