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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.

I’m all about strength training at home with a set of dumbbells or free weights.

You don’t need fancy gym equipment to build strength and raise your heart rate. One of my favorite workout formats for total body strength training that also builds endurance is pyramid workouts!

Our previous pyramids are considered some of the most challenging workouts on the blog. The “stack-on” format is a true mental and physical challenge – which is probably why they’re some of your favorites!

If you love a challenge, you have to try these 7 Best Free Weight Exercises. These dumbbell exercises make one KILLER 45-minute total body dumbbell workout.

7 Best Free Weight Exercises for Women

Free Weight Exercises FAQs

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 when we refer to “free weight exercises,” we’re talking about dumbbell exercises. Some of my favorite dumbbell exercises include: squats, lunges, shoulder presses, bicep curls, tricep extensions and back rows.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Dumbbells To Workout At Home?

Dumbbells are a great piece of equipment for your home workouts! As mentioned above, there are a lot of exercises you can do with just a set of dumbbells. Free weights are versatile and the perfect piece of equipment for any home gym. Dumbbell training can be adapted for beginners to advanced fitness enthusiasts (pick up heavier weights for a tougher workout)! Dumbbell strength training builds lean muscle, increases bone density and improves 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 muscles in your core. While a machine will complete the move it’s been designed for, the exercises you can do with a free weight are endless.

lunge exercise | pyramid workout | cardio workout at home

45-Minute Pyramid Workout: Full Body Dumbbell Workout For Women

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

If you want to build strength… use heavy weights and move slower, emphasizing proper form.

If you want to test muscular and cardio endurance… use lighter weights and move at a faster pace.

Workout Equipment:

Medium-to-heavy pair of dumbbells.

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

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Workout Instructions:

Follow along with the guided Intense Pyramid Workout on YouTubeled by certified personal trainer, Lindsey Bomgren. 

Your Workout Looks Like This:

  • 7 Full Body Exercises
  • Timed Intervals (30 seconds of work, 30 seconds rest; complete as many repetitions as you can in the timed interval)
  • Pyramid Format (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)

A Pyramid Format Looks Like This: 

  • Set 1: Perform move 1 for 30 seconds (as many reps as you can), followed by 30 seconds of rest.
  • Set 2: Perform move 1 for 30 seconds and then move 2 for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest.
  • Set 3: Perform move 1 for 30 seconds, and then move 2 for 30 seconds, and then  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.

Trainer Tip: Pyramid workouts are challenging tests of endurance. Follow along with the workout modifier for options to scale each move, or decrease the weights as you start to fatigue.

Workout Outline

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


Prefer to Watch On YouTube?

youtube icon Pyramid Workout

7 Best Free Weight Exercises for Women

Clean and Overhead Press

Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, traps, middle and lower back and abdominals.

woman performing a clean and overhead press using dumbbells in a free weight workout

How To Do A Clean And Press

  1. Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart, slight bend in the knees. Hold one dumbbell in each hand at your sides (palms facing in).
  2. 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. Your heels will pop up off the ground as you finish the “clean” motion.
  3. Then, press the dumbbells overhead, locking out the elbows with arms straight overhead.
  4. Return the dumbbells to shoulder height, then lower them back down to your sides and repeat the movement.

2-Pulse Squat And 2 Press Jacks

Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and shoulders.

woman performing a 2 pulse squat and 2 press jacks with dumbbells in a free weight workout

How To Do A 2-Pulse Squat And Press Jack

  1. Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart, slight bend in the knees.  Hold one dumbbell horizontally at your chest.
  2. Sit your hips back as you lower into a squat, striving for a 90-degree angle between your hips and knees.
  3. At the bottom of your squat, pulse up and down for a two-count. Aim to stay as low in your squat as possible during the squat pulse.
  4. Then “jack” both legs out as you press the dumbbell overhead.
  5. Then “jack” your feet back together and return the dumbbell to your chest. Repeat for a second press jack, then return to the starting position and repeat the 2-pulse squat.

Modification: Option to make this a low-impact exercise by tapping your feet out instead of jacking them out.

Reverse Lunge And Bicep Curl And Upright Row

Targets: Legs, butt, quads, hamstrings, biceps and upper back of the arms.

woman performing a reverse lunge, bicep curl, upright row with dumbbells in a free weight workout

How To Do A Reverse Lunge And Bicep Curl And Upright Row

  1. Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold one dumbbell in each hand at your sides (palms facing in).
  2. Step your right leg back into a reverse lunge, lowering your hips until both knees reach a 90-degree angle, front thigh parallel to the ground.
  3. Hold this lunge position as you rotate the palms to face away from the body and perform a bicep curl, curling the weights up to shoulder height. Hold at the top for a moment, then lower the dumbbells back down with control.
  4. Then squeeze your left leg glute, driving your back, right leg forward as you stand up back to the starting position.
  5. As you stand tall, rotate the palms to face the body and perform an upright row by pulling the dumbbells up to shoulder height. Hold at the top for a moment, then lower the dumbbells back down with control.
  6. Repeat, alternating the leg that steps back into a reverse lunge.

Modification: If lunges don’t feel good for your knees, substitute a basic squat.

Alternating Lunge Drops

Targets: Legs, glutes, quads, hips, hamstrings, calves and core.

woman performing alternating lunge drops in a free weight workout

How To Do Alternating Lunge Drops

  1. Start standing feet hip-distance apart, slight bend in your knees and core engaged. Hold one dumbbell horizontally at your chest.
  2. Jump your right foot back into a reverse lunge, aiming for 90-degree angles in each knee.
  3. Then, perform a “lunge jump” by exploding up from the split lunge position, bringing both feet together as you stand tall.
  4. This is one rep. Repeat, alternating the foot that “drops” or jumps back into a reverse lunge position.

Modification: Option to make this a bodyweight exercise. You can make this low impact by alternating a step back reverse lunge (omitting the jump).

Push Up And Dumbbell Pass

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

woman performing a push up dumbbell pass in a free weight workout

How To Do A Push Up And Dumbbell Pass

  1. Start in a high plank position, shoulders over wrists, core engaged. Place a dumbbell outside your right hand.
  2. Perform a push up. Elbows fall back towards your body as you lower your chest towards the ground. Press back up to high plank.
  3. Engage your core, then reach your left hand underneath your body to grab the dumbbell and pull it through to the left side. Place the dumbbell on the mat just outside where you’ll plant your left hand when you return to high plank.
  4. Repeat the push up, then switch sides, pulling the dumbbell back to the right with the right hand. Repeat this pattern.

Modification: Option to perform the push ups from your knees, popping to your toes for the dumbbell pass.

Lateral Lunge And 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.

woman performing a lateral lunge balance press with free weights

How To Do A Lateral Lunge And Balance Press

  1. Start standing, feet hip-width apart, slightly bent knees. Hold one dumbbell in your left hand.
  2. Step your right leg out to the side as you push your hips back, bending your right knee while leaving your left leg straight. Think of performing a single leg squat with your right leg while your left leg remains straight. Dumbbell stays inside the right foot with knees and toes pointing forward.
  3. Then, drive off your right foot to reverse the movement, pushing back to center.
  4. At the top, perform a balance press by pulling the right knee up to balance on the left leg. Send the dumbbell in your left hand overhead, locking out the elbow.
  5. With control, lower the dumbbell down as you lower your right leg to the mat and repeat the sequence.

Modification: Option to omit the balance press and perform a single arm shoulder press with both feet on the ground.

Glute Bridge And Skull Crusher

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

woman performing a glute bridge and skull crusher exercise with dumbbells in a free weight workout

How To Do A Glute Bride And Skull Crusher

  1. Lie flat on your back with your legs bent at 90 degrees (heels on the ground).
  2. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, fully extend your arms so the dumbbells are directly overhead, palms facing one another.
  3. Bending at the elbows slowly lower the dumbbells towards your head (just bending at the elbows).
  4. Then as you push the dumbbells back overhead to return to the starting position, simultaneously drive through your heels, squeezing your butt to lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Keep knees in line with hips.
  5. Hold at the top for a moment, then lower your hips with control back down to a hover position, as you lower the dumbbells back towards your head.

Modification: Perform the tricep extensions using one dumbbell; holding the dumbbell horizontally.

Pin these 7 Free Weight Exercises for Women

Full Body Workout with Dumbbells

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  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