Sep 29, 2016
Smart Uses of Dumbbells
Allen Hedrick

Over the last four years, the Colorado State University-Pueblo football team has make it to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals three times, winning the championship in 2014. As its strength coach, I’m often asked what my “secret to success” is. Truth be told, I can’t narrow it down to just one thing.

But I do have several ideas and philosophies that I’ve found work well over the years. One in particular is the use of dumbbells.

Like most teams, we have a full line of dumbbells in our strength and conditioning facility. What sets us apart is that we use them — a lot. Nearly every exercise we perform with a barbell is also done with a dumbbell, including all of the Olympic lifts. In fact, we have more dumbbell exercises in our program than barbell ones.

Dumbbell training is beneficial for football players in particular because it includes both unilateral and alternating-arm exercises, neither of which can be performed with a barbell. This better prepares players for sport-specific skills that require their arms to do different things at the same time, such as a pass-rushing defensive end fighting off a blocker with one hand while reaching for the quarterback with the other, or a running back carrying the ball in his left arm while stiff-arming a defender with his right.

I’m also partial to dumbbells because they require more balance, coordination, and motor skill use than barbells. For example, think of an athlete performing unilateral dumbbell cleans with his left arm, using an 80-pound weight. Naturally, his left side is 80 pounds heavier than his right. This unbalanced condition forces him to engage his core to keep his body in an upright position, leading to a dual workout.

Our football skill position athletes have two dumbbell workouts per week: one consisting of Olympic lifts and lower-body training, and the second focused on Olympic lifts and upper-body training. In contrast, our big skill position athletes have one dumbbell workout per week that combines Olympic-style lifts with upper- and lower-body exercises.

Sample dumbbell exercises include:

  • bench presses
  • incline presses
  • rows
  • push presses
  • power jerks
  • cleans
  • snatches
  • squats
  • front squats
  • lunges
  • side lunges.

We advance from less complex, less sport-specific movements in the offseason to more complex lifts with a higher degree of sport specificity as the competitive slate approaches. With our dumbbells, the athletes start by performing dumbbell hang power cleans early in the off-season. Then, we move to dumbbell power cleans, dumbbell cleans, and dumbbell alternating cleans as we get closer to the season.

Allen Hedrick, MA, CSCS*D, is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He formerly held the same position at the NSCA's national headquarters and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

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