Here is a cool reference site for dumbbell exercises that I found by accident the other day. Most of these are pretty basic, and I would ignore the isolation exercises (curls, extensions, and so on).
Over 20 Dumbbell Exercises Complete with Animated DiagramsThese are more in line with what I like to do, full-body, multi-joint, Olympic dumbbell work, with links to videos. These are from American Parkour, a cool site. I love the DB swing, as well as the snatch, two staples for myself and my clients (much to their dismay).
Dumbbell exercises form an integral part of most strength training programs. They can be used to develop the various different elements of strength such as maximal strength, hypertrophy or muscle mass, explosive power and strength endurance.
Free weights such as dumbbells activate smaller stabilizing muscle groups to control the exercise. Resistance machines on the other hand, tend to work muscle groups in very strict planes of movement. The downside of this very strict movement is that while some muscle groups will become significantly stronger, other, smaller muscles are neglected.
The other advantage dumbbell exercises have over machines is that they fit around your body so the movement can be performed correctly. Although resistance machines can be adjusted, such as the seat height for example, the movement pattern is still largely governed by how the machine is built.
Athletes typically favor dumbbell exercises over machines as they can replicate sport-specific movements more accurately. They also know that they will develop a more balanced physique and structure if most of their routine employs free weight exercises.
The dumbbell exercises below have been divided into the major muscle groups of the body. There are literally an unlimited number of routines you can put together with just a handful of these exercises. The first step is to determine an outcome – general fitness, increased muscle mass, strength endurance, improved athletic performance for example. Not only will this dictate which dumbbell exercises you select it will also dictate the weight and number of sets and repetitions you choose.
For sample weight training programs that focus on different elements of strength see the main strength training section.
Dumbbells are the perfect intro for the Olympic lifts and their derivatives, as the time required to master the barbell versions might not be worth the effort for many athletes. With that in mind, the most important movements for the dedicated Traceur (as well as most other athletes) are the explosive Olympic lifts:
1. Dumbbell Clean and the Dumbbell Jerk- The clean takes the weight from the ground, propels it upward through a jumping movement to be caught in the “rack” at shoulder-level in a full-squat (video coming soon!). A clean caught in a half-squat is a power-clean , and a clean that starts from thigh level is a hang-clean . A jerk takes the dumbbell from the rack at shoulder-level and propels it overhead by dipping into a partial squat, driving the weight upwards via-thigh and hip power, then dipping under the weight to catch it with fully-extended arms. A push jerk accomplishes this with your feet remaining side-by-side, while a split-jerk finishes in a split-lunge position. All of these aspects of the clean and the jerk are hugely beneficial to strength, speed and power as they use the hip extensors to explode a load through a jump into a dynamic catch. All of the above can be performed unilaterally (with one arm) to further challenge balance and coordination.
2. Dumbbell Snatch - This movement starts from the same position as the clean, but you jump forcefully enough to catch the dumbbell completely overhead with a fully extended arm, in a full squat, to stand up with the dumbbell extended overhead. A snatch caught in a partial-squat is a power snatch , while a snatch that starts from the hang is (drum roll…) a hang snatch ! This is the world’s fastest lift, and as such, it challenges coordination and balance to an extent that no other lift can manage. The snatch is especially well-suited to unilateral work, and besides the obvious power increase, there is a huge core-strength benefit to catching a single dumbbell overhead in a full squat after jumping it into some useful elevation. It’s also a great way to impress your neighbors and friends…
3. Dumbbell Front-Squat - A derivative of the clean, the front squat starts with one or two dumbbells held in the rack position at shoulder-level. From this point, squat down to a full bottom position, stand up, repeat. This is one of the most effective ways to train squat strength with dumbbells, though you will need to be able to clean the given weight at least once to get it into rack position…as if you needed another reason to do more cleans!
4. Dumbbell Overhead-Squat - A derivative of the snatch, put one or two dumbbells overhead (most-likely by push-pressing) and hold in a full locked-out position while squatting to full depth, stand up and repeat. This is a movement that challenges balance and core-stability like few others. Like the snatch, this movement is perhaps most-useful performed with one dumbbell, preferably for high reps right before a sprint, which will make you wonder who replaced your legs with jello…
After working these great movements into your routine, you can also begin to explore the strength and stability exercise that are slightly more-common, yet not quite common enough in the strength and conditioning world:
1. Overhead Press - Hold a dumbbell in rack position at shoulder level, press overhead, repeat. Pretty easy, huh? This is a great exercise for general shoulder strength and stability as well as core-strength as you are forced to support the load isometrically against some pretty serious leverage at the top of the lift. There are a couple of movements related to the press, such as the Push-Press, where you dip and then drive the weight up with assistance from the legs, and the Push-Jerk, that we discussed earlier. Like every other dumbbell exercise, these are great with one arm. One other benefit of the overhead press is its ability to work as a transition movement for the handstand push-up. Though not directly correlative, it helps to build the entire shoulder girdle in a similar manner, thus transferring nicely.
2. Dumbbell Swing - A cousin of the snatch, this movement is perfect for high-rep efforts, where your heart-rate will be screaming by the end of a workout. Grab a dumbbell in one or both hands, squat down with your back in a neutral position, allowing the weight to hang from straight arms between your legs. Stand up and extend your hips forcefully while swinging the weight overhead. Immediately reverse the motion, allowing the weight to swing between your legs and rebound into the next rep. Be sure to keep your spine neutral through the entire movement, as the tendency is to allow your upper-back to round at the bottom of the movement, thus putting you at risk of spinal injury.
3. Lunges, Bulgarian Split-Squats and Overhead Lunges- (video coming soon!) A great lower-body exercise, the lunge is the same as the regular bodyweight lunge, just holding dumbbells in both hands by your sides. A Bulgarian split-squat is performed with one foot behind you on a bench in lunge position. Squat down with two dumbbells by your side. The overhead version of the lunge is an excellent test of balance and coordination. Hold a dumbbell or two overhead, and lunge, repeat. Lunges can be performed to any direction, so don’t forget lateral lunges, with dumbbells hanging in front of your body, or “around the world” lunges, where you lunge to different points along an arch with one foot, then repeat with the other. These work hip adductors and abductors nicely.
4. The Turkish Getup - A fun and funky old-school exercise, the Turkish getup is a great core workout all by itself. Lie on the ground holding a dumbbell on outstretched arm. Begin to sit up with the aid of your free arm, adjusting the position of the dumbbell to keep it vertical throughout the movement. Transition from a seated position to one knee, in a slight lunge, keeping the dumbbell overhead, and then stand up keeping the dumbbell elevated the entire time. Reverse, and then repeat. Besides the obvious core-stability carryover, this movement is useful if you wake up with a gun to your head with the demand that you immediately serve a tray of drinks to an angry bunch of gangsters…it could happen!
5. The Thruster - The name is a Crossfit original, but the exercise is a deadly mix of a front-squat and a push-press. Seemingly innocuous, this exercise is a killer when performed with moderate loads for high reps. If you think you have endurance, combine a few sets of 20 into a circuit with a bodyweight movement and a sprint, then get back to me once you wake up…Stand with two dumbbells at rack position at shoulder level. Perform a front squat to full-depth, explode up and press the dumbbells overhead at the top of the squat, making it one smooth transition. Allow the dumbbells to return to shoulder-level, squat, and repeat. Mixed with pull-ups for 21-15-9, you get “Fran ,” a hellish Crossfit benchmark workout. Tread lightly, though the prescribed barbell weight at 95lb is pretty light, blasting through this workout will leave you hurting. You have been warned.