Women's Health

9 dumbbell moves to master


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Can you do a good workout without the equipment of a full gym? By now you probably know the answer is a resounding Absolutely. Whether you’re at the gym and want to get in and out without bouncing between equipment or you’re training at home with a minimalist setup, there’s no reason to slack off. Today, we’re focusing on a selection of dumbbell moves that can challenge your muscles even if you don’t have any platforms available.

If you looked at our last article in this series which featured moves with only a medicine ball, you might notice some similarities between these moves. Although many of these exercises have effects on different equipment, the stimulus with a barbell will be very different from that with a medicine ball.

If you have a barbell, use these moves with or without plates. If you’re going for muscular endurance, focus on high reps at low weight (or the empty bar). If your goal is hypertrophy or progressive overload, consider adding weight (if you have it) to these workouts over a 6-8 week training cycle.

9 Essential Dumbbell Exercises

1. Deadlift

(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

Start by putting your feet under your hips and your laces under the bar. Grasp the bar just outside the knurling (the grip sections) with a full hand grip. Point your knuckles towards the floor to create some tension in the bar and bring it closer to your body – this will also engage your lats.

Make sure your spine is neutral and your hips are slightly below your shoulders. Press down on your feet as you lift the bar off the ground, keeping it as close to your body as possible. Make sure your hips and chest lift at the same time. Completely lock your hips at the top while your arms remain straight. Reverse this movement to the floor.

2.RDL

Romanian deadlift
(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

The Romanian deadlift is a close cousin to the conventional deadlift but places more emphasis on the posterior chain, loading the glutes and hamstrings. The RDL begins when you stand up straight with the bar high above your hips. Then slowly lower the bar straight down, keeping it close to your body and keeping the knees locked out until they reach their final range of motion in the movement (hamstring length is usually the factor limiting here). It may look like a simple soft knee down, as opposed to a fully bent knee in the deadlift. Once your knees are slightly bent, slowly return to the top of the movement – again, keeping the bar close to your body.

Keep in mind the same performance points as the deadlift with the bar close to your body, but moving above and below your hips. Consider pushing your butt back while keeping a neutral spine.

3. Strict Press

strict press
(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

The strict press is a fantastic movement for building shoulder strength. Start by stacking your wrists over your elbows, engaging your core, squeezing your glutes, pressing the bar overhead, and fully extending your elbows at the top. Consider sticking your head “out the window” to create a shoulder-stacked position to protect your joints.

4. Dumbbell row

row of dumbbells
(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

This move is great with or without loading for engaging your core traps, rhomboids, and triceps. Begin by lifting the bar like you would a deadlift. Once the bar is level with your hips, lean forward to send your butt and hips back until your chest is parallel to the floor. Make sure your spine is in a neutral position (completely flat back).

Start rowing by sending your elbows toward the ceiling and bringing the bar toward your navel. Depending on how flexible your hamstrings are, you may or may not touch the bar all the way to the floor during this move.

5. The snatch

(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

The snatch is an Olympic weightlifting movement on the ground and overhead. It requires good technique to be performed effectively. Top-level Olympic lifters spend years perfecting this move, as it requires coordination and technique beyond that of a deadlift or a strict press.

Doing this move with light weight is a great way to build strength and flexibility in an overhead position. The feature of the snatch that is most unique from the other lifts we have discussed is the position of the hands. Your hands start wide, while your feet and hips are in the same starting position as the deadlift. If you’ve never done this move before, find a trainer or gym near you who can help you get into a good position and form the best movement patterns when you start adding weight. .

6. The Power Clean

Powerful Cleansing Exercise
(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

This is another Olympic weightlifting move I could write an entire article on on its own. Again, a phenomenal move with tons of carry that uses the entire body.

This lift begins with the same setup as a deadlift. You will then push explosively between your legs until you reach full extension (also known as triple extension: fully extended at the ankles, hips, and knees) in the middle of the movement. The trick to the power clean is to pull yourself under the bar into a quarter squat (or power position). The movement ends with the barbell over your shoulders and standing with your knees fully locked. Your elbows should stay high in the “catch” position as if you were doing a front squat.

Check out our Power Clean Master Class for the details of this complex movement.

7. Sumo Deadlift

Sumo Deadlift
(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

Start the same way as the conventional deadlift with chest up and hips and butt back. The exception to this configuration is the position of your hands and feet. Your hands will be inside your thighs and your feet will be in a wide position outside your shoulders. In addition to lower body strength, this move also builds stability in your core.

8. Back Squat

Barbell Back Squat
(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

This movement of the bar puts the weight of the bar backwards (behind you). Make sure to keep your chest straight and your eyes forward, driving evenly between your two feet. Here the bar can be removed from the floor (by cleaning it) or from a rack depending on the intent of your workout.

9. Front Squat

Front squat
(Photo: Courtesy of Geneviève Gyulavary)

This dumbbell movement places the weight forward (in front of you). The same performance points that apply to the back squat also apply here. Since the weight is in front of you, be especially careful not to drop your chest as you come up from the bottom of the squat.

The front squat also requires a considerable amount of shoulder and chest (middle back) mobility in order to reach the front rack position. Without this prior mobility, you will notice that your elbows will start to drop and it will be difficult to hold these positions.

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