When people try to lose weight, they sometimes believe they must run 8 miles a day, seven days a week, while only drinking protein shakes. Cardio is a great way to kick-start weight loss, but we need to remember the benefits of weight training when attaining our weight loss goals on our fitness journeys. The dumbbell is one type of weight that’s easy to start with and brings impressive results for weight loss.
- Lifting weights, particularly dumbbells, increases the resting rate of calories burned, improves fat loss, improves overall muscle tone and strength, and enhances metabolism and energy expenditure.
- There are plenty of great dumbbell exercises that are easy to incorporate into your routine.
- For the best results, set realistic goals, strive for consistency, prioritize balanced workouts and nutrition, and stick with your workout plan.
Benefits of Dumbbell Workouts for Weight Loss
Improved muscle tone and strength
The most obvious and widely-discussed benefit of weight-based exercises such as dumbbells is improved muscle tone. As you incorporate weights into your workouts, you’ll train your muscles to grow stronger, work harder, and be able to do more in your everyday life.
Gaining strength makes daily activities like carrying groceries and playing with your kids easier. As you get older can decrease your risk of falling or injuring yourself by improving your strength to control your body’s balance better.
Increased calorie burn and fat loss
Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so over time, as you build muscle, your body will burn more calories at rest. Lifting weights can support weight loss by building muscle mass.
Evidence shows that lifting weights does more than build muscle. It also causes you to lose fat. It makes sense, as the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn during everyday activity, allowing you to shed those extra pounds more quickly.
Enhanced metabolism and energy expenditure
Simply put, muscles are metabolically efficient and support weight loss by burning more calories at rest. Because of this, you increase your resting metabolism, which is how many calories you burn at rest. Your metabolism may stay elevated for longer after weights than cardio, and weight lifting is better for building muscle than other types of exercise.
As a bonus, weight training is also crucial for bone development! It temporarily strains your bones, signaling they need to rebuild stronger. Weightlifting benefits women at any age and will not make your body bulky. Instead, it can help create a lean, more substantial look. Trainers recommend between 3 and 5 weight training days per week. The number of times one should be lifting weights to see weight loss depends on the intensity and recovery days needed and your schedule.
Effective Dumbbell Exercises for Weight Loss
A dumbbell squat is a regular squat performed while holding dumbbells for added resistance. The dumbbell squat, in particular, offers several advantages over the barbell version, including greater safety, muscular balance, and convenience for those with limited access to equipment.
1) With the dumbbell, you’ll sit back into a squat position and then press through the heels of your feet to return to a standing position.
2) While holding a pair of dumbbells at the weight level of your choice, complete one fluid motion from squat to standing. Ensure that your shoulders stay down and back (instead of hunching forward) and your arms remain extended.
3) The dumbbells can graze your legs as you move up and down, but be aware of where they are without allowing them to dangle or bounce off your body as you perform this movement.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press and an exercise used to build the muscles of the chest and entire torso. The dumbbell bench press is often recommended after reaching a certain point of strength on the barbell bench press to avoid injuries.
1) Begin by laying on your back on the bench.
2) Start with both dumbbells over your chest, arms fully extended. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and ensure your feet are firmly on the floor.
3) At chest level, hold the dumbbells. The weights should fall out to the sides.
4) Lower until your upper arm is parallel to the floor. Keep your elbows under your wrists at all times.
5) Push the dumbbells up and inward once your back is proper and the weight is at chest level.
Like the squat and bench press, the deadlift is a fantastic strength-building exercise that hits multiple muscle groups and improves balance and overall function.
1) Stand with the feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of the thighs, palms facing the body.
2) Engage the core and pull the shoulder blades down and back. Then, keeping arms straight, send hips back and bend knees slightly to lower both dumbbells to the floor in front of the legs. Continue lowering until the hips are fully pushed back, and the weights are as close to the floor as possible.
3) Keeping the chest up, push through feet to return to standing, squeezing the glutes at the top.
The dumbbell lunge is a giant step forward. Although this exercise can be done without weights, dumbbells provide additional work for the upper leg and buttock muscles. This functional exercise is an excellent addition to any lower body strength routine and circuit training workouts.
1) Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Hang your arms at your sides. Palms face the thighs, and feet are shoulder-width apart.
2) Take a step forward with your right leg, landing on the heel. Bend at the knee until the right thigh is parallel to the ground.
3) While the left leg is bent at the knee- balanced on the toes. In a lunge position. Step the right foot back and repeat the move with the left leg.
The dumbbell clean and press builds maximum strength across your entire body. Using dumbbells helps with balance, unilateral strength, and all-around athletic movement. It also increases your conditioning and endurance along the way.
1) Squat down and hold two dumbbells, with an overhand grip, in front of your feet.
2) Flip your wrists so they face forward and bring the weights to your shoulders, slightly jumping as you do so.
3) Slowly straighten your legs to stand. Then lower the weights down to your thigh before moving into a squat and repeating.
Dumbbell Squat to Press
This exercise combines two moves, a simple way to involve as many muscle groups as possible. The dumbbell squat-to-press combines an excellent leg exercise with an effective shoulder exercise. Doing so brings other exercises into play as well.
1) Hold a pair of dumbbells next to your shoulders, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
2) Squat down until the tops of your thighs parallel the floor. Or as low as you can comfortably go.
3) As you lower, actively press your ankles, lower legs, and thighs outward. Your feet won’t move, but you’ll be creating tension.
4) Push your body up from the squat as you press the dumbbells above your shoulders. Keep your biceps by your ears.
5) Lower the weights and repeat.
Dumbbell Renegade Row
The renegade row combines the benefits of a plank and traditional dumbbell row, targeting your core, shoulders, and upper back. Since so many muscles are involved, this move can also build strength without a super heavyweight.
1) Place two dumbbells on the floor shoulder-width apart. Assume a plank position with your feet wider than shoulder distance apart.
2) Grasp the dumbbells to elevate your hands off the floor, maintaining a neutral wrist position.
3) Drive your right arm through the dumbbell into the floor, stiffen your entire body, and row the left dumbbell up and to the side of your rib cage—your elbow should be pointed up and back.
4) Keep your body stable as you slowly lower the dumbbell to the floor.
5) Then repeat on the other side.
Dumbbell Alternating Reverse Lunge
The dumbbell reverse lunge is performed with additional weights to help you develop strength, power, and stability in your lower body. The dumbbell reverse lunge begins in a standing position with a dumbbell grasped in each hand and your feet set shoulder-width apart.
1)Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet together. Step back with your right foot and bend at both knees until they make a ninety-degree angle.
2) Stand back up and bring your right foot back even with your left foot. Repeat the same motion but step back with your left foot this time.
3) Continue alternating back and forth for the desired amount of repetitions.
Dumbbell Single Arm Row
The dumbbell row, also known as the single-arm dumbbell row, is one of those exercises that will stay in style. It’s simple as heck to do — you kneel on a bench and row your arm to your side — and it requires a dumbbell to load the movement. Single-arm moves help to even out muscular imbalances and burn more calories over time since you’re doubling your workload.
1) Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of the bench.
2) Push your butt back and lower your torso, extending your off arm to rest your palm on the bench.
3) Make sure your shoulders stay above your hips.
4) Grab the dumbbell with your working hand. Squeeze your glutes and abs to create full-body tension. Your back should be flat, with your head in a neutral position.
5) Squeeze your mid-back muscles to lift your elbow, rowing the weight. Keep your shoulders level and avoid rotating your lower back.
6) Lower the weight back down.
Dumbbell Russian Twist
A Russian twist is a core body exercise that strengthens all parts of your abdominals, especially your obliques, for a toned waistline and a stronger core. The Russian twist can be done with a dumbbell that will increase the intensity of the workout and strengthen your ab and oblique muscles.
1) Sit on the floor or a mat, keeping your feet on the ground. Your heels should stay on the floor, but your toes can be off the ground. Squeeze your glutes for stability.
2) Lean back, forming a right angle from your torso relative to your thigh.
3) Raise your arms out in front of you. Look up at your hands and keep your gaze trained throughout the movement.
4) Rotate your torso from one side to the other, pausing for a beat in the middle position between each rep. Move slowly, and keep your eyes on the weight.
Dumbbell Goblet Squat
A goblet squat and a back squat work the same muscles, but the movement is quite different. You’ll hold the weight in front of your chest with both hands in a goblet squat. As you squat down, your elbows will track between your knees while the weight follows.
1) Hold the dumbbell vertically, gripping with both hands underneath the top of the weight. Keep it close to your chest throughout.
2) Point your knees in the same direction as your toes. Sit back on your hips and keep your core and torso upright. Track your elbows between your knees- stopping when they touch.
3) Drive through your heels back to the starting position. Keep feet flat on the floor throughout the movement. Do not lift your heels in an attempt to get your hips lower!
Dumbbell Push Press
This move incorporates two dumbbells, which are both raised at the same time. Controlling two dumbbells during the push press demands coordination and accuracy more than using a single barbell. Including dumbbell variations of overhead lifts in your program can assist in the development of a more confident lockout and a better understanding of the overhead position.
1) Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand- resting the dumbbells on your shoulders. Your elbows should be pointed directly in front of your body.
2) Bend your knees and dip your torso directly downward. Exhale as you extend your legs and push up through your heels, using the momentum to punch your arms upward.
3) The dumbbells should be directly over your feet when your arms are fully extended. Make sure to keep them planted firmly on the ground throughout!
4) Hold the weights in the air for a count before slowly lowering them back down to shoulder level. Repeat.
Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk
The farmer’s walk is a strength and conditioning exercise in which you hold a heavy load in each hand while walking for a designated distance. This whole-body exercise hits most major muscle groups while providing an excellent cardiovascular stimulus.
1) Place the dumbbells on the floor by either side of your body.
2) Reaching down, bend at the hips and knees and grasp the dumbbells in each hand.
3) Deadlight them, extending your hips and knees while keeping a neutral spine.
4) Hold the dumbbells at your side, standing tall, keeping your shoulders back and core tight.
5) Walk forward at an even pace with eyes focused directly in front of you.
6) Complete your desired steps, stop, and place the dumbbells down.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
The bent-over dumbbell row is one of the best muscle-building exercises for the back. Select a challenging weight that can be lifted without sacrificing form when incorporating this exercise into your strength training workout.
1) Pull the dumbbells up, toward the sides of your chest, or beside the bottom of your rib cage on an exhale. Lift to the point your range of motion allows. While lifting, keep the wrists from moving as much as possible.
2) Lower the weights in a controlled manner to the starting position as you inhale.
3) Remain bent over until all repetitions are complete.
Dumbbell Power Clean
Dumbbell power cleans strengthen and tone the quads, but will also help strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and lower back. Power cleans are also a free-weight movement, bringing many additional benefits, such as improving balance, increasing stability, and addressing muscular imbalance.
1) Plant feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart, with back as straight as possible and their legs bending somewhat at the knees, to prevent any injury or blood-pressure-related fainting from locking said knees out.
2) With a dumbbell of equal weight gripped firmly in each hand, the exerciser will subsequently arrange their wrists in a semi-supinated position to achieve a nearly neutral hand positioning.
3) Maintaining a straight back, the exerciser will lower themselves to the ground by bending at the knees and hips, keeping their head facing forward and their feet placed evenly.
4) Using the quadriceps muscle group and other nearby leg muscle groups, the exerciser will drive their feet into the ground, thrusting them upwards into a standing pose.
5) Controlling the momentum, pull the dumbbells upwards to the shoulders simultaneously.
The dumbbell thruster is an exercise that combines the squat with the shoulder press. It is great for building strength and muscle, particularly in the legs.
1) Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and engage your core.
2) Stack the weights on your shoulders—squat by hinging at the hips and maintaining knees and thighs down and outwards as you lower.
3) Once you’ve gone as low as your mobility will allow you to drive through the heels to return to standing.
4) Come up, push the weights overhead, keeping your knees soft
5) Lower them back to your shoulders and repeat.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is an essential exercise for building strength in your legs and back. Not only does this help gain lower body strength, but it helps to develop proper form in other exercises as well.
1) Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, and place them in front of hips with palms facing thighs.
2) Keeping your spine in a neutral position and squeezing the shoulder blades, start sending the hips back.
3) Keeping the dumbbells close to your body, lower them so they are in front of your shins. Once they pass the knees, do not allow the hips to sink further.
4) Maintain a neutral spine and drive through heels to fully extend hips and knees, squeezing glutes at the top.
Dumbbell Side Lunge
The dumbbell side lunge increases strength and power in the legs. Stepping to the side increases the mobility and flexibility of the hips.
1) Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip so that your palms face each other. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be fully extended with dumbbells resting in front of your thighs.
2) Take a wide step to one side. When your outside foot contacts the ground, lower your body by pushing your hip back and bending the knee.
3) Keep your inside leg straight and your foot firmly planted.
4) Pause when your outside thigh is parallel to the ground.
5) Push back to the starting position.
Designing a Dumbbell Workout Routine for Weight Loss
Now that we’ve covered the “why” of dumbbells and some individual workouts, it’s time to combine these elements and design a dumbbell workout routine. While sharing some general advice and guidelines below, remember that everyone’s fitness journey looks different! You don’t need to follow one specific routine to achieve weight loss: if you choose a balanced plan that you can stick with over the long term, you’re likely to see the desired results.
Setting fitness goals
First thing first: set a reasonable fitness goal for yourself. This can be a results-oriented goal, like losing a certain number of pounds, or an action-oriented goal, like working out four days a week for an hour each day. Regardless of the type of goal, you should make it difficult enough to challenge yourself but not so hard that you’ll never stick with it.
Here’s an example: let’s say you want to start working out and you’d like to lose 100 pounds. If you decide that you’re going to work out seven days a week for two hours each day with the initial goal of dropping all that weight, you’re very likely to get burnt out fast! It’s better to set smaller goals and work consistently to achieve them. For the above scenario, a better goal would be doing two dumbbell workouts weekly for an hour each time. Once you accomplish that goal consistently for a month or so, you can add extra days of working out and set more ambitious goals.
Selecting appropriate dumbbell weights
It’s tempting to start with the heaviest dumbbell you can lift. While this approach may help your street cred, it will also put an unhealthy strain on your muscles, leading to poorly-executed exercises, and even threaten your safety if you drop it due to fatigue.
You want to challenge yourself with your weights, but you must keep it manageable. Select weights that allow you to complete all the reps in a given exercise–with good form! You should feel the burn, but you shouldn’t sacrifice form or drop reps because the weight is too heavy. Consider moving to slightly heavier dumbbells once you can easily and comfortably work through an exercise with your dumbbells.
Structuring workouts (sets, reps, rest periods)
When structuring a workout, keep in mind that everyone is different! If there’s a type of dumbbell exercise that you particularly enjoy, you can plan more of that one. If you hate Romanian deadlifts, there’s no need to torture yourself with 300 reps. Just ensure you’re not entirely avoiding a muscle group in your planning.
As you choose the number of sets and reps you’ll do, be sure to balance challenging yourself and allowing time for recovery. You don’t want to plan the bare minimum. Remember, it’s also unhealthy and counterproductive to strain yourself and use poor form because you planned a too-ambitious workout. If you’re unsure where to start, begin by designing a straightforward and basic workout. For example, try a 3-set workout with ten reps for each exercise. If that feels too easy, you can add reps each time until you think you’re at a good spot for your current fitness level.
Incorporating compound exercises and supersets
Want to get the most out of your dumbbell workouts (hint: the answer is yes!)? Work smarter, not harder, with compound exercises and supersets!
Compound exercises combine different moves to work several muscle groups at once. For example, you might combine a weighted squat with a dumbbell press to work your leg and arm muscles together. Throwing a few compound exercises into your workout can help a lot when you’re short on time. Still, you want to ensure you’re getting every muscle group.
Similarly, a superset is when you do two different exercises back-to-back, with no or minimal rest in between. As with compound exercises, these can take your workout to the next level. Just be careful not to plan too many in one workout. You don’t want to overtax your muscles! Start with just one superset per session, and if you choose to add more, space them out and allow yourself adequate rest time afterward.
Adding variety and progression
As you get more adept at the basic dumbbell exercises, you can add modifications to make your workouts more exciting and challenging. Compound exercises and supersets are one way to do this. You can also add elements of cardio, like a side-to-side shuffle with your lunge or a jump with each squat.
Maximizing the Effectiveness of Dumbbell Workouts for Weight Loss
Here are a few essential things to remember when doing dumbbell workouts for weight loss. Below are a few tips and reminders:
Proper form and technique
The most ambitious dumbbell workout in the world doesn’t help you achieve your weight loss goals if you don’t use the proper form and technique. Common mistakes include rounding the back, improper stance and posture, and failing to engage the right muscle groups. To ensure you’re using the proper form:
- Do your workout in front of a mirror.
- If you’re unsure what to look for, grab a personal trainer and ask them to watch and give you pointers.
- Ensure you start with good form and technique so you don’t have to re-learn the basics later!
Maintaining consistency and frequency
As mentioned above, setting realistic workout goals and sticking with them is essential. You should start with just a few hours a week. That’s okay as long as you stay consistent! You can always work your way up to a more ambitious routine: the most important thing for weight loss is consistency in staying active.
Balancing strength and cardio exercises
Cardio isn’t the end-all-be-all for weight loss–but it does play an important role! Make sure you include some cardio in your week for balance. You don’t have to go for a run every day but try to do a day or two of cardio-based workouts. Another great option is to sneak cardio into your dumbbell weight training! Add a low shuffle to your dumbbell side lunge, jump at the top of your weighted squats, or include some fast-paced intervals to get your heart pumping. There are plenty of ways to incorporate cardio into your workout routine; play around with your choices and find a balance that works for you!
Incorporating HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is another great addition to your dumbbell weight loss program. HIIT workouts alternate between an interval of intense work (usually 40 seconds to a minute) and a shorter interval of rest (usually 10 to 20 seconds). While many HIIT exercises are cardio-focused, you can also do dumbbell exercises! Try 40 seconds of thrusters or goblet squats followed by a few seconds of rest, then a cardio-focused interval. HIIT workouts are a great way to incorporate strength and cardio exercises into your routine.
Paying attention to nutrition and recovery
Finally, don’t forget that exercise is just one piece of the puzzle regarding healthy weight loss. Your workouts won’t be very effective if you’re not making healthy choices with your diet. Moreover, you might even be harming your body if you work out too much without allowing time for rest! Make sure to prioritize proper nutrition and recovery to maximize the effectiveness of your dumbbell exercises. After an intense day of strength training, giving yourself a day of recovery is good. Even when you work out, remember to cool down and warm up with stretches–you’ll protect your muscles from injury and ensure your body performs optimally.
In conclusion, muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so over time, as you build more muscle, your body will burn more calories at rest than before you built that muscle. Strength training burns calories like any exercise because your muscles need energy to contract, which requires burning stored fuel. The number of calories you burn in a strength training workout depends on numerous factors, such as your body weight and composition, the intensity of the workout, the specific exercises you perform, and the duration or training volume of the workout.
Incorporating a rotation of dumbbell workouts, you can boost your weight loss goals and take a break from all of that cardio to add variety to your workouts. Set a realistic fitness goal, select the appropriate sized weights to prevent injury, and add variety to your routine.
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