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How to Use Just One Dumbbell to Work Your Entire Body
You can accomplish a lot with a single weight.
From Self Magazine-By Jenny McCoy-Reviewed by Christa Sgobba, C.P.T.
If you’re short on equipment, that doesn’t mean you have to shelve your workout: This one-dumbbell workout shows you can work your entire body—you just need to employ some strategic programming.
For instance, one-dumbbell workouts lend themselves to exercises where just one side of your body is loaded with weight. These types of moves, known as unilateral exercises, are especially great at helping you pinpoint and ultimately correct any strength imbalances you have from side to side.
Now, most of us have some degree of imbalance from side to side, meaning one arm or leg is stronger than its counterpart. While minor discrepancies may be NBD, significant gaps can lead to injury since the stronger side can overstress itself by taking on too much work for the weak side. With unilateral moves, you can become aware of imbalances and correct them if needed, thus reducing your risk of injury and boosting your overall strength.
Additionally, unilateral exercises are awesome for challenging your core. “The core has to stabilize when one side of your body is loaded,” ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, CPT, owner of Strong With Sivan, tells SELF. Core stabilization helps keep your body upright and ensures it doesn’t tip over or fall to the side.
With that in mind, Fagan created the below one-dumbbell workout for SELF that’s loaded with unilateral exercises—as well as one bilateral move, since there are also benefits to working both sides of your body at the same time. Together, these five moves will work your entire body and seriously fire up your core.
This routine is intended to be performed with a medium weight dumbbell (think 10 to 20 pounds), and as a result, the rep count varies between the moves. That’s because when you’re working with just one weight, the appropriate number of reps will really depend on which exercise you’re doing and the muscle groups it engages.
For example, in this workout, the weighted glute bridge has the highest number of reps since it’s an exercise that hones in on your glutes, which are a super-strong muscle group that can handle a lot of load, says Fagan. It’s also, like we mentioned, the only bilateral move, which means both sides of your body are helping to power the move, thus increasing the load you can take on. The single-arm overhead press, on the other hand, has a much lower rep count since it’s primarily a shoulder move, and your shoulders are a much smaller muscle group.
Of course, the rep ranges provided below are just guidelines, says Fagan. If you’re doing a move and feel like it’s too much for your muscles or you’re feeling it in other areas of your body, back off. “Always make sure that your form is on point,” says Fagan. “Don’t sacrifice form for repetition.”
You can do this workout two to three times a week, so long as you pencil in a day of rest in between workouts so your muscles have time to recover. Also important: Take a few minutes to warm up before getting started so your body is properly primed for the work ahead. Moves like striders, 90/90 stretch, dynamic adductor stretch, frog stretch, open and closed book, and pull-aparts can do the job, says Fagan.
What you need: A medium-weight dumbbell, between 10 to 20 pounds. If you have a wider range of dumbbells available, you may want to have them on hand in case you need to scale certain moves up or down. You’ll also need a workout bench or other study, raised surface for the bird-dog row.
- Reverse lunge
- Single-arm overhead press
- Bird dog row on bench
- Weighted glute bridge
- Plank pull-through
- For the Superset, complete each exercise for the prescribed number of reps, going from one move to the next without resting. Rest 1 minute after both are done. Complete 3 rounds total.
- For the Triset, complete the prescribed number of reps for each exercise without resting between moves. Rest 1 minute after all three are done. Complete 3 rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Sarah Taylor (GIF 1), a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Toronto; Nathalie Huerta (GIF 2), coach at the Queer Gym in Oakland; Jowan Ortega (GIF 3), a personal trainer, sports performance coach, and partner at Form Fitness in Brooklyn; and Shauna Harrison (GIF 4-5), a Bay Area–based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF.
- 1. Reverse Lunge
- Hold a dumbbell with your right hand and stand tall with your feet together.
- Step your right foot back and bend both knees to sink into a lunge. At the bottom of your lunge, your legs should form 90 degree angles.
- Pause for a beat, and then push through your left foot to return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.
- Do 8-12 reps reps. Then repeat with your left leg, holding the weight in your left hand.
This move works the quads in your legs as well as your glutes. Additionally, the fact that you’re holding a weight in just one hand delivers an extra core challenge since you have to brace your midsection to avoid bending to the side.
- Stand tall with a neutral spine, ribs stacked above your pelvis, and hips and shoulders square. Hold the dumbbell in one hand at shoulder level with palm facing forward, elbow bent, and wrist directly over elbow. This is the starting position.Press the dumbbell directly overhead without leaning over to the side. (You’ll have to engage your core to stay steady.) Keep your wrist directly over your elbow.Pause when your arm is fully extended, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.That’s 1 rep. Do 8-12 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
- Get into tabletop position on a bench. Make sure your shoulders, elbows and wrists are stacked in a straight line and that your knees are in line with your hips. Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, extend that arm straight so that the weight is not resting on the bench, and extend your left leg back, while maintaining a flat back. Think about driving your foot toward the wall behind you to incorporate more tension in the glutes. This is the starting position.Keeping your body as stable as possible, retract your shoulder blade as you pull the dumbbell toward your ribs. Hold briefly at the top of the movement (your elbow should be past your ribs, if you’re not able to pull it that far, then the weight may be too heavy).Slowly lower the weight by extending your arm toward the floor. That’s 1 rep.Do 8-12 reps on the same side, then repeat on the other side.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, spine neutral, and feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place a dumbbell on your thighs and hold the sides with both hands. This is the starting position.Keep spine neutral and squeeze your glutes up by pushing through your heels to lift your hips a few inches off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.Hold for 2 seconds and then slowly lower your hips to return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.Do 20 to 30 reps.
- 5. Plank Pull-ThroughStart in a high plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you wider than hip-width apart (it’ll help with stability), and your core and glutes engaged. Place a dumbbell slightly behind one palm. This is the starting position.With your hand opposite the dumbbell, reach across your body to grab the dumbbell and pull it to the other side of your body. Place your hand back on the ground in front of it. Keep your core braced to prevent moving from side to side. That’s 1 rep.Repeat on the other side and continue alternating for 5 reps on each side.