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7 Best Free Weight Exercises for Women (45-Minute Pyramid Workout)

Seven of my favorite free weight exercises for women in a powerful, 45 minute pyramid workout! A full body dumbbell workout that will test your strength and endurance (and burn 400+ calories).

*You also can view this 45-Minute Pyramid Workout on YoutubeWhile you’re there, SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel to get all the newest workouts!

Another Pyramid Workout!

One of the MOST POPULAR, and most challenging, workout formats on the blog. In fact, this intense, 50-Minute Pyramid Workout has been named the hardest workout on NML.

If you love a challenge, and testing your muscular endurance, you gotta try these 7 Best Free Weight Exercises! 

These free weight exercises (AKA dumbbell exercises) make one, KILLER, 45-minute total body dumbbell workout.

lateral lunge with dumbbell | free weight exercises for women

What Makes this Dumbbell Workout for Women so Challenging?

7 POWERFUL, compound dumbbell exercises.

‘Compound Exercises’ engage multiple muscle groups at once.

For example, the reverse lunge, bicep curl and upright row exercise targets the hamstrings, glutes and quads during the reverse lunge. AND it engages the biceps, shoulders, upper back and core for the bicep curl and upright row.

Talk about total body burn.

Reverse lunge | best free weight exercises for women

What are the Best Free Weight Exercises for Women?

A free weight is any kind of weight that isn’t attached to an apparatus (think lifting weights, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells). Most commonly this means dumbbell exercises.

The best dumbbell exercises for women include: 

  1. Dumbbell Squats
  2. Dumbbell Lunges
  3. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  4. Dumbbell Bicep Curl 
  5. Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extensions or Skull Crushers
  6. Dumbbell Rows

What are the Benefits of Using Dumbbells to Workout at Home?

  • Build Lean Muscle
  • Increase Bone Density
  • Improve Hormone Health

What’s the Difference Between Free Weights and Machine Weights?

According to The American Council on Exercise, free weights have an advantage over weight machines found at the gym.

Dumbbells mimic natural movement patterns and require you to engage stabilizing muscle in your core. Hello abs while performing a front squat.

While a machine will complete the move it’s been designed for, the exercises you can do with a free weight, like a dumbbell, are endless.

Free weights are versatile. And the perfect piece of equipment for any home gym.

Clean and Press with Dumbbells

45 Minute Pyramid Workout: Full Body Dumbbell Workout for Women

✔️Burn 400 calories.

✔️Build muscle.

✔️Test muscular endurance.

This pyramid workout includes 7 of my favorite full body dumbbell exercises but you can decide if you want to make this work strength-focused or endurance-focused.

  • Build Strength: Use heavy weights and move slower, with extra emphasis on proper form, to make the workout more strength-focused.
  • Test Muscular and Cardio Endurance: Use lighter weights and move at a faster pace if you want more cardio and endurance.


Medium-to-heavy pair of dumbbells.

I suggest 8-20 lb dumbbells. I’m using 12 and 15 lb dumbbells for this workout video.


Click here to follow along with the video at the top of this post.

I’ll coach you through each exercise, keeping track of timed intervals and providing form and modification cues as we go. This is a pyramid workout, which means we’ll add on moves as we work “up” the pyramid, and then drop off moves as we work our way back “down” the pyramid.

So it will look like this: 

  • Set 1: Perform move 1 for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest.
  • Set 2: Perform move 1 for 30 seconds + move 2 for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest.
  • Set 3: Perform move 1 for 30 seconds + move 2 for 30 seconds + move 3 for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest.

Continue this stack-on, pyramid format until you complete moves 1 through 7. Then you have the option to go back down the pyramid in reverse order, dropping off move 1, then move 2, then move 3 and so on.

7 Best Free Weight Exercises for Women

  1. Clean and Press 
  2. 2-Pulse Squat + 2 Press Jacks 
  3. Reverse Lunge + Bicep Curl + Upright Row
  4. Alternating Lunge Drops 
  5. Push Up + Dumbbell Pass
  6. Lateral Lunge + Balance Press
  7. Glute Bridge + Tricep Skull Crusher

1. Clean and Overhead Press

Targets: Lower body power generating muscles — glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. And mainly the shoulders in the upper body, but also works the traps, middle and lower back, and abdominals.

clean and press using dumbbells

How to do a Clean and Press:

  1. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge your hips back and power through your hamstrings and glutes to “swing” the dumbbells up to shoulder height.
  2. Your heels will pop up off the ground as you finish the “clean” motion; pressing the dumbbells overhead and locking out the elbows with arms straight overhead.

2. 2 Pulse Squat + 2 Press Jacks

Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings in the legs; and mainly the shoulders in the upper body. Also a cardio exercise.

2 pulse squats and 2 press jacks with dumbbell

How to do a Pulse Squat and Press Jack:

  1. Aim to stay as low in your squat as possible during the pulse squat.
  2. Keep the dumbbell in front of your body, at your chest, during the squat.
  3. Option to make this a low-impact exercise by tapping out instead of jacking out.

3. Reverse Lunge + Bicep Curl + Upright Row

Targets: Legs, butt, quadriceps, and hamstrings in the legs; and mainly the biceps and upper back of the arms.

Reverse lunge, bicep curl, upright row with dumbbells

How to do a Reverse Lunge and Bicep Curl and Upright Row:

  1. Aim for a shorter lunge stance — you want a 90 degree angle in both knees. Dropping your back knee straight down towards the ground while shoulders remain stacked over hips.
  2. If lunges don’t feel good for your knees, substitute a basic squat. Note: reverse lunges are better for the knees that front lunges. 
  3. During both the bicep curl palms face away from the body and then rotate the palms to face the body during the upright row.

4. Alternating Lunge Drops

Targets: Booty burnout — legs, butt, quadriceps, hamstrings, and core.

alternating lunge drops

How to do Lunge Drops:

  1. Option to hold a single dumbbell in both hands, or drop it completely and use just your bodyweight.
  2. To make this a low-impact exercise, step back into an alternating leg reverse lunge; taking out the hop.

5. Push Up + Dumbbell Pass

Targets: Upper body — chest, shoulders, triceps, obliques and abdominals.

push up dumbbell pass

How to do a Push Up with Dumbbell Pass:

  1. Focus on good push up form; leading with your chest and lowering your body as one unit.
  2. Option to drop to your knees for the push up and then pop back onto your toes for the dumbbell pass.
  3. When performing push ups from your knees, aim to keep your toes pressed into the ground to engage your lower abs.

6. Lateral Lunge + Balance Press

Targets: Inner thigh muscles in addition to the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Adding the balance press works the shoulder muscles and core and lower abs.

lateral lunge balance press with free weights

How to do a Lateral Lunge + Balance Press:

  1. Focus on pushing your hips back during the lateral lunge. Then drive off your bent leg to stand back up.
  2. Option to return to the starting position and perform a single arm shoulder press with both feet on the ground, rather than a single leg balance press.
  3. Note, you’ll perform this exercise on the right side of the body first, then repeat on the other side the next time through the pyramid.

7. Glute Bridge + Skull Crusher

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back, shoulders and triceps.

glute bridge skull crusher exercise with dumbbells

How to do a Glute Bridge with Skull Crusher:

  1. Make this exercise harder by hovering your glutes off the ground rather than resting them on the mat between each rep.
  2. Modify this exercise by holding a single dumbbell between both hands rather than holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  3. Note, if squats and lunges don’t feel good for your knees, glute bridges are a great substitution.

More Full Body Dumbbell Workouts for Women At Home:

Pin these 7 Free Weight Exercises for Women

Full Body Workout with Dumbbells

  1. HOLY BANANAS! Is right!! Toughy but excellent workout! These pyramid workouts take several deep breaths to muster the courage to do, but they feel SO GOOD to accomplish. Thank you, Lindsey!

  2. I cannot tell you how mich Your workouts have changed my life! I wake up at 5am every morning and cannot Wait to workout with you! Never before lighter weigths and now I use 5kg 😄 I će been following your new Advanced calendar and would Like to ASK you what day should I replace your new 45 minute workout? And also my low back hurt when I do 45 min arma and back?
    Thank you so much 💖
    Nera (36), 5 kids, 1 year postpartum

    • Nera! I’m so glad you’re loving the workouts! And I LOVE your commitment and that you’re increasing your weights! Keep up the great work. You can always sub a full body day for a full body day like this one (but this workout is on the new workout challenge, day 8 next week)! If you’re looking for a substitute for the 45 Minute Arms + Abs Workout try this Dumbbell Arms Workout instead — https://www.nourishmovelove.com/dumbbell-arm-workout/. I hope that helps and keep up the good work! -Lindsey

  3. This workout was killer! I loved it… I love all your content, it kicks my butt every time!

    • Vanessa! I’m so glad you loved this workout, thanks for giving it a try. And there are plenty more ‘killer’ workouts on the blog for you to keep up with. Nice work getting it done and thanks for following along! -Lindsey