Why You Need Dumbbells in Your Next Workout

CJ Hammond

“I prefer dumbbells to barbells any day of the week,” says CJ Hammond, a personal trainer, writer, and fitness consultant based in Los Angeles. If you haven’t been in a gym in a bit, what the 30-year-old says seems like sacrilege. Where are the bench presses of yore? Where’s a young Arnie Schwarzenegger barefooted at the squat rack, as seen in Pumping Iron? The reality of today’s trainers, Hammond says, is that for most cases and most people, dumbbells are more effective and versatile than any home workout machine you can buy.

“There’s a time and a place for [barbells],” says Hammond, “but for the most part, training is transitioning to functional.”

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So what exactly is “functional,” and how do dumbbells develop it better? First, there’s the versatility of them: They can literally work any muscle in your body from traps to calves. Then there’s their ability to isolate through unilateral exercises (i.e. a single arm or leg), which engages your core as it struggles to stop rotation and rebalances muscle asymmetry, the latter of which is easily hidden when you’re lifting the long bar. Finally, there’s their real-world application when it comes to sports or just life. After all, you don’t throw with two hands or carry your child perfectly balanced. “I can go on and on,” Hammond says. “I use dumbbells more times than not.”

Through Hammond’s company, Fit Legend Inc., he’s compiled his favorite dumbbell exercises and crafted the sets and reps you can use in your existing workouts. Simply cut and paste into your next gym session to start reaping all the rewards that these tools provide.

Reverse Dumbbell Lunge

Red Bull

With a dumbbell in each hand, you’ll alternate reaching one foot behind to lunge until the knee lightly touches the ground. Return to the starting position and then throw the opposite leg back.

Targeted Muscles: Your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and a host of tiny stabilizing muscles

Reps: 16 (eight on one leg, eight on the other)

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 seconds between sets

Dumbbell Single Leg Straight Leg Romanian Deadlift

Red Bull

This compound movement involves some balance as well as a tight core. Holding dumbbells in each hand, hinge at the hips as one leg extends backward. The base leg should be straight but not locked at the knee. Use your core to prevent twisting. Return and repeat.

Targeted Muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, core

Reps: 10

Sets: Three sets on each leg for six sets

Rest: 60 seconds between sets

Dumbbell Step-Ups

Red Bull

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, you’ll step up on a box or bench. Return lightly, then for the next rep, lead with the other leg.

Targeted Muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, and a host of tiny stabilizer muscles

Reps: 10

Sets: Three sets on each leg for six sets

Rest: 60 seconds between sets

Dumbbell Side Lunge

Red Bull

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step out with one leg from a shoulder-width to wider than double-width, sinking weight as your bend the thigh parallel to the ground. Press up through your heel and step back to the starting position. Stay on that side for the total reps, then switch legs for the next step, alternating sets until completion.

Targeted Muscles: In addition to the standard hamstrings, glutes, and quads, you’ll also target the often-overlooked adductor muscles

Reps: 12

Sets: Three sets on each leg for six sets

Rest: 90 seconds

Dumbbell Bench Press

Red Bull

With a dumbbell in each hand and lying on a bench or on the ground (note that if you’re on the ground, your range of motion will be limited), push the dumbbells straight up to reach the starting position. Lower until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Press up to the starting position.

Targeted Muscles: Pecs, triceps, and a host of tiny stabilizer muscles

Reps: Eight

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 seconds

Seated Dumbbell Military Press

Red Bull

Take a set on a bench with two dumbbells and the back of the bench raised to vertical. Balance the dumbbells on the tops of your knees, then kick them up in the air to the point where your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Press up to the starting position. Lower to where your upper arms are parallel to the ground, then press up until just before your elbows lock. Repeat.

Targeted Muscles: Delta and, to a lesser extend, triceps and traps

Reps: Eight

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 seconds between sets

Bent-Over Single Arm Row

Red Bull

With a knee and straight arm braced on a bench, bend at the waist and keep your chest parallel to the ground without twisting. Grab the dumbbell and pull it into your chest, concentrating on contracting your lat. Return down and repeat.

Targeted Muscles: Lats and, to a lesser extent, biceps

Reps: 12

Sets: Three sets on each side for six sets

Rest: 90 seconds

Hammer Curls

Red Bull

A variation on the classic curl, with a dumbbell in each hand, curl up either alternating or concurrently with your thumbs pointed toward the ceiling. Repeat.

Targeted Muscles: Biceps, as well as forearms

Reps: Six on each side

Sets: Three

Rest: 90 seconds

Renegade Row

Red Bull

In the push-up position and balancing on your dumbbells, pull one into a row while stopping your core from twisting up. Return the dumbbell to the ground and then switch.

Targeted Muscles: In addition to lats and biceps, you’re also balancing with your core, including abs, lower back, and hip flexors

Reps: 12 (six on each side)

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 seconds

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