Can you get a great workout with only one dumbbell? You bet you can.
You're obviously limited by weight and exercise variation, so view these as positive constraints by selecting the "most value for time" exercises. Also, use a workout format that's challenging but also keeps morale high with a descending rep scheme. Try this:
- For time: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
- Time cap: 25 minutes
Do ten reps of each exercise with no rest between them, then nine, then eight, until you hit one rep of each. See how fast you can get it done. Set a time cap of 25 minutes and stop there even if you're not finished completing all the reps.
- Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat (L)
- Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat (R)
- Goblet Squat
- Z-Press (L)
- Z-Press (R)
- Sit-Ups (feet anchored around dumbbell)
- Renegade Row (L)
- Renegade Row (R)
- Close-Grip Push-Up (with hands on dumbbells)
The rear-foot elevated split squat is the best exercise to train legs when you only have a single dumbbell. Immediately following it with the goblet squat will provide a serious leg pump. The Z-press is one of my favorite overhead pressing variations and the most challenging way to press a dumbbell.
After the Z-press, immediately go to sit-ups. I chose the sit-up because it almost serves as a rest period and allows you to keep moving, which improves the flow of the workout.
Remain on the ground and transition to renegade rows. I love this exercise because it challenges your lats and core stability. Take a wide stance with your feet and keep your shoulders as square as possible. Easier said than done, trust me.
Finally, finish each round with a close-grip strict push-up with your hands on the ends of the dumbbell. The push-up is a far more effective stimulus than a single-arm dumbbell bench press or floor press if you only have access to a moderate to light weight.
This simple dumbbell-only workout will get you the most value for time. It hits every major muscle and has an inherent conditioning effect. Get after it!