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Bodybuilding for Dumbbells

Train Smart at Home With the Short Barsand Get Your Best Workouts Ever!


Trainees often overlook the fact that dumbbells are perhaps the most effective muscle-building tool in the gym. If you can do an exercise with a barbell or a machine, you can probably do it with a dumbbell’and the dumbbell movement is usually more effective. That’s right. In most cases dumbbells are superior to barbells and machines in many ways.

‘Variety. You can do one-arm or two-arm movements.

‘More complete muscle development. You train both sides of your body equally hard, as you can’t rely on one side to carry more of the load.

‘Better nervous system development. Your nervous system must process more information to balance and coordinate the movement.

‘Sports specificity. You can more easily simulate athletic movements, such as shot-putting, with dumbbells.

‘Great for training at home.

Variety is important because if you do the same things all the time, you’ll get bored with your workouts, they’ll lose their intensity, and you’ll stop making gains. You may even quit training. Not only will dumbbell exercises help to keep up your interest, but dumbbells are more difficult to control than a barbell, so your body will continue to make gains.

With dumbbell exercises you hold a separate weight in each hand. That means both sides of your body have to work hard, and one side can’t compensate for the other. As a result, both sides of your body receive more attention from dumbbells than they get from barbells or machines’and you get better development of your entire body.

You can also perform dumbbell exercises through a greater range of movement than you can get with their barbell or machine equivalents, which will also result in more complete development of your muscles. For example, when performing a barbell shoulder press, you press the weight up, and it can also travel forward or backward. On a dumbbell shoulder press, however, the weights can travel straight up, they can move forward or backward, and they can move in toward each other or out away from each other. You can even rotate your hands to change the difficulty or stress a different area of the target muscle.

The greater range of movement that is possible with dumbbells brings other benefits. Having to control the dumbbell through all the degrees of the range means you’ll more thoroughly develop your nervous system. You have to balance and control two dumbbells that can operate in many different planes of motion, and that control can transfer to real-life events and increase your functional strength.

In fact, the unilateral movement, the greater range of possible movements and the neural component all have applications to athletics. Dumbbells allow for better sports specificity, and the sports skills gained transfer to the playing field better than those gained through many barbell and machine exercises. Most sports involve the two sides of the body doing something different. For example, kicking, throwing, catching, running and hitting all have the two sides of the body performing different movements. Performing exercises that require each side of your body to work independently makes more sense for athletes.

Finally, dumbbells are great for home training. They don’t take up a lot of space, and there’s an enormous number of exercises you can do with a set of dumbbells. They’re also not very expensive and are easy to store. If you don’t have a dumbbell rack, you can simply move them into a corner or put them into a closet. For even more convenience, you may want to invest in a set of selectorized dumbbells, such as the PowerBlock. You simply move a pin to select the weight on each dumbbell, and the entire setup is about the size of a small nightstand. [For more on the PowerBlock, see page 173 of the February 2002 IRONMAN.]

What follows is a four-week workout program that uses only dumbbells. It’s built around three workouts per week, performed every other day; for example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It’s a total-body program that’s perfect for home trainees. It’s designed to increase in difficulty as the weeks progress, with shorter rest periods and different repetition schemes. All you need are dumbbells and a flat bench.

Note: The rests between sets are designated in seconds in parentheses.

WEEK 1
Workout 1
Dumbbell squats 3 x 8 (60)
Dumbbell lying leg curls 3 x 8 (60)
Dumbbell standing calf raises 3 x 12 (60)
Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 8 (60)
One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 8 (60)
Dumbbell presses 3 x 8 (60)

Workout 2
Dumbbell lunges 3 x 10* (30)
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts 3 x 15 (30)
Dumbbell one-leg calf raises 3 x 10* (30)
Dumbbell flyes 3 x 15 (30)
Dumbbell bent-over rows 3 x 15 (30)
Arnold presses 3 x 15 (30)
*Per side.

Workout 3
Superset
Dumbbell squats 3 x 12
Dumbbell stepups 3 x 12
Dumbbell reverse lunges 3 x 12 (45)
Pushups 3 x max (45)
Tri-set Dumbbell front raises 3 x 12
Dumbbell lateral raises 3 x 12
Dumbbell bent-over lateral raises 3 x 12
Superset Dumbbell curls 3 x 12
Seated overhead dumbbell extensions 3 x 12

WEEK 2
Workout 1
Dumbbell deadlifts 3 x 8 (75)
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts 3 x 8 (75)
Dumbbell standing calf raises 3 x 12 (75)
Dumbbell flyes 3 x 8 (75)
Dumbbell bent-over rows 3 x 8 (75)
Arnold presses 3 x 8 (75)

Workout 2
Dumbbell reverse lunges 3 x 10* (25)
Dumbbell lying leg curls 3 x 15 (25)
Dumbbell one-leg calf raises 3 x 10* (25)
Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 15 (25)
One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 15 (25)
Superset Dumbbell front raises 3 x 15
Dumbbell lateral raises 3 x 15
*Per side.

Workout 3
Superset Dumbbell squats 3 x 12
Dumbbell lunges 3 x 12
Superset Dumbbell flyes 3 x 12
Pushups 3 x 12
Superset Dumbbell presses 3 x 12
Seated bent-over lateral raises 3 x 12
Superset Hammer curls 3 x 8
Lying dumbbell extensions 3 x 8

WEEK 3
Workout 1
Dumbbell squats 3 x 6 (75)
Dumbbell
lunges 3 x 4* (75)
Dumbbell one-leg calf raises 3 x 4* (75)
Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 6 (75)
One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 4* (75)
Dumbbell presses 3 x 6 (75)
*Per side.

Workout 2
Dumbbell deadlifts 3 x 20 (25)
Dumbbell reverse lunges 3 x 12* (25)
Dumbbell standing calf raises 3 x 20 (25)
Dumbbell flyes 3 x 20 (25)
Dumbbell bent-over rows 3 x 20 (25)
Arnold presses 3 x 20 (25)
*Per side.

Workout 3
Superset Dumbbell stepups 3 x 15
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts 3 x 15
Superset Dumbbell flyes 3 x 15
Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 15
Tri-set Front raises 3 x 15
Lateral raises 3 x 15
Bent-over lateral raises 3 x 15
Superset Seated dumbbell curls 3 x 10
Kickbacks 3 x 10

WEEK 4
Workout 1 Dumbbell deadlifts 3 x 6 (90)
Dumbbell stepups 3 x 4* (90)
Dumbbell standing calf raises 3 x 8 (90)
Dumbbell flyes 3 x 6 (90)
Dumbbell bent-over rows 3 x 6 (90)
Arnold presses 3 x 6 (90)
*Per side.

Workout 2
Dumbbell squats 3 x 20 (20)
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts 3 x 20 (20)
Dumbbell one-legged calf raises 3 x 12* (20)
Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 20 (20)
One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 12* (20)
Dumbbell presses 3 x 20 (20)
*Per side.

Workout 3
Superset Dumbbell stepups 3 x 15
Dumbbell lying leg curls 3 x 15
Pushups 3 x max
Tri-set Front raises 3 x 15
Lateral raises 3 x 15
Bent-over lateral raises 3 x 15
Superset Concentration curls 3 x 10
Seated one-arm overhead extensions 3 x 10

Here are instructions for performing some of the more unusual dumbbell exercises.

Dumbbell squats. You can hold the weights in several places’hanging at your sides, with your arms straight; resting on your hips, with your arms bent; holding them on your shoulders. Choose the variation that’s comfortable for you and concentrate on keeping your chest elevated. Squat by pushing your hips back and keep your weight on your heels.

Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells should be in front of you, resting against your thighs, with your palms facing your legs. Pull your shoulders back and elevate your chest. Keeping your arms straight and your knees soft, push your hips back and allow the dumbbells to slide down your thighs. Bend forward until you feel your hamstrings stretch. Remember to keep your shoulders back and your chest elevated throughout.

Dumbbell lying leg curls. Lie facedown on a bench so that your ankles and feet are dangling off the end. Place a dumbbell between your ankles or between your feet. Begin the exercise with your legs extended and use your hamstrings to curl the dumbbell toward your hips. You can increase the resistance at the top by doing these on a slant board, with your head at the high end.

Two-dumbbell bent-over rows. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, holding them in front of your thighs with your palms facing your legs. Pull your shoulders back and elevate your chest. Keeping your knees soft and your arms straight, push your hips back until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Allow the dumbbells to hang down under your torso. From that position keep your torso in place and pull the dumbbells toward your stomach. As you pull the weights, concentrate on keeping your elbows close to your body.

With a little imagination you can develop a dumbbell workout that’s both fun and challenging’in addition to using a minimal amount of equipment’a program that’s more efficient and effective than one involving barbells or machines. That’s why smart trainees use dumbbells.

Editor’s note: John Cissik has written books and produced videos on strength training and conditioning. He owns Fitness and Conditioning Enterprises, which provides strength, speed and agility training to young athletes in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. To contact him, write to john @fitnessconditioning.net. IM

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