5 Dumbbell Exercises for a Full-Body Burn
Dumbbells allow you to pack cardio and strength training into one killer full-body workout. Here, we share five exercises to try with this versatile piece of gym equipment.
If you want to kill two workout birds (cardio and strength) with one stone, compound exercises are the way to go. Combo exercises mesh at least two moves into one continuous flow, so you work multiple muscles and build functional strength. Pick up the pace to kick your heart rate into high gear, adding cardio benefits, too. Or, intensify your workout by adding dumbbells.
“Compound movements access multiple joints and muscle groups, thereby offering a more complete workout in less time,” says Dara Theodore, one of the three lead trainers for Daily Burn’s Power Cardio program. “The moves in Power Cardio are total-body, which makes them very beneficial for building strength and burning calories.”
Theodore likes using dumbbells over weight machines for compound exercises, because they challenge your stability. This forces you to use more muscles to maintain proper form.
“Dumbbells are really accessible and can be less intimidating [than machines] because most people are more familiar with them. They also allow great range of motion,” Theodore says. “You can pretty much do anything with them!” Get started now with this total-body dumbbell workout, featuring a few of our favorite moves from Power Cardio.
Your Total-Body Dumbbell Workout
These total-body compound exercises from Theodore’s “Build and Burn” Power Cardio workout turn up the burn from head to toe. Do eight reps of each move and repeat the sequence for two to three rounds.
1. Renegade Row to Frogger
Targets: Core, arms and glutes
Before you try the renegade row, Theodore recommends practicing the perfect plank! (Get our full tutorial here.) The goal of the frogger is to get your feet outside of your hands and keep your weight in your heels, Theodore says.
How to: Get into a high plank with one dumbbell in each hand and shoulders directly over wrists. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip-distance apart to keep your hips from rocking side to side (a). Pushing into the left dumbbell on the floor, row the right dumbbell upward, retracting your right shoulder blade and pulling your right elbow in by your side (c). Repeat the same movement on the left side (d). From the plank position, jump your feet forward so they land outside of your hands. Then, take your hands off the dumbbells and bring them up to chest height (d). This is one rep. Repeat.
2. Reverse Lunge and Curl
Targets: Glutes and biceps
In addition to strengthening and building power in your glutes, lunges offer a great balance and stability challenge. In a split stance, you have to recruit more muscles to keep your back and chest upright. “I like to focus on pulling myself up from the lunge position with the front leg, rather than pushing off the back leg to stand. I find that this pull motion activates the larger muscles of the glutes even more,” Theodore explains.
How to: Stand with feet hip-distance apart holding a dumbbell in each hand down by your sides (a). Step your right foot back and lower your body to the floor, bending your knees to a 90-degree angle. Make sure your right knee lowers just above the floor (b). As you bring your right foot back up to stand, perform a bicep curl (c). This is one rep. Continue, alternating sides.
3. Dumbbell Squat to Press
Targets: Glutes, arms and shoulders
Also known as a thruster, the squat to press is a total-body exercise, which makes it great for conditioning. “The force generated from the lower body — glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps — gets transferred to the upper body,” Theodore says.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart holding a dumbbell in each hand in the rack position (a). Squat down, keeping your weight in your heels and your butt back and down (b). As you stand back up, press the dumbbells up from your shoulders to overhead (c). Lower back down and repeat.
4. High Pull Lateral Lunge
Targets: Glutes, core and back
Theodore likes to think of this exercise as two hinging motions: the deadlift and the lateral lunge. “When we hinge at the hip, we drive the glutes back and simultaneously brace the core to keep it engaged. Your back will remain straight if your core is engaged,” she says. Theodore defines bracing your core as contracting all the muscles that surround the spine, as you would do when bearing down or giving a sharp exhale.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart with a dumbbell in each hand, held slightly in front of you, palms facing backward. Hinge forward at the hips with a straight back (a). Bracing your core and keeping your back flat, squeeze your glutes to stand back up. As you reach the top of your stance, pull the dumbbells up to shoulder-height, bending your elbows out to the sides (b). Then, take a big step to your right, pushing your hips back and butt down to lower into a lateral lunge. Aim to get your right thigh parallel to the floor. At the same time, bring the weights down by your feet (d). Stand back up, bringing your right foot to hip-distance (e). Repeat the same movement on the left side. Continue alternating.
5. Tricep Extension Swing
Targets: Triceps and glutes
Although you normally do swings with kettlebells, this dumbbell variation provides the right placement for your hands and shoulders in the tricep extension, Theodore says.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart holding one dumbbell, with a hand on each end (a). Hinge forward with a flat back to bring the dumbbell between your legs (b). Then, driving from your hips, swing the dumbbell up overhead (c). Bend your elbows at the top to complete a tricep extension. Your elbows should frame your face (d). In a slow and controlled movement, extend your arms up (e). Then, swing the dumbbell back down to the hinge position (f). Repeat.
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