Imagine this: You’ve just moved and are in the market for a new gym. What would you need to see in order to know that this was the gym for you? Maybe a dedicated free-weights room? More than one cable station so you wouldn’t have to wait too long during the busy hours? A wide variety of cardio equipment, sure.
But we’re willing to bet that if this imaginary gym lacked a full rack of dumbbells, from 5 to 100-plus pounds in 5-pound increments, well, you’d say goodbye. That’s because no single piece of training equipment surpasses the traditional dumbbell in overall effectiveness and utility.
Disagree? The barbell is phenomenal, but it doesn’t allow for much variety of unilateral movements. Kettlebells are great, too, but their unbalanced weight distribution, limits exercise choices. Machines and cables? They’re solid, but stabilizer muscles don’t always get worked sufficiently when training with them. Nope, you just can’t beat a set of dumbbells.
But that’s not to say that you should be doing every exercise in your workout with dumbbells. Other implements have benefits, too. So a better plan is to maximize dumbbells’ benefits by making sure that you’re using them to do the best possible exercise.
Two-Point One-Arm Dumbbell Row:
Unilateral movements are great because you have two sets to do instead of one, which requires more work, thus burning more calories per workout. The other nice thing about this exercise is it forces you to stabilize your torso using your core muscles.
- Holding a dumbbell in one hand, assume a “two-point” stance, in which your feet are shoulder-width apart and staggered one in front of the other.
- Your nonworking hand can either be resting on your thigh to add stability or in the air unsupported.
- Begin bent over with your torso as close to parallel with the floor as possible, head facing down and your working arm hanging straight toward the floor.
- Maintaining the natural arch in your back, pull the dumbbell straight up to your side.
- At the top of the movement, squeeze the contraction hard without letting your shoulder open up and your torso rotates.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the start position, repeat for reps, then switch arms.
This exercise is perfect because it makes each arm work individually, which allows for greater work capacity from each triceps to produce better results.
- Lie on a flat bench holding a pair of dumbbells.
- Begin with your arms extended toward the ceiling, the dumbbells over your face and your palms facing each other.
- Keeping your elbows in tight and your upper arms stationary, lower the dumbbells toward the sides of your forehead.
- When your hands reach your head, contract your triceps to extend your elbows and return the dumbbells to the start position.
- Repeat for reps.
- To make this exercise more challenging, instead of lowering the weights down toward your head, lower them behind your head so that your upper arms are roughly 45 degrees with the floor, then press the weights straight up from there, maintaining the same upper-arm angle.
Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat:
With this exercise, you have to balance your body on one leg throughout the entire movement, which requires core strength. It also gives the hip flexors of your back leg a terrific stretch, killing two birds with one stone.
- Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, place one foot on a stable box or bench behind you with that knee bent and the other foot flat on the floor in front of you.
- The front foot should be far enough forward so that when you lower down, your knee doesn’t extend over your toe.
- Bend your front knee to lower yourself straight down toward the floor.
- When your front quad reaches parallel, press up through the heel to the start position.
- Complete all reps, then switch legs and repeat.
Dumbbell One-Arm Snatch:
Snatches require everything from explosive power from your hips and posterior chain muscles to stability from your shoulders and core. Add this move to your arsenal of exercises and watch your other movements get stronger.
- Stand holding a relatively light dumbbell in one hand with your feet in a comfortable, athletic stance — somewhere around shoulder width.
- Begin with the dumbbell hanging down toward the floor in front of you.
- Keeping the arch in your lower back, dip down slightly at the knees, then immediately and explosively extend your knees and hips while pulling the dumbbell overhead.
- Your arm should remain extended throughout as you pull the dumbbell up in a traditional “snatch” motion.
- Let the dumbbell fall back to the start position, gather yourself, then repeat.
- Do all reps for one arm before switching to the other.
Dumbbell Renegade Row:
This exercise is a great core exercise because it requires you to brace and stabilize your torso while using your lat muscles to perform a row. It’s an all-around terrific movement for many muscles involved and will create a strong and safe back.
- Begin in a push-up position with your hands holding a pair of dumbbells resting shoulder-width apart on the floor, palms facing each other.
- Hexagon- or square-shaped dumbbells will minimize the chance of rolling, thus promoting safety; round dumbbells can be used by advanced trainees.
- Pull one dumbbell up in a rowing motion to your side while keeping the other dumbbell on the floor.
- Keep your core engaged by not letting your torso rotate as you perform the rep.
- Lower the dumbbell back to the floor, then repeat with the other arm.
- Alternate back and forth between arms until all reps are complete.