Dumbbells are one of the most popular pieces of exercise equipment because they allow us to overload the muscles, customize the range of motion on an exercise to suit our unique body types, and they don’t take up much gym space.
Dumbbells are an excellent tool for variety of reasons including:
- Versatility: Dumbbells are a versatile tool for exercising because you can use them for a wide range of exercises. Dumbbells can be used to perform compound multi-joint movements where you recruit several large muscle groups at once or they can target specific muscles when you do single-joint isolation exercises. They’re also great tools for resistance training or HIIT style cardio workouts.
- Balance: Dumbbells enable you to do bilateral or unilateral exercises, if you have one limb that’s significantly stronger than the other it offers an excellent opportunity to bring more balance to your physique.
- Range of Motion: Dumbbells can allow for a greater range of motion compared to a machine or even a barbell. This allows for greater customization to a workout depending on your individual levels of joint mobility.
We love dumbbells for all these reasons but there are some common mistakes that people make that prevent them from enjoying the full benefits of dumbbell exercises.
Luckily, 2x Ms. Figure Olympia Champion Erin Stern identified the 3 most common dumbbell mistakes and gave us pointers on how to avoid them.
You can go too light or too heavy on an exercise and not stimulate the muscle, failing to get the results you want. A good rule of thumb is to be between 1-4 reps from failure. Choose a weight that’s doable with proper form for those last few reps. As you get to those last 2-3 reps make sure that your mind-muscle connection is good, and you aren’t using momentum. Anything in the 5-30 rep range will be effective for building muscle if you’re within 1-4 reps of failure.
- If I choose a weight that’s too light and I’m not going to accomplish anything because I can do it for more than 30 reps.
- On the flipside, if I choose a weight that’s too heavy, I use momentum, my ego, and muscles I’m not intending to use. I’m sure you’ve seen it at the gym but don’t be that guy or girl.
With dumbbells you want to be aware of your range of motion. Anytime that your arms go perpendicular to the ground you’ve lost tension as gravity has taken over. Stop just before your arms go perpendicular, constant tension is key when working with dumbbells. Pay attention, keep that mind-muscle connection, and tension on the muscle for best results.
With machines you have a set range of motion and set form. With dumbbells you don’t have that luxury so pay attention to your form. The great thing about free weights is that you can modify the movements, but the same principles apply.
Some general rules of thumb:
- Keep your wrists straight.
- Keep your spine neutral, core braced and back flat.
- Your knees should always follow the direction of your toes.
We all love training with dumbbells, but they require a little more discipline. Be sure to leave your ego at the door and you’ll be amazed at the gains you’ll make.
Here's an example of a full-body workout you can do with just dumbbells
Each exercise will follow a set x rep protocol of 3 x 12
Goblet squats - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell close to your chest with both hands, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to return to the starting position.
Dumbbell lunges - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, step forward with your right foot and lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground. Push through your right heel to return to the starting position, then repeat on the left side.
Dumbbell bench press - Lie on a flat bench, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward and your arms extended straight up. Lower the dumbbells until they are parallel to your chest, then push them back up to the starting position.
Bent-over dumbbell rows - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, hinge forward at the hips until your torso is parallel to the ground, and then pull the dumbbells up to your chest. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
Dumbbell shoulder press - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing forward, and then press the dumbbells up over your head until your arms are fully extended. Lower the dumbbells back down to shoulder height.
Dumbbell bicep curls - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides with your palms facing forward, and then curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
Dumbbell triceps extensions - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand above your head with your arms extended straight up, and then lower the dumbbells down behind your head until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Press the dumbbells back up to the starting position.
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