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Don’t overlook these powerful, versatile tools during your next workout.
Don’t have access to a gym? No worries: With just two dumbbells at home, you have two powerful, versatile tools to help you reach a large variety of fitness goals. Because dumbbells are affordable, customizable, and relatively compact, they can be used to upgrade many forms of training to help you strengthen your entire body.
“Dumbbells require increased muscle activation so your body has to work harder to achieve the goals you want it to achieve,” Dilan Gomih, a fitness instructor and senior director of digital strategy and talent at Barry’s, recently told Prevention. This can include:
Weight training of any kind helps you build strong muscles, endurance, and healthy bones. But what makes dumbbells unique is that they allow you to train your muscles in various directions while exploring different movement patterns, according to the American Council on Exercise. In other words: With dumbbells, you aren’t locked into a machine doing the same motion over and over, nor do you have to manage something long and awkward like a barbell (especially helpful if you’re a beginner).
Instead, you can easily pick up a pair of dumbbells, and say, lunge forward, backwards, or side-to-side to work your legs, and even add a bicep curl with each rep to target your arms. The exercise options are endless, giving you a lot of room for creativity.
Since you can hold one dumbbell in either hand, you can really focus on working one limb at a time, says Kym Nolden, C.P.T., a NASM-certified exercise specialist. Exercising in this way can help even out muscle imbalances that can cause various aches and pains as well as encourage your body to activate and strengthen the smaller stabilizing muscles that assist in keeping your joints safe, she says.
If you’re not feeling it, you don’t have to go on a run to get in a good cardio session. Many traditional dumbbell exercises you do for strength training can be turned into a real heart-pumping workout, according to Nolden.
“The easiest way to do this is to simply take each exercise and move quicker for a set amount of time,” she says. “For example, if it takes you 30 seconds to do ten squats, push yourself to do 12 or 15 in the same interval.” String a few of those intervals with different exercises and you can save jogging for another day.
Not a believer yet? Below, you’ll find a dynamic, full-body strength circuit by Nolden that shows you just how much you can achieve with dumbbell exercises. Grab a pair and give it a go!
Targets: shoulders, triceps, traps, upper chest
How to do it: Hold two dumbbells and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Curl the dumbbells up to shoulder height and turn your wrists so the heels of the palms are facing each other. Then, press the right dumbbell up towards the ceiling until your right elbow meets your ear. Bring the dumbbell back down to shoulder height. Switch arms and keep going until you finish your reps.
Targets: lats, shoulders, chest, upper back, biceps, wrists, quads, core
How to do it: Begin in an all-fours position with a dumbbell in your left hand. Lift your knees one inch off the floor then row the dumbbell in close towards your chest. Hold this for your desired time, rest, then switch sides and repeat. If holding with your knees off the ground is too challenging, keep them on the floor.
Targets: glutes, hamstrings, quads
How to do it: First, stand with your feet together, shoulder-width apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand. Then step your right foot half a step-back right behind your left heel. Keep your right knee bent and your right heel slightly off the floor. The left leg will stay straight to start. Hinge forward at the hips as you lower the dumbbell towards the floor. Keep your back flat. The left knee will slightly bend as you go down. Once you feel a stretch in your left hamstring, it’s time to come back up. Squeeze your glutes to stand up tall. Complete all your reps on this side then do it again on the other.
Targets: abs, core
How to do it: Lie down flat on the floor with your knees up and bent at 90 degrees directly over your hips. Grab a dumbbell and as you hold the ends of the weight in each hand, press it straight over your chest. Hold your arms here. Extend your right leg until it’s straight and hovering a few inches off the floor. Keep your lower back glued to the ground as you do this. Bend that leg back to 90 degrees. Then, extend the left leg in the same way then pull it back up to 90. Keep alternating until you finish your reps. Make sure to do the same amount on each side.
Targets: core, shoulders
How to do it: Begin in a kneeling lunge position with your left foot forward and your right knee on the ground. (Grab a pillow if you need some extra cushion for that joint!) Hold one dumbbell by holding the ends in each hand by your right hip. While keeping your elbows straight, lift the dumbbell up and across your body. Once you reach the top, bring the weight back down towards your right hip. Switch over to the other side once you’ve done your reps.
Targets: triceps, shoulders, core
How to do it: Stand tall while holding one dumbbell. Lift the dumbbell over and behind your head then grab one end with both hands. Lower the dumbbell at least until your elbows form a 90 degree angle. Keep the elbows tucked in towards your head. Do not let them flare out. Next: Press the dumbbell straight up as you straighten your elbows. Slowly bring the dumbbell back down. That’s one rep. Repeat until you’re complete.
Targets: back of the shoulders, upper back
How to do it: Stand with your feet right under your hip and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other. Slightly bend your knees as you hinge forward until your torso is about parallel to the ground. Keep that back flat. Let the dumbbells hang in front of you then slightly bend your elbows. Squeeze the shoulder blades and raise the dumbbells out to your sides. With control, lower your arms back down. Raise up and lower again for another rep. Keep going until you’ve finished your set.
Targets: Core, abs, hips
How to do it: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Grab one dumbbell and hold one end in each hand. Sit up and lift your feet up off the floor until your thighs and torso make a “V” shape. Hold here, then twist your torso to the right. Twist over to the left. Each time you twist to one side, count one rep. Keep it up until your set is up. If holding your feet up is too challenging, just keep your feet on the floor and rotate away.
Targets: core, shoulders, upper back
How to do it: Lie on your right side with your feet stacked on top of one another and a dumbbell within reach, parallel to your chest. Prop yourself on your right forearm making sure your right elbow is directly beneath your right shoulder. Lift your hips up until your body (from your shoulders to your feet) forms one straight diagonal line. Grab the dumbbell with your left hand, pull and then rotate it towards the ceiling as you press it up. Reverse those steps as you lower the weight to the ground. Repeat for your desired reps and then continue on the other side.
Targets: chest, shoulders, triceps, glutes, hamstrings
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees up and your feet flat on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Bend your right elbow to 90 degrees and rotate the weight so that it’s perpendicular to your body. The elbows should be aligned with or slightly below your shoulders. Press your heels into the floor and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips. Now that you’re in position hold those hips up throughout the exercise. Press the dumbbell towards the ceiling. Lower it back down. Keep going until you finish your reps on this side, then repeat on the other. If holding the hips up is too challenging, do the same move with your butt down.
Targets: glutes, hamstrings
How to do it: Start on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent. Place a dumbbell on your hips then lift your left leg off the floor. Push through your right heel and squeeze your butt as you lift your hips towards the sky. With control, lower your butt back down to the ground. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and then when your set is done, switch to the other side.
Targets: quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, biceps, abs
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold one dumbbell (by the ends) in front of you. Step your right foot forward and your left foot backward. Step far enough so that you can comfortably lower into a lunge position. Curl the weight up towards your chest and hold it there. Bend your left and right knees as you lower into a lunge. Once at the bottom, rotate your torso towards your right leg. Reverse the steps to return to the starting position: facing forward, legs straight. Repeat until you finish your reps on this side. Switch legs to finish the set.
Targets: quads, hamstrings, glutes, biceps, shoulders
How to do it: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and hold them by your sides. Next, curl the weights up to shoulder height (make sure your palms are facing each other). To begin the move, sit down into a squat, then as you stand press the dumbbells over head. The elbows should end up by your ears. As you sit back down into a squat, lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height. Keep going until you hit your desired reps.
Targets: quads, hamstrings, hips, glutes, lats, upper back
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold one dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Step forward with your right foot into a lunge, making sure your right knee doesn’t track beyond your big toe. Push through your right heel to stand as you step your left leg into a lunge. That’s two reps. Continue “walking” in this way until you finish your set.
Targets: abs, hips
How to do it: Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you then pick up one dumbbell and hold it overhead. Make sure that your elbows are by your ears. Then slowly descend, vertebrae by vertebrae, down towards the ground as you use your abs to lower with control. Then sit up tall to complete the rep. Repeat until you’ve reached the end of your set.