Full-Body Workout: 6 Exercises with only Dumbbells
It can be a confusing time during social isolation knowing how to get our bodies moving in the best way, especially as we’re bombarded left, right and centre on social media with so many home workouts. Many of us have gym equipment like old dumbbells in the corner of our room we haven’t considered taking full advantage of until now, following the gym closures.
One of the most commonly owned and incredibly versatile gym tools is the dumbbell. So, what better way to shake off some isolation blues and anxiety than with exercises to get us moving with this kit that so many of us already have about the house.
Let’s take things back to basics and truly master six essential movements using dumbbells, perfect to do at home – inside your home or outside in the garden.
1. SQUAT INTO SHOULDER PRESS
This is a great move to really wake up your body if you’ve been stuck in the house all day, as it works the entire body in one fluid motion. A game-changer for your lower body and shoulders in particular, this move really challenges coordination, muscular endurance, balance and core stability.
- Standing with feet shoulder width apart, hold dumbbells close to the body at shoulder level.
- Take a big breath in and lower the hips into a squat position, keeping weight in your heels during this movement and knees tracking slightly outwards inline with the feet. Make sure your spine is staying neutral throughout.
- Chest proud, engage the glutes and take a sharp breath out into an explosive movement upwards into standing, using that momentum to send the dumbbells overhead.
- Hold dumbbells overhead for a second, packing the shoulders – ensuring shoulder blades are squeezed towards each other – and in a controlled movement bring the dumbbells back to the starting position, immediately dropping into a squat again to repeat the movement.
- Repeat 10-14 times.
2. SINGLE ARM TRICEP KICKBACKS
Similar to pretty much every other muscle in the body, your triceps respond to a variety of different exercises and training stimuli that challenge them to a range of different angles. The triceps comprise three heads – hence its prefix ‘tri’ – and this isolation move in particular is really great at hitting all three heads – long, lateral, and medial (if done correctly!).
- Pick up one dumbbell with your left arm and scissor your stance by stepping your right foot in front of you into a half lunge and left leg reaching out behind you – right foot faces forwards and left foot faces slightly outwards to create more stability in the position.
- Maintaining a neutral spin, the right arm is bent with the right forearm resting above the right knee and keeping weight into that right heel to ensure you feel stable throughout the movement.
- Left elbow lifts up to meet the torso – keeping that elbow as tight to it as possible – whilst holding your dumbbell in the left hand (held parallel to the floor).
- Elbow extends by contracting the muscles in the left triceps, until the arm is fully straight – you should slowly rotate the dumbbell throughout movement so that the back-face of the dumbbell is facing up towards the sky in the top part of this movement.
- Squeeze the triceps in a hold for a second at the top and slowly bring the dumbbell back to starting position. Repeat for 10-14 reps.
- Change arms and repeat movement for another 10-14 reps.
3. BICEP HAMMER CURL
There are many variations of bicep curls you can do, each with their own merit and benefits. In particular, hammer curls will improve the thickness and overall strength of the arm and forearm – not to mention, they’re also pretty simple to master technique-wise.
- Stand with feet planted shoulder width apart, a slight bend in the knees, dumbbells held in each hand and palms facing towards the body.
- With your chest wide and shoulders packed, take a big breath in. Sharp breath out, and curl the dumbbells up to meet the shoulders – making sure you’re keeping palms faced towards each other throughout.
- Hold for a second and squeeze the bicep muscles before lowering them in an unhurried movement back to your starting position.
- Repeat 10-12 times.
4. DUMBBELL PUSH UP
This is a key exercise for developing your chest, and you can also play around with different grips on this same move to target different muscle groups more prominently – for instance, a neutral grip with palms facing one another will shift the work more towards the triceps. Another great tip if you’re working out in isolation with little equipment, if you want to increase the resistance of the moves you can try filling up a backpack with something weighty such as books to have on your back during the push up, or even placing a small bag of compost or sandbag from the garden on your back.
- With dumbbells placed shoulder distance apart on the floor – and the faces of the dumbbells looking towards each other – start with your knees on the floor in a table top position. Knees are under the hips and shoulders are aligned above each dumbbell, with each dumbbell gripped in boths hands so that knuckles are facing forwards.
- Step your feet behind and take weight into the balls of your feet as you enter a full plank. Keep a neutral spine, bracing the abdominals and firing up the glutes – there should be a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.
- Now lower down into a push up until your body hovers just above the floor, making sure your body stays in that straight line throughout.
- Pause for a second and then push yourself back up.
- Repeat 10-14 times.
5. PLANK ROW
This exercise targets several key muscle groups in one simple movement, working the upper back in our pull, developing anti-rotational core strength as we hold the plank throughout – which can help with balance, coordination, and even fall-prevention.
- Assume the same starting position as you did with your push up, but this time dumbbell grips are placed parallel and palms of hands faced towards each other. Take your table-top into a plank with dumbbells gripped and roughly shoulder distance apart. Feet are hips width apart.
- Engage your abdominals and glutes, ensuring a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Take a big breath in, and now pull your right elbow towards the sky just above the ribs, feeling the tension in your upper back. Keep your core tight through this movement to ensure hips stay square to the floor as you ensure there is no rocking from side to side.
- Hold for one second before you start to lower the dumbbell back to the floor in a controlled movement, and repeat this movement on the left arm.
- Repeat this exercise 10-14 each side.
6. RUSSIAN TWIST
This exercise will fire those abs back up after a day of being stuck in the house sitting. The great thing about the Russian Twist is that it helps strengthen and improvement movement on the transverse plane – i.e. twisting your upper and lower body – which aren’t targeted in so many other movements we regularly do in our workouts.
- Take your dumbbell by its grip and sit on the floor with knees bent.
- Elevate your feet a few inches off the ground and hold the weight straight out in front of you, leaning back to take your torso to about 45 degrees to the floor and keeping your spine neutral – you should have a nice V-shape with your torso and thighs now.
- Keeping your chest proud and shoulders packed throughout, turn your torso to the left by engaging the abdominals and bring the weight aligned with your left hip. Now, reverse the motion back to centre and immediately to the right side to repeat the moment.
- Repeat 10-14 times each side.
There are many ways you can piece these moves together to create a full workout, so feel free to do what suits you or adapt them into your current training. If you’re feeling up to an extra spicy sweat sesh, why not do these moves as a circuit? Not only is this super time efficient, but it will also help you improve your cardiovascular health as well as challenging your muscular endurance and strength.
Try this: three rounds in total, using the repetitions suggested in moves above, 20 seconds rest in between each set and a one minute breather after each circuit.
Remember to start with a five-minute warm up – for example, sets of simple bodyweight movements such as walk-outs, air squats and lunges to begin, and raising your heart rate with some quick feet on-the-spot and high knees. Finish off the workout with a lighter cool down, stretching the muscles and easing the body back into a pre-workout state.
George Palmer is a writer and personal trainer. George will be doing his own free online home fitness content via his Instagram, and for more information on one-to-one online training visit his website.