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Dumbbells: Covertly Engaging More Muscles Than You Believe

I don’t know about you, but at times while performing bodyweight exercises like squats or lunges, it feels like I can continue for an eternity. Contrarily, this is absolutely not the case, as anyone who has felt the burn during a prolonged set can affirm. However, I’ve discovered that if I incorporate even a small amount of weight to these movements, such as in an at-home full-body dumbbell workout, my ability to persevere diminishes so much faster. How can a dumbbell alter the game to such a degree?

Adding an external load, regardless of the amount of weight, challenges your entire body in a manner that holding only your own weight does not.

How dumbbells fortify your entire body

Progressive weight training, or gradually increasing the weight, is the proven method to construct muscle on any targeted body part. You can utilize a machine, barbells, kettlebells, or other implements for this purpose, but dumbbells are an excellent choice for a multifaceted workout.

When we envision dumbbells, we might immediately visualize bicep curls, but these traditional weights are a tool capable of much more. “Using free weights enables you to engage various muscle groups,” Vince Sant, lead trainer and co-founder of fitness platform V Shred, previously informed Well+Good about selecting between weight machines and free weights. Dumbbells can challenge your entire body, beyond the muscle group you are actively targeting, by “strengthening stabilizer muscles,” according to Sant. “This also aids in strengthening your overall physique, even if you are not aware of it.”

Therefore, incorporating weights into a bodyweight exercise that you assume primarily targets, for example, your quads and glutes (like a squat), actually challenges the small muscles supporting your joints (including your spine) across your body. This is because the weights threaten to disrupt your typical center of gravity, and it is your body’s responsibility to maintain stability while executing the targeted muscle movement.

Finally, dumbbells enable you to combine compound movements, such as a squat with a press, transforming a singular exercise into a comprehensive bodily exertion.

“There are numerous advantages to performing compound movements, including engaging more than one muscle simultaneously,” trainer Andrea Somer previously stated to Well+Good. “Compound movements enhance the coordination of all the muscles in the body to generate and regulate force and stability. They also involve more muscle tissue and necessitate greater oxygen.”

Common blunders individuals make when using dumbbells at home

The liberty provided by a free weight workout is both a blessing and a curse, as it allows for more errors. The most significant pitfall is failure to maintain proper form.

“One aspect to be wary of with free weights is the increased risk of injury due to the need to control your own form,” says Sant. Machines often offer support through a bench or backrest. Since free weights require you to sustain your own balance (back to those stabilizer muscles), not engaging your core or swaying your back to shift the load are common mistakes.

It is also crucial to select the appropriate weight. If the weight is too heavy, you will tire before completing the set, and you are likely to compensate for the struggle by compromising your form. The guideline for the correct weight is that the final few reps of your set should be challenging, but not to the extent that you need to compromise your form. Here’s what to observe if you believe you need to increase the weight, according to personal trainer Bianca Vesco’s advice to Well+Good:

  1. You can complete all your reps relatively easily.
  2. You have been using the same weights for months.
  3. You have no difficulty zoning out during your sets.
  4. You seldom experience soreness or fatigue.

Attempt our at-home full-body dumbbell workout

Another significant advantage of dumbbells is that you can employ them for a workout within your own personal space. The key to transforming a dumbbell workout into a full body exercise is to ensure it is balanced, engaging multiple major muscle groups, and incorporating a variety of motions, such as pulling or pushing, pressing or pulling.

Ready to give it a shot? This workout from trainer Sara DeBerry for Well+Good’s Trainer of the Month Club provides a conditioning session for your lower body, upper body, and core in just 20 minutes. A dynamic warm-up involves practicing the moves that you will execute with dumbbells in the working sets, enabling you to activate your muscles to maximize the effectiveness of the exercises. The core of the video consists of two sets of three moves within two working blocks. The first set includes front-racked squats, curls into Arnold presses, and finally the bodyweight core exercise, the bear crawl. The second set comprises deadlifts with an alternating reverse lunge, plank rows with a push-up, and a core/cardio burst featuring a broad jump, shuffling back into mountain climbers.

If you are prepared to challenge your entire body with the aid of some dumbbell companions, remember to select a weight that permits you to sustain 45-second sets while upholding proper form, then go for it.

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