When it comes to weight training, you’ll find a plethora of resistance options in your local fitness center. From barbells and kettlebells to medicine balls and sandbags, the choices can be overwhelming as to which is most ideal for your fitness goals!
There is one specific training tool that frequents almost any fitness arena though – and that is a dumbbell. Likely set up in pairs and ranging in weight from one pound up to 50 pounds each (although heavier in some training areas), dumbbells are an adaptable tool for just about anyone wanting to workout and build strength.
Although many people use dumbbells for joint isolation movements – think tricep extensions, bicep curls, etc… they can also be utilized in a way that will target the whole body. Not only will this build strength, but it will also burn calories, boost metabolism, and even improve mobility and cardiovascular endurance.
Let’s take a look at eight different exercises that you can do with dumbbells that will give you a full-body workout. All of these movements will target your core, which is necessary to be engaged during the exercises in order to maintain proper form and technique. If you have any questions about how to do these movements correctly, or need modifications of any sort, speak with a local personal trainer or fitness specialist to get more specific training details.
1. Squat and Press
Targets: glutes, quads, hamstrings, and shoulders.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and shoulders down and back, holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, palms facing inward or outward. With the core engaged, sit your hips down and back (like you’re sitting in a chair), until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
From here, press through your heels and come back up to a standing position while simultaneously pressing the dumbbells straight up toward the ceiling, with elbows extended. Repeat the movement for repetitions as desired.
2. Sumo Squat and Upright Row
Targets: glutes, quads, adductors, upper back, and shoulders.
Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width, with toes pointed out slightly. Shoulders should be down and back and a dumbbell in each hand, with palms facing toward the body. Your arms can hang down between your legs to prepare for the movement. Sit your hips down and back into a squat, keeping weight in the heels and knees pressing out.
Press through heels to return to a standing position, and on the way up, pull the dumbbells up underneath your chin. Ensure that your elbows stay higher than your wrists – which can limit your range of motion in some cases – but will keep you in proper positioning.
The motion is similar to dragging the dumbbells up the front of your torso. At the top of your squat, lower the dumbbells back and let your arms hang, keeping shoulders retracted and core engaged. Repeat the movement for repetitions as desired.
3. Lunge and Curl
Targets: glutes, hamstrings, quads, and biceps.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Take a big step forward with your right foot while bending your left leg so that both knees are at a 90-degree angle. Ensure core is engaged and shoulders are retracted, then perform a bicep curl at the bottom of the lunge.
Press through your right heel and glute to step forward out of the lunge position. Repeat the motion with the left leg forward. This movement can be done as a walking lunge and curl, or in a stationary position, whichever you are comfortable with. Repeat the movement for repetitions as desired.
4. Glute Bridge and Chest Press
Targets: glutes, lower back, and pectorals.
Start by lying on the ground on your back with feet flat on the floor and knees bent. With a dumbbell in each hand, rest your arms close to your chest. Engage your core and press through both heels to bring your glutes off of the floor, putting your body in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
Maintain a strong core and engaged glutes, and perform a chest press; essentially, press both arms above your chest, with palms facing away or toward each other. You can stay in the glute bridge position and complete multiple repetitions of the chest press, or you can do both movements simultaneously, returning to the floor with the bridge and then raising up while doing each individual chest press. Repeat the movement for repetitions as desired.
Targets: hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and dumbbells in each hand with palms facing toward your body. With knees soft and core engaged, ensure that the shoulders stay retracted during the entire movement.
Bend at your hips – so from the side, it almost looks like a hinge motion – and keep your arms straight, with head and neck in line with your spine as you lower down. Let your dumbbells reach knee or mid-shin (depending upon the range of motion), then squeeze your glutes and slowly return to a standing position. Repeat for repetitions as desired.
6. Bent Over Rows
Targets: lower back and upper back.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hands gripping the dumbbells, with palms facing toward each other. With knees soft, hinge forward slightly at the waist, maintaining retraction through the shoulders.
As core stays engaged, let your arms come up to your sides, pulling your elbows up and back – not out to the sides. As you do this, squeeze your shoulder blades together slowly. At the top of the movement, pause, then slowly lower your arms back to the start position. Repeat for repetitions as desired.
7. Goblet Squat
Targets: glutes, hamstrings, quads, TFL, and shoulders, biceps.
Start with feet shoulder-width apart and one dumbbell in front of your chest, holding with both hands. Sit your hips down and back while maintaining a tall chest, bringing thighs to parallel. With weight in heels and core engaged, press through heels and return to a standing position.
The weight of the dumbbell at the front of your chest will try and bring you forward – do your best to keep your chest tall and shoulders retracted. Repeat for repetitions as desired.
8. Farmers Walk
Targets: all the major muscles of the body and is a great entire body exercise.
Begin by holding dumbbells at your sides, with a firm grip. Stand straight with core engaged and shoulders retracted. Walk yourself forward at a consistent pace, keeping your head neutral and your eyes forward.
Walk the desired distance, then stop and place your dumbbells on the ground before returning to the starting position. Repeat for the desired distance.
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