These days, the range of fitness equipment designed for use in your very own living room is staggering. Want to work on mobility? Go for a yoga mat. Got a bit of space? Here’s some kettlebells. Want to mix it up? How about a TRX rig? Want to really mix it up? How about an Indian club to swing around?
All of which is great, but really, honestly, do you need it all? We would argue that you don’t. Because, you see, there is an easier way. It isn’t fancy. It isn’t anything new. But it does get results. With a pair of simple, frills-free dumbbells you can pretty much train any part of your body for any goal any time, anywhere. Not only that, but you aren’t at risk of knocking your partner or flatmate unconscious with a wayward kettlebell, either.
To help you upgrade your at-home arsenal, we muscled some of the best trainers around into breaking down how the humble dumbbell can help build you up in no time at all with quick and effective home workouts.
Aren’t Dumbbells Only Good For Big Arms?
No. “Dumbbells are one of the most versatile pieces of kits you can own,” explains James Castle-Mason, PT extraordinaire at London’s Roar Fitness. “There is a huge number of resistance exercises that can be done using a simple set of dumbbells, other than just some bicep curls. In fact, you can work your entire body with just a set of dumbbells if you know what movements to do.
“The great thing about dumbbells is that they take up little room, you don’t need space for gym equipment. They’re adjustable, meaning you’re not lifting the same weights over and over, you can make them heavier based on how strong you’re getting or how experienced you are. They’re also very cost effective.”
Tim Hayes, founder of the Peach fitness app, also backs the ‘bells. “Dumbbell workouts are great to easily add resistance to any work out. My biggest advice is to let go of the ego, and focus on your form; walk into any heavy weights section of any gym, and you’ll see lots of people trying to lift a weight that is far too heavy for them. This is only detrimental – Train your muscles not your ego.”
Checked your ego? Loaded your dumbbells with something you can actually lift? Remembering to stay hydrated? Good, because whatever your goals, our expert trainers have a home workout prescription for you.
Dumbbell Exercises To Do At Home
Build Big Arms
We all have a bit of ego, and big arms are what most people think dumbbells are for, so let’s cover them first. Leo Savage, PT at London’s elite Third Space, has the perfect workout.
1. Eccentric Bicep Curls
(10 reps) Curl both dumbbells up, focusing on keeping the downward phase of the movement slow and controlled, taking 3 seconds on the decline – this is where growth happens.
2. Laying Tricep Extensions
(10 reps) With dumbbells in both arms, lay on a bench, lift your arms so your elbows are pointing towards the ceiling and the dumbbells are behind your head. Keeping your elbows in the same place, push the dumbbells to the ceiling straightening your arms. Control the lowering phase and repeat.
3. Hammer Curls
(10 reps) Standing with both dumbbells by your side, have your knuckles facing away from your body. Curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders and slowly lower, without rotating the weights. Don’t let your back get involved – the power needs to come from the bicep, not swinging your back, which can also lead to injury.
Boost Your Endurance
Keith McNiven is founder of London-based personal training company Right Path Fitness, and knows a thing or two about endurance. Here’s how to keep your heart thumping for longer using nothing but dumbbells.
1. Side Laterals
Start from standing with your dumbbells at your sides, then raise them slowly away from your body until your arms are in a straight horizontal line. You’re going to start at 10 reps, working down from 9 to 8… all the way to 1. But that’s not all…
2. Dumbbell Row
In between side lateral sets, mix in the dumbbell row. So do 10 – 0 laterals, then 10 – 0 rows, three times through each. To complete the row, find a bench (or coffee table) and with one hand supporting you, bring the dumbbell up into your chest, in a rowing motion. Supersets like this are ideal for building endurance as you’re working without a break, forcing your body to keep pushing, with little to no time to adjust. A one-minute window between sets is fine (so, in this instance, you’d work, rest, work, rest, work). You could also do it, for example, with the tricep extensions and bicep curls above. A word of warning, though, if you’re trying to build strength, slow and steady wins the race – don’t think you can combine the two and build muscle and endurance all at once…
Gain Leg Strength
No one likes leg day. It’s a fact. But mixing it up, and swapping out the swat rack for the dumbbell rack can help keep it fresh, challenging your muscles to adapt to a new challenge, boosting growth. Plus, you’ll look like you know exactly what you’re doing…
“Nothing matches a good upper body like a good set of wheels (legs),” says Castle-Mason. “Having a good set of legs that are strong looks impressive and is great for carrying over to sports too. For this one, we’re going to look at building strength, endurance and power all in one and combine a few exercises to do this.”
1. Goblet Squat
(6-8 reps for strength, 12-15 reps for endurance) With your feet shoulder width apart, hold a single dumbbell in front of your chest, look up, keep the chest up, and squat down by trying to sit in between your heels. This allows you to sit into the hips properly and work your legs, butt and abs too. Keep the weight and rep range heavy or light depending on your goal (heavy = strength, light = endurance).
2. Nordic Lean
(6-8 reps for strength, 12-15 reps for endurance) Kneel on the floor, squeeze your pelvis forward into a quad stretch then start to lean back slowly, feel the massive tension in the quads build up. The further you lean back, the harder it is, build up a tolerance first. This really challenges the quads and, if you’re struggling, you can even do it without dumbbells, too. Otherwise, keep it light and focus on getting it right.
3. Romanian Deadlift
(6-8 reps for strength, 12-15 reps for endurance) Stand tall with two dumbbells in front of you or at your side. Slowly unlock the hips and sit back into a hamstring stretch whilst keeping a straight back. The best indicator you’re doing this right is to feel a big stretch in your hamstrings. If you feel your lower back, you’ve set up incorrectly or gone too far. Slowly move into the stretch then thrust your hips forward to bring the dumbbells up and fire the glutes.
Gain Strength Everywhere
Want an all-over workout that benefits your entire body? Savage has some savage suggestions.
(3 sets, 10 reps) Stand with your legs shoulder width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting up by your shoulders in a comfortable way. Squat down with the weights by your shoulders. Then, as you drive up with your legs, simultaneously push the weights above your head. Focus on keeping your elbows in front of you and keeping your core engaged.
2. Renegade Rows
(3 sets, 5 reps per arm) Assume the press up position, but with dumbbells in each hand on the floor. Separate your feet shoulder width apart, keeping your torso tight. Row one of the weights up to your chest [as per the ‘dumbbell row’ above] and alternate. This home workout will beast your core, shoulders, back and arms.
3. Dumbbell Snatch
(3 sets, 5 reps per arm) Hold a dumbbell in one arm with your legs wider than shoulder width, and your arm hanging between your legs. Squat down, keeping a straight spine and the weight between your legs. As your drive up from the floor and straighten your legs, drive your elbow up to the sky and pull the dumbbell up your body and over head. A full-body beasting.
Lose Weight Quickly
Think you need lots of fancy equipment to lose weight? Think again. Avoid treadmill drudgery with Castle-Mason’s fast blasting dumbbell workout. To maximize calorie burn, minimise rest periods (20-30 seconds max) to get that heart rate going. Do this alongside a smart diet plan and you’ll find that you don’t need a tonne of equipment to shift some pounds.
1. Dumbbell Walking Lunges
(3-4 sets, 10-15 per leg) Grab a light dumbbell (10-15kg, or less). Take a long stride with the front foot, go slightly out to the side rather than straight in front or you’ll struggle to balance, put your weight down towards the front heel and step through to the next lunge. Make sure your knee tracks the same direction as your toes, don’t let your feet collapse inwardly.
2. Renegade Rows
(3-4 sets, 10-15 per arm) As per the Overall Strength workout. Set yourself up in a plank position with two dumbbells in hand (if too difficult, start with one side and one dumbbell only). Make sure your core is braced the same as a plank and then row the dumbbells in one at a time. Again, it pays to keep the weight light.
3. Dumbbell Thrusters
(3-4 sets, 10-15 per arm) As above. Need a refresher? Stand with feet shoulder width apart, dumbbells atop the shoulders in a neutral grip (palms facing towards side of your head). Squat down deep and then at the top of the squat, press the dumbbells over the head for a full body workout.
4. Lying Tricep Extension
(3-4 sets, 10-15 per arm) Another move you should be familiar with by now. Lay on the floor, feet flat and knees up. Start with dumbbells out in front of you, bend at the elbow bring dumbbells just shy of the floor behind your head, just before the floor, squeeze your tricep and push back to the top.