help me be smart with dumbbells
March 6, 2017 4:04 PM   Subscribe

What are some starting exercises that I can do with dumbbells that would be baby steps toward eventually reaching a full fledged weight training program?

So I'm a month into my new fitness lifestyle. (Yay, go me!) I've cleaned up my diet and walk for over an hour per day. The excess body weight is starting to come off.

At home I have a pair of adjustable dumbbells. I'd like to slowly start incorporating weight training into my fitness routine. However, I don't want to make too many changes too fast. I'm afraid that I'll get demoralized if I can't keep up with the new fitness routine.

What are some starting exercises, # of sets, # of repetitions that I can do with dumbbells that would be baby steps toward eventually reaching a full fledged weight training program?
posted by Gosha_Dog to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't exactly what you asked for, but wanted to throw in that I have been using the (free) Nike Training Club app as my "at-home strength training for dummies" and really like it. You can choose between specific workouts, each of which specifies equipment/activity/reps/etc., or it will set up a structured multi-week training program for you (there are different kinds of programs, sounds like you would want the "strength" one) that has different exercises, videos of each exercise, tips on form, etc. It's kind of like having a free personal trainer who tells you exactly what to do, though of course you have to keep an eye on your form yourself. Some of the strength exercises are bodyweight-only, but you can also specify what kind of equipment you have available.

One tip I would have to make the multi-week program work for you, if you do try it, is that when setting up the program they ask you what your current exercise frequency is, and despite the fact that you are being very active with your daily walking (which, yay for you, btw!) I would set it at "0-1" hours per week because you aren't currently doing any strength. If you do this, it will start you out with very basic, short beginner exercises appropriate to your level. (I learned this the hard way...)

Good luck, and congrats on your progress so far!
posted by Owl of Athena at 4:16 PM on March 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

Shoulder press, front raise, lateral raise, bent-over row, bicep curls, triceps extensions.

Here's what you do. Do each one of the above until you literally cannot do another one ("to failure"). Divide the number of reps you did by two, then do three sets of the result three times a week. (I.e., if you did fourteen reps to failure, do three sets of seven.) After a week, go to failure again, and repeat the process. You should notice an increase in the number of reps you're able to do to failure quite soon.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:14 PM on March 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Starting Strength
posted by LoveHam at 6:13 PM on March 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Walking lunges work. You can hold a dumbbell in one hand straight up, you can hold one in each hand straight down or you can hold one with both your hands at chest level and then do walking lunges. It might be initially that the lunges are enough without the weights, but adding weights is a way to increase the intensity. You probably want to do something like 2-3 sets of 15-20 at a time. If you don't have that much space for walking lunges you can also do standing lunges.

If you have a bench, or something else of the right height, you could also do some split squats. Again, you may be doing it without any weight for a while but it is definitely something that gets taxing with even modest amounts of weight. You want to use a weight that lets you do 3 sets of 8-10.

Also if you have a bench, you could do chest presses and flys with the dumb bells. A good variation for the chest presses is to do alternate sides one at a time in an explosive fashion (like you are punching straight up with the dumb bell in your hands). For this as well 3 sets of 8-10 is probably good.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:26 PM on March 6, 2017

Dumbell squats!

Three sets of 8. Alternate with an upper body exercise, like dumbell rows.

And don't forget core exercises, that's actually the most important thing. This set of core exercises is good.
posted by overhauser at 8:00 PM on March 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

So, Starting Strength is a good recommendation for barbell training, but no so much, or at all, for dumbbells.

To what weight to these dumbbells adjust? 20kg a piece? They are a good candidate for goblet squats to teach that movement, overhead pressing to teach that movement, and rows to teach that movement. They are also good for farmer's walks and, of course, curls.

I would do something like:

(All sets x reps)

3 x 5 goblet squats
3 x 5 overhead presses
Walk with both fully loaded for as far as you can until you need to set them down, then walk back to where you started from

3 x 5 goblet squats
3 x 5 rows
Walk with both fully loaded as above, hopefully a little further this time

3 x 5 goblet squats
3 x 5 curls
Walk, as above

Do this for a few weeks, say two months, while keeping a training journal, then go back and assess how it all went. Start light light light, and add a little weight every week (whatever the next increment is on the 'bells). Make sure your training journal is as detailed as possible, so you can track soreness, energy levels, and of course whether you make all your sets and reps.

I'm assuming you've never trained with weights before, so that's why you want to start light and start easy. Don't try and do a hundred different things or a hundred different exercises. You want to drill movements and habit.

Good luck!
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:32 PM on March 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I came here to say goblet squats and overhead presses but turbid dahlia said it really well already.

The way I see it, the key is to stick to heavy compound movements that you can do right away but that, over time, reward A) attention to form and B) increased weight. That means goblet squats, overhead presses, lunges, farmer's walks (as td describes), rows (single or double), and not much else. Future exercises might include other high-return-on-investment stuff like Turkish get-ups and dumbbell swings, but those require some learning so either don't worry about it yet except to research if you want.

In limited-equipment scenarios like this I like two to four sets of 10 to 20 reps, per exercise. This might look like so: warm up by spending five minutes swinging your arms and legs, dynamically bending your trunk, and doing unweighted versions of the exercises you're about to do with the dumbbells. Then do the goblet squats (3 sets of 20), then overhead presses (3 sets of 10), then lunges (2 sets of 10, each side), then rows (3 sets of 10), then farmer's walks (as above), then you're done. (If you do the Turkish get-ups then do them first, in batches of one or two.)

As td said, the most important thing is consistency of effort. Build a habit of doing it four (or whatever) times a week, of making it a priority, of arranging your mealtimes so you are neither hungry nor full when you work out.
posted by daveliepmann at 10:14 PM on March 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Muscle Mechanics is a bit dry, but it goes into detail about the functions of various muscles and has a wide variety of exercises. It covers correct technique for the exercises.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:00 PM on March 6, 2017

I'm someone who needs coaching and I very much like Chalene Johnson's video Chalene Extreme. It's a total workout, alternating exercises and parts of the body. She's upbeat but not annoying, there are 9 different routines and the workouts range from 30 to 45 minutes each. I saw noticeable change within 2 weeks, it gives me more energy and people noticed I was standing up straighter.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:27 AM on March 7, 2017

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