Time Efficient Training – Dumbbell Badassery

While most fitness folks believe an individuals progression with respect to resistance used should go from bodyweight to medicine balls/resistance bands to dumbbells to barbells to other complicated equipment, I tend to consider dumbbells to as a perfect beginner level equipment. Let me make this clear. I am by no means hinting that dumbbells are only for beginners. I am stating the fact that dumbbells are a perfectly good resistance to use for everyone from beginner to advanced levels.

After all dumbbells have been around since the 17th century and old time strongmen (who were pretty freakin strong by the way) used them extensively.

My reasons for choosing dumbbells over bands and cables and the almighty shake weights are as follows.

  • Dumbbells offer the potential to move a load through the full range of motion (and hence, in certain cases, more effective than even barbell training).
  • A complete beginner, who might not be able to work effectively with his/her bodyweight, can benefit immensely by via progressive loading using dumbbell exercises since dumbbells typically range from 1 lbs to 150 lbs.
  • Dumbbells (like barbells) can be used for  legit strength training and for hardcore conditioning.
  • Program design using dumbbells can range from very simple (for beginners) to extremely complex (for advanced lifters).
  • Dumbbells lend themselves very well to jive with functional training aimed at rehabilitation, recovery,  joint stabilization, joint mobility etc.
  • Since dumbbells provide the option of asymmetric loading, they can be used very effectively utilized to strengthen the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (a.k.a ‘the core’).
  • Dumbbells are the perfect no-nonsense equipment for workouts that are super time efficient and extremely effective.

Just like how the existence of Mila Kunis is enough reason for for all mankind to smile, the widespread availability of such an effective training tool is reason reason for all of us to be fit! That said, here a few dumbbell complexes that are aimed at conditioning/fat loss and require just one dumbbell and 15 min of your (otherwise to-be-wasted-in-facebook) time.

Dumbbell Complex – Instructions:

  • All workouts require only one dumbbell.
  • Where the words ‘one arm dumbbell’ are used, you will grip the dumbbell with either the right or left hand and perform the entire sequence. This will be round 1. In round 2, you will use your other hand. Be sure to balance the sides out.
  • Where the term ‘single dumbbell’ is used, you will grip the dumbbell with both hands and perform the exercises in the sequence.
  • The dumbbell you choose should be one that you can lift 10-12 times in your weakest lift in that particular sequence. For eg. Say a sequence calls for 6 reps each of goblet squats, military press and dumbbell snatches. Chances are the military press is the weakest lift out of the three. So you will choose a dumbbell using which you can perform ~ 10 reps of one arm military press. Realize that based on your bodyweight and fitness level, the load you are working with can be anywhere from 1 lb to 70 lb. [At a bodyweight of ~ 145 lbs and intermediate/advance fitness level, I need no more than a 55 lb dumbbell to get my bottoms whipped!]
  • You will perform all repetitions of an exercise and immediately proceed to the next exercise in the sequence without rest and without letting go of the dumbbell. You will rest (for the prescribed amount of time) only after completing all reps of all exercises in the sequence. This is one round. Then you will repeat this for as many rounds as prescribed.
  • Watch the embedded video to get a clear understanding of how to perform these dumbbell complexes.

Example 1: Asymmetrically Loaded One Arm Dumbbell Complex

  • 6 x One arm dumbbell lunge [Note: 6 per leg]
  • 6 x One arm dumbbell hang clean
  • 6 x One arm dumbbell push presses
  • 6 x One arm dumbbell snatches
  • Rest 60-90 sec

Repeat for a total of 3 to 8 rounds based on current fitness level.

Example 2: Push, Pull & Carry – One Arm Dumbbell Complex

  • 8 x One arm dumbbell snatches – Right
  • 20 m x One arm loaded carry – Right
  • 8 x One arm dumbbell push press – Right
  • 8 x One arm dumbbell snatches – Left
  • 20 m x One arm loaded carry – Left
  • 8 x One arm dumbbell push press – Left
  • Rest 60-90 sec

Repeat for a total of 3 to 8 rounds based on current fitness level.

Example 3: Single Dumbbell Complex

  • 5 x Goblet squats
  • 5 x Single dumbbell push presses
  • 10 x Single dumbbell thrusters
  • 5 x Single dumbbell push presses
  • 5 x Goblet squats
  • Rest 60-90 sec

Repeat for a total of 3 to 8 rounds based on current fitness level.

Here is a video of myself doing one round of this single dumbbell complex. I am working with a light 30 lb dumbbell here because this was immediately after a taxing sprint/push/pull workout (My wobbly squats are proof that sprints kill!). But trust me – when I use 60 lb dumbbells, it makes me wish I wasn’t born! So, do yourself a favor and leave your ego at home before you head off to the gym to tackle this beast.

Note: What you see here is one round. Typically, at the completion of this, I rest 60-90 seconds and do another and continue this round till I reach ~ 7-8 rounds or till I collapse!

How to make this work for you

  • If you have never done anything like this before, start with a 5-10 lb dumbbell. See how you feel. Only the last 3-4 reps should feel hard in the first 2-3 rounds. Increase or decrease the load based on that. I’ll warn you now – if you choose a weight that makes you fight for the last few reps in the first round… you ain’t gonna make it through!
  • If you have some legit lifting experience, start off with a modest 25 lb dumbbell and go from there.
  • If you’re doing this as a conditioning workout, keep the load light enough to be able to reach 7-8 rounds and focus on speed of movement.
  • If you are doing this as a strength+conditioning workout, keep the load moderately heavy and focus on technique and exploding at each rep.
  • If you are incorporating this into your current lifting routine, start off with one session a week and slowly increase to two or three depending on how well you recover.
  • If you are planning on using complexes as your only lifting workouts, start with a load you can handle with only slight discomfort and slowly increase the load and/or number of rounds on a weekly basis i.e focus on progression. If you are currently completely unconditioned, start with one hard session/week and slowly increase the frequency maxing out at 3-4 hard sessions/week with enough rest between sessions.

In the coming weeks, I’ll write more about using dumbbells (and other equipment) as a tool for strength training and conditioning. Until then be good kids and share the knowledge!

Peace.

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11 responses to “Time Efficient Training – Dumbbell Badassery

  1. Divya June 15, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Awesome post! You’re in pain-inflicting mode, I can see 🙂

    P.S: Two thumbs up for the Mila Kunis link!!

  2. Arvind Ashok June 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    I miss doing dumbbell complexes – haven’t done them since my SFCrossFit days. These look pretty darn exhausting – the third one with squats/thrusters/squats (like a wall-ball workout but harder) is one am gonna try soon!
    If you write one about using two dumbbells, am sure it will involve a two-arm dumbbell complex we did at SFCF, called a manmaker. It combines push ups, one arm rows, power cleans, and push presses (kinda like a burpee with dumbbells). We had to sprint 400m after that. I managed 3 rounds before the first guy finished his 5 rounds – that’s kinda one of the reasons I got hooked onto CrossFit!

  3. Ganesh RK June 16, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Nice One…Will try this out tomorrow….

  4. Arunima June 16, 2011 at 9:04 am

    These are awesome creations,Raj. Will try one of these over the weekend and see how it goes. BTW I couldnt find a pullup bar in my gym, it has those pullup machines though. Is it a good idea to invest in buying a pullup bar for home – what are your recommendations on that…and do these pullup bars cause any damage to the door frames ?
    P.S – if we dont do that that 15 mins of FB, how else would you get so much activity in your FB group 😛

    • RG June 16, 2011 at 4:06 pm

      The pull-up assit machines arent all bad. But buying a pullup bar for the house isnt a bad idea either. They cost like 20 bucks and they fit on any door way. Look for the iron gym ones.

      About the FB stuff – Good point about activity on the group… but are you telling me ppl spend ONLY that 15 min on FB? 😉

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  6. nutreas July 4, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Dumbells are a nice change and should be incorporated into any workout !

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