How Long Does It Take for a Dumbbell Routine?

close-up of the hand of a woman holding a dumbbell

You only have so many hours in the day, so it's no wonder you're concerned about how much time your dumbbell routine is going to take from your day. Dumbbells can be a handy tool for doing arm and back exercises such as biceps curls and lateral arm raises, but you can also hold them as you do leg exercises such as squats and lunges. As such, your dumbbell routine may be all the strength training you need to do in a day, lasting anywhere from about 20 to 60 minutes.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines state that all adults should do strength-training exercises at least two days a week, which could include using dumbbells, operating weight machines or doing body-weight exercises. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes it one step further, stating that the two days of strength training should include all major muscle groups, including the arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs and hips.

General Time Frame

How long that dumbbell routine takes you to complete is going to depend on a number of factors. If you go to the water fountain in between each exercise set or you do your sets extra slow, it's naturally going to take you longer to complete your routine than someone who whips through each exercise quickly. The number of exercises you choose to do will also make a difference. As a general rule, though, strength-training sessions last anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, advises certified personal trainer Linda Burke. On its website, the American Council on Exercise lists 26 different exercises you can do with dumbbells; if you did them all, you'd definitely be closer to the 60-minute mark.

Sets and Repetitions

You'll also need to factor in the number of sets and repetitions you do during your strength-training sessions. Generally, one set of 12 to 15 repetitions is more than enough to help you gain some strength and get more fit, advises Mayo Clinic's Dr. Edward Laskowski. The key there -- doing each set of exercises to fatigue. At the end of your set, the exercises should get really difficult to do, so that it's difficult to finish the last few repetitions. Ideally you'll have a set of adjustable dumbbells to which you can add more weight. You'll gain strength as you continue to do your dumbbell routine, so you'll need to add weight over time to make the exercises work you to fatigue. The bottom line: you don't need to do endless repetitions and sets to get in a good dumbbell workout -- doing one set of each type of exercise to fatigue is just fine.

Breaking It Up

If you have a very limited amount of time each day, you don't have to do all of your dumbbell exercises in one stretch. The guidelines state that you need to work each muscle group twice a week, but you don't have to do all muscle groups on the same day. When time is tight, break your strength-training sessions into smaller amounts. For example, do an arm workout one day, then legs the next, and then back and core muscles the next. On that type of schedule, you may only need to do your dumbbell workout for 10 minutes a day.