You travel. You take trips. There are probably even days when you don’t want to leave the house. It’s because of occasions like these that we sat down and jotted down some ideas that we thought would be helpful to you, our dedicated & sweaty readers, for times when you needed to get a workout in but, for whatever reason, couldn’t make it to the gym. So here you go: ten exercises you didn’t know you could do with just a dumbbell.
- Farmer’s Walk (Beginner) – Imagine you’ve been up since 4AM and you’ve just finished with the morning milking and now you’ve got to get the warm, frothy milk up to the icebox in the big house before it spoils. Got it? Good. Now you understand from whence this exercise’s name comes. And that’s exactly what you’ll be doing with your dumbbell in your hotel room or your house: picking it up and walking. Back and forth. Over and over. Maintain an erect posture and be sure to switch hands when you finish a lap. This is an excellent exercise for overall strength as well as hand, abdominal, and generalized core strength specifically.
- Suitcase Carry (Intermediate) – This exercise should really be called “the suitcase pick up” but we were concerned that there would be some confusion about what was actually going on if we called it that and since this exercise doesn’t involve espionage or the exchange of contraband, we’re going to call it the Suitcase Carry. This exercise mimics a traditional deadlift with an asymmetric load. Stand in the middle of a room with your dumbbell on the floor next to you, squat down to pick it up and, while maintaining a tight core and the natural curvature of your back, stand up. Repeat as necessary, alternating sides of your body.
- Overhead Should Press (Beginner) – One of the staples of strength training, the overhead shoulder press can be performed seated or, for a more challenging lift with more emphasis on your abdominal muscles, standing. This movement doesn’t require a lot of space and it is extremely effective at building strength and, because you’ll be using an asymmetric load, balance as well.
- Bent-over Rows (Intermediate) – Another old school strength training staple, the bent-over row is a great way to work your lats and your obliques when you need an economy of space. Simply lean over with your hand on a night table or dresser with the dumbbell in your other hand and lift the weight up and slightly back in such a way that your elbow travels in a, more or less, straight, vertical line.
- Upright Rows (Intermediate) – A variant of the bent-over row, the upright row consists on standing in an upright posture with the dumbbell held in front of your body at waist level and raising the dumbbell straight up to your chin. Effective, compact, straight-forward. Another great movement for when exercise space is at a premium.
- Chest Press (Beginner) – Assume a supine position on the floor with the dumbbell on your chest and use either one hand or two to press the weight straight up from your chest.
- Dumbbell Swings (Intermediate) – A variation on the recently popularized kettlebell swing, this exercise is performed by assuming an athletic stance with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart while holding the bell end of the dumbbell and then swinging the weight from its position in a natural hang to just above shoulder level and then controlling the weight on the downward portion of the swing.
- Squats: The foundation of all strength & conditioning as well as bodybuilding training programs. The squat is, along with the deadlift, the mist effective way to increase strength, build muscle and burn fat. The squat, as it is usually thought of, is actually called the back squat and it is traditionally performed with a barbell across the shoulders of the lifter. Because we are working with just a dumbbell and because we are working with athletes of varying skill levels, we’ve decided to include three variants of the traditional squat that can be performed by everyone from beginners who are sticking to their New Year’s resolutions all the way to Crossfitters stuck in an Airport Hilton on their way to a Paleo Diet convention.
- Goblet Squat (Beginner) – The most easily performed of the three squats, the goblet squat consists of holding the dumbbell just as you would when performing the dumbbell swing but instead of swinging the weight, simply squat down to the point that your hips are just below being parallel with your knees. Now stand up and repeat.
- Front Squat (Intermediate) – Hold the weight just as you did when you were overhead pressing it earlier in your workout but instead of extending your arm and pressing the weight above your head, you’re going to keep the weight at shoulder height and squat down the same way you did when performing the Suitcase Carry earlier.
11. Overhead (Advanced) – The squat portion of the Overhead Squat is performed exactly the same way as the previous two squats. The difference is in the location of the load, which is above your head. So, to illustrate, imagine that you’ve just pressed your dumbbell above your head just like you did while doing the Overhead Press; now, before you lower the weight back to your shoulder, squat down and stand back up. That’s one repetition. Now go crazy.
So, the next time you’re on the road or snowed-in at your mountain AirBnB or just taking a break at Coachella before Migos perform, you’ll be able to retrieve the dumbbell you always keep in your backpack or piece of carry-on luggage, just like we all do, and you can get your lift on. Even without a gym.