By Kirsty Welsh
Whether you are looking to sculpt your arms, define your legs or just to strengthen your body all over, dumbbells are a great and inexpensive tool to add a new dimension to a variety of home workouts. We've seen a huge uptick in people purchasing dumbbells over the last year as gyms closed, from cheap rubber-coated offerings to cast-iron, old-school spinlock sets to even high-tech locking systems. As an side, if you're looking to get a set of your own, our best adjustable dumbbells guide can help sort the wheat from the chaff.
Tim Blakey, physio, personal trainer and creator of PR1MEBODY explains their revived popularity. ‘Lockdowns caused a surge in home fitness equipment purchases. Even now that gyms have opened, many people are preferring to continue their training sessions from home.’
The health benefits derived from dumbbell exercise are plentiful. A 2018 study by Iowa State University found that lifting weights for less than an hour a week may reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke by 40 to 70 percent. In the study, associate professor Duck-Chul Lee stated that, 'Building muscle helps move your joints and bones, but also there are metabolic benefits. This also helps prevent obesity and provide long-term benefits on various health outcomes.’
The crucial thing to remember before performing any dumbbell workout is this: warming up is key. You need a full body mobility and activation warm up to make sure your muscles, joints and connective tissues are primed ahead of your workout.
Weight variety is another key essential to think of. When you train with the same weight day after day, your body will get used to it and not see it as a challenge, that’s why adding weight variety is essential to gaining muscular strength. Our guide on how to warm up can help.
If you're looking to complement your gym routine or are simply in need of some weighted workout inspiration, here are our 10 favourite dumbbell exercises to perform at home. Just a quick tip before we get started: Your reps and sets will depend on the weights you have available. The heavier the weight, the lower the reps. The lighter the weight, the higher your reps will be.
Dumbbell workout move 1: Knee supported dumbbell row
Great for lower back, upper body and forearms
- Take a staggered stance (like a lunge position) and lean forward supporting your upper-body by resting your right elbow on your right knee. This protects your back.
- Brace your core by drawing your belly button in towards your spine firmly.
- With your left hand pick up a dumbbell sitting in line with your front foot.
- As you row the weight up, think about rowing it towards your hip, not directly up from where it was. Also think about firmly retracting (pulling back) your shoulder blade. Don't just raise your elbow as high as possible.
- Aim for 12 reps and repeat on the other side.
Dumbbell workout move 2: W-Y
Great for: Core, lower back, upper back and triceps
- With slightly bent knees, bend forward and keep the entire spine rigid and straight by drawing the bellybutton in stabilise the core.
- With arms tucked in at your sides (to resemble a 'W' from behind), begin to extend your arms out in front and above you keeping the arms on the same plan as your torso.
- If performed correctly, the weights and your arms should never enter your peripheral vision.
- Reverse the movement, drawing your shoulder blades back together at the bottom.
- Repeat the move 12 times
Dumbbell workout move 3: Floor Press
Great for: Chest and triceps
- Lying on your back with bent knees, press two dumbbells vertically up above your shoulders.
- Lower the weights slowly by bending the elbows and keeping the forearms vertical. Once your elbows touch the ground (softly) explosively push the dumbbells back up above your shoulders by straightening your elbows.
- Using tempo is a great way to change the difficulty of all these exercises to match the weights you have access to: For example with the floor press you could slow the lowering phase to 3,4, 5 or even 10+ seconds each rep to increase the difficulty of the set.
- Repeat 12 times
Dumbbell workout move 4: French Kiss
Great for: Triceps and shoulders
- Kneeling in a split stance, lift one dumbbell up above the head.
- Clasping the end of the dumbbell with both hands, lower the weight behind your head by bending just your elbows.
- The upper arms stay static in line with your ears.
- This exercise can be done with 2 smaller weight dumbbells if preferred.
- Try to aim for 15 reps
Dumbbell workout move 5: Russian Twists
Great for: Core
- Sitting on a mat, lean back on to the top of your sit bones with your legs hanging in the air and your upper body leaning back (V sit position).
- Lock the upper arms against the ribs and hold a dumbbell in front of your stomach. Rotate from side to side relatively quickly, pivoting up from the end of range each side. You could use two light dumbbells or one heavier one.
- *Repeat 20-30 times (10-15 reps each side)
Dumbbell workout move 6: Seated Shoulder Press
Great for: Shoulders and core
- Sit up tall with your feet out in front of you and a slight bend in the knees and press two dumbbells up vertically.
- Hold the dumbbells in a neutral grip (dumbbell ends facing forward).
- As you lean back slightly during the press, it forces your abs to work harder. Lean back further if overhead shoulder mobility is a problem for you.
- Repeat 12 times.
Dumbbell workout move 7: Deltoid Matrix
Great for: Shoulders and triceps
- Choose lighter weights for this exercise.
- Place one dumbbell in each hand, in a palm down position as you raise the weights out to the sides of your body (lateral raise) keeping your elbows straight throughout.
- Then move your arms out in front of you before raising the arms straight up above you (frontal raise).
- In a slow and controlled manner reverse the movement until the weights are by your sides again.
- Aim for 8-10 reps (these are far harder than they look)
Dumbbell workout move 8: Single Leg RDL
Great for: Legs (Posterior chain dominant)
- Standing upright holding two dumbbells, unlock the standing knee (but don't overbend it).
- Lift the opposite leg up straight behind you. As you do, let it be the pendulum to your upper body tilting forward from the hips.
- Lower as low as your balance allows or until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings before raising up back to the starting position.
- This movement should fully come from the hips and nowhere else.
- Perform 12 times on each leg, always maintain a straight back keep your back and shoulder blades pinned back.
Dumbbell workout move 9: Reverse Lunges
Great for: Legs (quad dominant)
- Standing upright holding two dumbbells step backwards on one leg.
- Plant the toes and lower the back knee towards the ground while allowing the front knee to bend simultaneously.
- Your stance should be that your knees reach around 90 degrees at the bottom of the movement and the front shin stays vertical
- Repeat the sequence on each side 12 times.
Dumbbell workout move 10: Renegade Flies and/or Renegade Rows
Great for: Core and back
- Get in a high plank position, core braced and hands supported on dumbbells, try to hold your torso as still as possible and resist rotation.
- For renegade flies, raise one dumbbell out to the side. Perform reps on each side alternately.
- Aim for 16-20 reps alternating sides each rep.
- For renegade Rows, perform the same set up as flies, but row the weight to the hip alternating each rep.
- You will be able to use a slightly heavier weight for the renegade row vs the renegade fly, however you can use the same weight if you are doing these within the same set.
- Aim for 16-20 reps alternating sides each rep.
Kirsty is an accomplished journalist specialising in the wellness industry. She has previously written for titles including Grazia, Popsugar, Metro.co.uk, Elle UK and the Sunday Telegraph. You’ll find her running around Windsor Great Park at 6am most mornings (before her toddler, Clementine Lilac, wakes up), followed by a virtual barre class with the team at Psycle London – where that barre burn is just so addictive. Kirsty loves to stock up on new activewear; because, let’s face it, you can never have too many pairs of sculpting leggings. She's always keen to try/endure the latest workouts to come to London. Kirsty also enjoys rustling up nutritious family meals and indulging in her newfound hobby: flower pressing.
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