May 3, 2017
Working with Dumbbells

There are many weightlifting options for coaches who are helping an athlete develop strength and power. But one piece of equipment that is often overlooked could be the best tool for the job — the dumbbell. There are a plethora of advantages that come with using the dumbbell, including core strength, building sport specific movements, and even safely re-entering the weight room after injury.

One of the major advantages of dumbbells is the versatility in exercises that they provide. With only one set of dumbbells, an athlete can engage in a vast range of movements, as outlined by Allen Hedrick, CSCS, RSCC, FNSC, in an article from Human Kinetics.

This versatility allows coaches to choose exercises that are easier on injured athletes. As Hedrick explains, both arms do not need to be utilized when using dumbbells, as opposed to a barbell. This means that even if an athlete has a shoulder or other arm injury, they do not need to completely discontinue their weight room workouts. They can simply work on their uninjured side. And the same type of thinking can be applied to lower-body injuries.

“Similarly, a lower-body injury would prevent athletes from performing Olympic lifts with a barbell,” writes Hedrick. “However, by using just one dumbbell, stabilizing the body by holding onto something stable with the opposite hand, and lifting the injured leg off the floor, athletes can adapt the Olympic lifts to accommodate one leg.”

Being able to utilize one dumbbell at a time is also useful for helping new athletes learn sport specific movements, while also helping veteran athletes to strengthen them. Hedrick explains that with dumbbells, you can utilize exercises with alternating movements or single-arm movements, helping to teach and strengthen sport specific activities, such as spiking a volleyball, throwing a baseball, or swinging a racket.

With so many different types of exercises available for athletes, it can be difficult to know where to start and how to progress when it comes to dumbbell weight. In an article for Livestrong, trainer Mike Samuels states that using heavy weights too soon can cause poor form, which can then lead to injury. But knowing which weights to use depends a lot on the type of exercise an athlete is doing and the level of training they have already achieved.

No matter the type of exercise, Samuels suggests athletes start off at a weight with which they are able to do at least 15 perfect repetitions without too much strain. From here, athletes should move up in increments of no more than 5 pounds for each subsequent workout. While increasing weight, it is important to keep an eye on the athlete’s form. If form begins to fail, chances are that the athlete is using a weight that is too heavy. If this happens, they should move back down to the previous weight until they have built up enough strength to move up without losing form.

For athletes that have already been integrating dumbbells into their workouts, Samuels explains increasing weight can be harder, but that it can be done through cyclical progression.

“Most intermediate trainees will follow a linear microcycle, which could be three sets of 12 reps for four weeks, three sets of 10 with a slightly heavier weight in weeks five to eight and four sets of eight with a heavier weight again in weeks nine to 12,” he writes. “You would then go back to week one, but use a heavier weight [than the] first time round. This means you’ll be increasing your dumbbell strength every 12 weeks.”

In an article for Muscle & Strength, Eric Bach, CSCS, describes multiple dumbbell exercises and the benefits that they offer to the athlete. Here are two of those exercises:

Dumbbell Farmers Walk

The Farmer’s Walk improves both power and safety as it reinforces stability to the core. This will help decrease the chances of flexing your spine when doing other exercises, and increase your power when taking off in a sprint during game time.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides and palms facing in.
  2. Stand as tall as possible with your shoulders retracted and slightly shrugged.
  3. Walk slowly forward. With each step, the heel of the moving foot should line up with the toe of the stationary foot.
  4. Continue standing tall throughout the movement. Do not allow your body to sway or move laterally.

Watch this video from Bach Performance to see the Farmer’s Walk in motion.

Dumbbell Push Press

The Push Press uses the athlete’s ability to move the weight as fast as possible. This utilizes more muscle fibers and stimulates muscle growth, helping increase upper body power.

  1. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height.
  2. In a quick motion, dip into a quarter squat and immediately push upwards so your arms are straight and the weights are above your head.
  3. Lock the weights overhead, then lower them back to your shoulders.

To see the Push Press in motion, check out this video from Bach Performance.

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