There’s nothing more frustrating than heading to the gym all pumped for your workout, only to get there and discover it’s jammed to the rafters. Whether it’s because fellow lifters are using the dumbbells you want or they’ve been left in the furthest corners of the cardio section, you can’t always guarantee you’ll find the pair you need. But a busy gym needn’t be the end of the road in your journey towards a leaner, stronger and more impressive physique.

The solution? A one-dumbbell routine that hits every muscle in your all-important core, allowing you to blitz your obliques, abs and back with a handful of carefully-selected moves. And if worse comes to worst and all the dumbbells are in use, you can do this workout with a weight plate or kettlebell.

How to do 
the workout

Do the following five moves in order, performing 15 reps of a lift then moving on to the next one without rest. After the final move, rest for 60 seconds, then repeat. Do six circuits in total. Make the circuit easier with a lighter dumbbell, or harder with a heavier one.


Beginner: 8kg
Intermediate: 12kg
Advanced: 16kg

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Hold a dumbbell in both hands. Bend from the hips to lower the weight between your legs, then push your hips forward to raise it up to shoulder height. Reverse back down to the start.

Why? This is a take on the classic kettlebell swing that offers all the same benefits. The hip hinge that forms the basis of this move is one of the core foundational bodyweight movements that you should work on mastering before beginning any weight training programme.

Side bend

Stand tall, holding the dumbbell in one hand. Keeping your chest up, lower the weight – this will hit your obliques. Complete all the reps, then switch hands and repeat.

Why? Most abs routines veer too far down the crunch route, leading to an imbalance whereby the obliques are not developed enough. This exercise is one of the best for targeting the latter. Strong obliques provide a foundation of rotational strength, vital for those who play contact sports or are in physical/manual occupations.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Obliques Exercises For A Strong Core


Squat, holding the weight in both hands to one side. Raise it across your body to head height, then back down. Do all the reps, then switch sides.

Why? Another excellent oblique-targeting move, this also improves your body’s co-ordination and core strength because you need to resist rotating the torso.


Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent, holding the dumbbell to your chest with both hands. Use your upper abs to raise your torso, then lower slowly to the start.

Why? The crunch is the true test of fundamental core strength and provides great stimulation to the abdominals. The only way to increase its difficulty is to add weight, and the dumbbell crunch does this perfectly. Pick a weight you can perform eight to ten reps with, and initiate through the abs muscles themselves, not the hip flexors.

RECOMMENDED: Crunch Exercises for Building a Six-Pack

Russian twist

Start at the top of the crunch but with your feet off the ground. Rotate back and forth, keeping your abs braced. A twist to one side then the other counts as one rep.

Why? The elevated position of the feet in this exercise places enormous strain on both the upper and lower abs, which are typically a tricky area to stimulate. The twisting movement involves the obliques also which you will find invaluable when stabilising the body on heavy, compound lifts.


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