Category Archives: Dumbbells

Dumbbells For Massive Legs

Dumbbells For Massive Legs
Exercise, including resistance training, acts as a stress on the body. We’re accustomed to thinking of stress as a negative, but when it comes to training, stress applied in the correct doses is a good thing – because stress is the trigger that causes physiological adaptation to occur.
For example, apply the correct amount of aerobic stress to the body and it will adapt by becoming more aerobically fit. Similarly, apply the correct level of stress using resistance training, and the body reacts by increasing muscle size and strength. Thus, when it comes to training, stress applied in the correct doses produces positive results.
However, one of the challenges for lifters is that the body adapts quickly. The trick, then, is to manipulate the stress of exercise often enough to keep the adaptation rate at an optimal level while avoiding becoming over trained.
While there are a number of variables (e.g., rest times, sets and reps, training speed, training intensity) you can manipulate to keep the stress of resistance training elevated, one of the most significant variables to manipulate is exercise selection.
By providing exercise variation each workout, and then adjusting the specific exercises performed every 4-6 weeks, the body will continually be faced with an elevated level of training stress.
For the lower body there are the typical barbell lower body exercises (squats, deadlifts, and straight leg deadlifts) that can be performed along with various exercise machines (leg press, hack squat, leg extensions, etc.).
However, one variation that isn’t often considered is performing lower body training with dumbbells. I’ve been using dumbbell lower body exercises to supplement the barbell lower body exercises we perform with my collegiate athletes with great success for a number of years now.
Some of you might be thinking that it will be impossible to overload the musculature of the lower body using dumbbells, but I guarantee that if you perform these exercises with strict technique and high intensity, you’ll be fully aware of your training the next day.

Training with dumbbells also provides some specific advantages:

Variety. 
Safety. 
Novelty. 
Even when performing an exercise that requires the barbell to be held in the hands, such as a straight leg deadlift (SLDL), the load placement still differs because the barbell is held in front of the legs, in contrast to performing SLDL’s with dumbbells where the dumbbells are held to the sides of the legs.
When the load placement differs the muscle recruitment pattern, by necessity, also changes. This variation in muscle recruitment helps keep both the stress of exercise and thus the rate of adaption elevated.
The following are some of my favorite dumbbell variations of the classic lower body barbell exercises. In terms of programming, use the same training protocol on dumbbell days as barbell days.
For example, if in a hypertrophy training cycle, do these dumbbell lower body exercises for 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with 60 seconds of rest between sets. If in a strength cycle, perform 5 sets of 3-6 repetitions with 2 minutes rest between sets.
To assist you, exercise technique instructions are provided as well as common mistakes to avoid. Video demonstrations are also included, so that you can see the exercises performed correctly.

Dumbbell Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Hold the dumbbells along the sides of the body.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what’s most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this can result in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell One-Legged Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Hold the dumbbells along the sides of the body.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Reach back with the left leg and place the left foot on a bench or plyometric box that’s approximately knee height.
  • The right foot should be placed far enough forward of the bench that you are now in a lunge position.
  • Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement. This is especially common when performing a one-leg squat so emphasize correct depth.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this results in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell Front Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Place the dumbbells front to back on the shoulders, with the back end of the dumbbells resting on the shoulders. The hands should continue to grasp the dumbbells, with the elbows held high so that the dumbbells are level rather than the front end being lower than the back end.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Maintaining an arched back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first), return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise. Focusing on keeping the elbows high will help eliminate this problem.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this results in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell One-Legged Front Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Place the dumbbells front to back on the shoulders, with the back end of the dumbbells resting on the shoulders. The hands should continue to grasp the dumbbells, with the elbows held high so that the dumbbells are level rather than the front end being lower than the back end.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Reach back with the left leg and place the left foot on a bench or plyometric box that’s approximately knee height.
  • The right foot should be placed far enough forward of the bench that you’re now in a lunge position.
  • Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement. This is especially common when performing a one-leg squat so emphasize correct depth.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often times this can result in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell Lateral Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a stance that’s substantially wider than shoulder-width.
  • Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length in a line directly under the shoulders.
  • Keeping the left leg straight squat back and to the right.
  • Lower the hips through a full comfortable range of motion.
  • The right knee can drift slightly forward of the right foot, be kept in line directly above the right foot, or be lined up slightly behind the right foot, depending upon what’s most comfortable to the athlete.
  • The back should remain arched and the head should stay up through performance of the exercise.
  • Return to the starting position and then repeat in the opposite direction until the desired number of repetitions has been completed.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not lowering the hips through the full comfortable range of motion.
  • Allowing the knee of the leg that’s supposed to remain straight to bend.Ê For example, when lowering to the right the right knee should bend but the left knee should remain fully extended.

Dumbbell Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg stationary, step out directly forward through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
  • At the forward position the right knee should be over or slightly forward of the right foot, the left leg should be bent with the left knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg.
  • Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don’t take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the forward position.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Side Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg fully extended take a long direct lateral step to the right.
  • Once you plant your right foot, shift the hips back so you achieve a full comfortable depth and range of motion.
  • Keep the back arched and the head up during performance of the exercise.
  • Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Allowing the knee of the “post” leg to bend rather than keeping it fully extended.
  • Taking an incomplete recovery step so that a shoulder-width stance isn’t achieved before initiating the next lateral step.

Dumbbell Arch Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Imagine an arch in front of you, each point of the arch is a stride’s length away from you.
  • Divide the arch up into sections based on the number of repetitions you have to perform.
  • The first repetition will be to the bottom right corner of the arch, the last repetition will be to the bottom left corner of the arch.
  • Each step is a gradual progression across the arch, starting at the right corner and ending at the left corner.
  • Keeping the left leg fully extended take a long, direct lateral step to the bottom right corner of the arch.
  • Once you plant your right foot, shift the hips back so you achieve a full comfortable depth and range of motion.
  • Keep the back arched and the head up during performance of the exercise.
  • Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.
  • The next step will be a gradual progression towards the opposite side of the arch.
  • Continue until all the repetitions have been completed and you’ve progressed from one corner of the arch to the opposite corner.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not returning to a shoulder-width stance before initiating the next step.
  • Not progressing in sequence from one corner of the arch to the opposite corner with each step.
  • No steps should be directly forward to the center of the arch. Every step should involve an angled step.
  • Every lunge across the arch should involve a full range of motion.

Dumbbell Hockey Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg stationary, step out at an angle that places the foot 18″-24″ wider than shoulder width (depending upon leg length) through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
  • At the forward position the right knee should be over or slightly forward of the right foot, the left leg should be bent with the left knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg, taking that same 18″-24″ wider than shoulder-width step with the left leg.
  • Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don’t take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the forward position.
  • Making the lateral step too narrow rather than achieving the desired width.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Reverse Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg stationary, step out directly backwards through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
  • At the back position the left knee should be over or slightly forward of the left foot, the right leg should be bent with the right knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg.
  • Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don’t take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the backward position.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Pivot Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Pivot on the right foot, twist the body to the right, and lunge in a direction toward the back and to the right of the starting position.
  • At the end position the left knee should be over or slightly forward of the left foot, the right leg should be bent with the right knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.
  • Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Foot placement can vary during performance of the exercise – there isn’t one correct foot placement so the angle during the pivot can be varied each repetition.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the pivot position.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Straight Leg Deadlifts

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder width stance.
  • Lock and then slightly unlock the knees; maintain this slightly unlocked position during performance of the exercise.
  • Arch the back, lift the head, and maintain this position during performance of the exercise.
  • Keeping the knees slightly unlocked and the back arched, pivot at the hips and slide the dumbbells down the lateral portion of the legs through a full comfortable range of motion.
  • Return to the starting position maintaining the position at the knees and back.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Allowing the knees to flex beyond the slightly unlocked position during performance of the exercise.
  • Allowing the dumbbells to drift forward during the lowering portion of the exercise rather than keeping them on the lateral portion of the legs.
  • Performing the movement through an incomplete range of motion.

Wrap Up

Dumbbells For Massive Legs
Squats are still the “king of exercises” and you can’t beat deadlifts for building brute strength, but even the most stripped down lifter needs a little variety from time to time.
For some lower body variations that are both challenging and build serious size and strength, take a look beyond the barbell. Take some (or all) of these dumbbell variations out for a test drive and stay ahead of your body’s adaptation curve

Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells


A Winning Combination

Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells

Weightlifting movements (cleans, jerks, and snatches) have finally been accepted as a valuable training method for both athletes and those training for fitness. This acceptance is based largely on a number of key reasons:

  • The high power output that occurs when performing these movements.
  • The biomechanical similarity between the weightlifting movements and those that occur frequently in sport.
  • The high caloric expenditure that occurs when performing these exercises due to the multiple muscle groups required to perform them.

Typically, when we think of weightlifting movements (commonly referred to as the Olympic lifts), we think of the lifts being performed on a platform with a barbell and bumpers. However, it’s also possible to perform all these movements safely and effectively with dumbbells.
Dumbbells are often underused in most weight-rooms, used only to perform biceps curls, flyes, or the occasional dumbbell bench press. Many trainees have the mistaken notion that best increases in strength can only occur through barbell training; however, the key to increasing strength is not the mode of training but the intensity – and you can train with as much intensity with dumbbells as you can with any other method of training, including barbells.
Having worked as a strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate and Olympic Training Center level for 20 years, I can assure you there are some unique benefits to performing these lifts with dumbbells.
Some of the benefits are more practical in nature. For example, performing these movements with dumbbells doesn’t require any specialized equipment (e.g., high quality weightlifting bar, bumpers, platform) and for most, the movements tend to be easier learned with dumbbells than with barbells.
On the other hand, some of the benefits of using dumbbells to perform the weightlifting movements are more technical in nature. For example, training with dumbbells demands that the lifter control two independent implements simultaneously, requiring a high degree of motor skill.
Further, dumbbells allow movements to be performed with either alternating arms or one arm at a time, rather than having to always use both arms simultaneously. For some athletes, this single arm action more closely matches what occurs in their sport (e.g., throwing a ball, swinging a racquet, fighting off a blocker while tackling a running back).
For those not involved in athletics, performing alternating or single-arm movements increases training variation, eliminating the need to perform the same exercises with the same technique each workout.

The Weightlifting Movements, Dumbbell Style

Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells

As mentioned, the weightlifting movements consist of cleans, jerks (performed as a clean and jerk in competition), and snatches. There are numerous variations and associated training exercises that can be performed based on those three exercises, especially when using dumbbells.
Below is a list of exercises and the technique associated with each exercise.

Dumbbell Jerks and Related Exercises

Dumbbell Push Press

In a shoulder-width stance, hold the dumbbells so the back ends of the dumbbells are on the shoulders.
Reach back at the hips and drop to a normal jump depth while keeping the heels on the floor.
Quickly extend the hips to full extension, transferring the momentum from the lower body through the core to the upper body. This jumping action will cause the dumbbells to rise off the shoulders briefly.
From there, press the dumbbells to full extension. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Power Jerk

Using the same movement pattern as the push press (but with more speed and quickness), drop to a jump position.
Quickly extend the hips and throw the dumbbells from the shoulders to a fully extended position overhead.
There’s no pressing action involved; the dumbbells are thrown from the shoulders to a fully extending position in one explosive effort. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Jerk

Using the same movement pattern as the push press (but with more speed and quickness) drop to a jump position.
Quickly extend the hips and throw the dumbbells from the shoulders to a fully extended position overhead in one explosive effort.
As the dumbbells are being extended, simultaneously split the feet front to back in what can be thought of as a high lunge position. In the catch position the front knee will be slightly bent, and the knee of the rear leg will be unlocked.
While keeping the arms fully extended, recover the legs from the split position by taking a half step up and a half step back until the feet are squared up in a shoulder-width stance.
Once the feet are squared up, lower the dumbbells back to the shoulders. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Alternating Feet Jerk

Identical to the split position described above, however, the lifter will alternate the feet in the split position each repetition, splitting the right foot forward on one repetition and the left foot forward on the following repetition.
For the athlete this is important because it teaches them to be strong, balanced, and in control with either foot forward. For those training for fitness it provides an additional training variation. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Alternating Feet Alternating Jerk

As in the previous description, the lifter alternates their feet in the split position each repetition.
The lifter is also performing the movement one arm at a time, first jerking with the right arm and then with the left on the next repetition.
The movement is performed opposite arm opposite leg, so that when the right arm is jerking the dumbbell, the left leg is being split forward and visa versa. This is a complex movement pattern. As a result, strength and power are being enhanced along with coordination and movement skills.

Dumbbell Cleans and Related Exercises

Dumbbell Hang Power Clean

The movement is performed with the handles of the dumbbells centered laterally on the knee joint.
The feet are in a shoulder width stance, back arched, head up, and the shoulders forward of the dumbbell.
From this start position the hips are extended, as in a jumping action.
At the top of the jump the shoulders are shrugged quickly and straight up, and the dumbbells pulled up along the side of the rib cage to a position just under the armpits. The dumbbells continue to be oriented front to back.
At the top of the pull the hips are moved back into a semi-squat position, the heels are down, and the arm/dumbbell unit is brought up around quickly so that the elbows are high and pointed across the room and the rear of the dumbbells are caught high on the shoulders.
The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Power Clean

This is identical to the dumbbell hang power clean described above except the start position is changed from a hang position to a start position that mimics the start position of performing the movement from the floor with a barbell.
This places the dumbbells at about mid-shin position, maintaining the front to back orientation previously discussed.
The dumbbells are caught in the power position rather than a squat position. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Hang Clean

The adjustment here is that rather than performing a power clean (caught in a semi squat position), you perform a full clean from the hang position, dropping into a parallel or lower squat position.
Because the dumbbells are caught in a lower position than in the power clean, generally more weight can be used in this exercise than when performing the power clean. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Clean

The start position moves from the hang position to the mid-shin position previously discussed. You then perform a full clean from that mid-shin start position.
Because of the longer range of motion to develop momentum on the dumbbells, and the low catch position; generally the greatest amount of weight can be used when performing this variation. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Snatches and Related Exercises

Dumbbell Hang Power Snatch

The movement is performed with the handles of the dumbbells centered laterally on the knee joint.
The feet are in a shoulder width stance, back arched, the head up, and the shoulders are forward of the dumbbell.
From this start position the hips are extended, as in a jumping action. At the top of the jump the shoulders are shrugged quickly and straight up.
At the top of the shrug the dumbbells are pulled up along the side of the rib cage to a position just under the arm pits, past the shoulders and straight up past the ears and caught with the arms fully extended directly over the shoulders. The dumbbells continue to be oriented front to back.
At the top of the pull the hips move back into a semi-squat position, the heels are down, and the arms/dumbbell unit is brought up and around quickly so that the dumbbells are caught with the arms fully extended over head in one motion. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Power Snatch

Identical to the dumbbell hang power snatch described above except the start position is changed from a hang position to a start position that mimics performing the movement from the floor with a barbell.
This places the dumbbells at about mid-shin position, maintaining the front to back orientation previously discussed.
The dumbbells are caught in the power position rather than a squat position. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Hang Split Alter Foot Snatch

The adjustment here is that rather than performing a power snatch (caught in a semi-squat position), you perform a full snatch from the hang position, dropping into a split position. In the catch position the front knee will be slightly bent, the knee will be unlocked in the rear leg.
While keeping the arms fully extended, recover the legs from the split position by taking a half step up and a half step back until the feet are squared up in a shoulder width stance.
Alternate the split position each repetition. Once the feet are squared up, lower the dumbbells back to the shoulders.
Because the dumbbells are caught in a lower position than in the power snatch, generally more weight can be used in this exercise than when performing the power snatch. The movement can be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Dumbbell Split Alter Foot Snatch

The start position moves from the hang position to the mid-shin position previously discussed. You then perform a full snatch from that mid-shin start position, dropping into a split position. In the catch position, the front knee will be slightly bent, the knee will be unlocked in the rear leg.
While keeping the arms fully extended recover the legs from the split position by taking a half step up and a half step back until the feet are squared up in a shoulder-width stance.
Because of the longer range of motion to develop momentum on the dumbbells and the split position, this variation generally allows for the greatest amount of weight to be used. The movement can also be performed one arm at a time or with alternating arms.

Conclusion

Olympic Lifts and Dumbbells

There are numerous advantages to performing the weightlifting movements with dumbbells. These advantages warrant their inclusion into the training programs of both athletes and those training for fitness.
Just be sure to emphasize great technique when performing them because, much like the barbell lifts, they’re a skill and must be respected as such.
Best of luck with your training!


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