The Best Core Exercises with Dumbbells

Dumbbell ab exercises are some of the best ab exercises available to add into your workout routines. If your looking to build better core musculature these dumbbell exercises are worth giving a try.

10 min read
Sean Klein
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
Last updated

Get weekly roundups of the best training tools in your inbox, every Monday.

No spam – just thoughtful training advice

In This Resource
  • How To Use Dumbbell Core Exercises
  • 1. Start With Light Weight And Progress
  • 2. Use A Good Variety of Movement Patterns
  • 3. Add Into Your Full Body Resistance Exercise Routine
  • Sample Dumbbell Abs Workout
  • The Best Weighted Core Exercises with Dumbbells
  • More Dumbbell Exercises
  • Common Questions
  • What exercises work you’r core the most?
  • What Weightlifting Is Best For Abs?
  • How Do I Get Abs With Dumbbells?

Do you have a few dumbbells lying around at home that you’re not sure how to use in your core work? Or maybe you are just tired of sit-ups and planks and are looking for a bit of variety in your core training. These are a selection the best dumbbell core exercises you can add into your training to build a strong and robust core musculature. Don’t forget to give the weighted core circuit below a try!

How To Use Dumbbell Core Exercises

1. Start With Light Weight And Progress

When using weighted core exercises, including those with dumbbells, like seen in the list below, it’s really important to start with weights where you are able to perform the repetitions with great technique. Using weights that are too challenging initially will prevent you from doing the exercises correctly, meaning you will not get the desired adaptation.

Take the Tall Plank DB Pass Through as an example, if this is done with a heavy weight, the likelihood is that it will be done fast and with little control. This will engage the core a lot less than if you used a light weight whilst moving slowly with control, keeping the hips in a fixed position.

Once you've mastered the weight your using then you can consider adding weight slowly over time to different core exercises, this is the principle of progressive overload , that if applied successfully to your core development, can help you drastically improve the strength of the core musculature over time.

2. Use A Good Variety of Movement Patterns

Dumbbells can be used to target a number of movement patterns that target the core, these include, Rotation ( DB full moon ), Resisting Lateral Flexion ( DB Single Arm Farmers March ) and Anti-Extension ( BD Pull Over )

This will ensure that you’r building a well rounded and strong trunk that will be ready for whatever life or sport throws at you. The core is built up a very wide variety of muscle groups and the ability to work in these different movement patterns will allow you to target all the different muscles of the core rather than just developing the abdominal muscles.

3. Add Into Your Full Body Resistance Exercise Routine

These core exercises are great to incorporate into your full body resistance training programme. They can be put in bi-sets or tri-sets or at the end of sessions. Either way adding a variety of different core segments into your training week will be an effective and efficient way to progress your core training.

When designing your full body training routine, make sure that you are considering the other exercises in the bi or tri set so that the core exercise selected doesn’t create to much unwanted fatigue. For example if you’re working on a vertical pull exercise like Pull Ups, don’t programme a DB Farmers March as it will overload your grip strength which will take away from your ability to perform the primary exercise.

Sample Dumbbell Abs Workout

Complete 3 rounds

1. DB Single Arm Farmers March

Complete 14 repetitions

2. Tall Plank DB Pass Through

Complete 12 repetitions

3. DB Full Moon

Complete 8 repetitions

The Best Weighted Core Exercises with Dumbbells

The DB Crush grip cross chop is one of the most effective rotation exercises that can be done in the gym. This exercise is great for both athletics and general populations a like. Put an emphasis on the speed at which this is performed, you want to be fast yet controlled, never letting the momentum of the dumbbell pull your body out of position. As we are looking to move with some speed do not put too much emphasis on the weight used, use a weight that you can move confidently.

The DB full moon is a very interesting variation as it is both a rotation and a resisting rotation exercises. As you lift the dumbbell up overhead you are working your rotational properties and as you control its desent your working the obliques and core through resisting rotation. The speed at which this exercise is performed is very important, it needs to be controlled, performed slowly allowing the weight of the dumbbell to pull on the core musculature. Also the slight bend in the arms is crucial to not generating too much fatigue in the upper body. This weighted core exercise is used to develop the core musculature, not generate fatigue in the upper body.

The DB single arm farmers march is a resisting rotation core exercise that requires a lot of stability in the hips and will create adaptations in the obliques. The key part of this exercise is when you transition from one foot to the other, you should have all the weight on the foot staying on the floor before you lift the other leg. It needs to be performed slowly with control, if you rapidly change the leg taking the weight you will not work hip stability and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.

The double DB farmers march is very similar to the single arm db farmers march but will put less emphasis on the obliques and more emphasis on the stability of the muscles in the hips. As the load is equal either side of the body the obliques will not be required to maintain a square position, unlike in the single leg version of this exercise.

The half kneeling db crush grip cross chop is an example of an excellent rotation exercise. Very similar to the standing version of the exercise, it need to be done with speed yet control. As we are working on rotation properties the shoulders can rotate throughout. Keeping a slight bend in the arms will be important for not generating to much fatigue in the upper body.

The tall plank DB pass through is one of my favourite weighted core exercises with a DB. It is a very difficult exercise as you will need to put a lot of emphasis on keeping the hips still. If you chose a weight that is too heavy for you, your hips will move and the effectiveness of the exercise will be lost. The exercise needs to be done with a create deal of tension and control throughout. The weight will pull on and attempt to rotate the body, the goal is to not let it move it.

The dumbbell pullover on floor is one of the best ways to target the anterior core through a weighted core exercise. The weight of the dumbbell will pull on the anterior core throughout the exercise, which is why the eccentric phase of the exercise should be done with a great deal of control. If you have mobility issues in the shoulders this exercise may be a poor selection as you will not be able to move through the range of motion required to create enough stimulus. That being said exercises like this can result in improved mobility over time.

More Dumbbell Exercises

Common Questions

What exercises work you’r core the most?

This is a tough question to answer, as all core exercises work your core and abdominals just in different ways. Exercises that don’t work the core is an easier way to answer this question. They key is to avoid rapid, instagram friendly core exercises like mountain climbers done very fast. If you find effective exercises that work all the different movement patterns for the core then you wont need the exercise that works it the “most”.

What Weightlifting Is Best For Abs?

For training the core musculature the best form of weightlifting is probably the powerlifts, being the squat, bench and deadlift. These are not specific to the core but require a great deal of core stabilisation to perform correctly.

How Do I Get Abs With Dumbbells?

You can get abs by with dumbbells by ensuring you have low body fat and consistently doing full body resistance training 3-5 times per week. Use a wide variety of movement patterns to train the abs.

If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you – based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle.

This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

Sean Klein


Programme is a workout app that plans every workout for you

Programme learns from your past workouts, training experience and available equipment to create your optimal workout plan that adapts to your progress.