Many personal trainers and lifters out there trying to reinvent the wheel and come up with never-before-seen exercises for weight loss and gaining muscle. However, there are more than enough movements that have been around for decades and are proven to work again and again. Keep reading to discover three dumbbell exercises for gaining mass and strength.
Benefits of Using Dumbbells
Many people think that to lift weights, you must have a gym membership with access to squat racks and barbells. However, the truth is you don’t need a ton of fancy equipment to become larger and stronger. Dumbbells can be purchased individually and used anytime, anywhere.
Another benefit to using dumbbells is that they promote balance as well as strength. Many people find that, as time passes, one side of their body becomes stronger than the other. This is due to the body’s natural inclination to protect weak joints, bones, and muscles.
These inclinations are subconscious and can go on for years if you aren’t hyper-focused on the form. When this happens, dumbbells are a great way to level your strength back out.
For instance, if you have been doing overhead presses with a barbell for years, one arm might have become stronger than the other. To fix this, switch to dumbbells and start from the beginning. Using your weaker arm, do as many overhead presses as you can without sacrificing form. Whatever that number is, continue using that rep number for your weak arm AND your strong arm until the weaker arm grows in strength.
Compound vs Isolation Exercises
Isolation and compound exercises each have their place in someone’s fitness journey. However, if you’re looking to build mass and strength, compound exercises will serve you much better than isolation exercises. Here’s why:
- Compound Exercises: These types of exercises are used for targeting entire muscle groups and increasing overall strength. The movements mimic tasks that you do frequently in your everyday life, such as squatting, lifting things above your head, and picking things up off the ground. When you focus on compound lifts, you will notice an increase in overall strength and mass much quicker than if you only focused on isolation exercises.
- Isolation Exercises: These types of exercises are movements that target a single muscle within a muscle group rather than activating the entire group. While it’s impossible to completely isolate one muscle completely, certain exercises can and will grow specific muscles faster than the ones around it. This is beneficial when used in tandem with compound exercises. For instance, doing exercises that strengthen your transverse abdominis (inner abs) will help protect your spine during overhead presses and squats.
To summarize, both types of exercises have health benefits and deserve a place in someone’s workout regimen. However, compound exercises are more beneficial for improving overall strength and increasing general mass.
Three Best Dumbbell Exercises for Mass and Strength
There are many dumbbell movements out there, both compound and isolation, that are great additions to your weightlifting regimen. However, if you haven’t mastered the three exercises we’ve listed below, you won’t have a strong-enough foundation to safely attempt more advanced movements.
The squat is one of the most accessible and universal movements in the fitness world. It can be done with weights, and without weights, and there are countless variations. However, doing squats with dumbbells is the best way to measure your progress and increase overall leg strength.
For this move, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and have a dumbbell in each hand. You can either rest them on your shoulders or let them hang down by your side. From this resting position, bend your knees and squat down into a seated position. Once you’ve gone down as far as you can, push off the floor with your legs and rise back up to your resting position.
Special Note: Many people will say that the great cardinal sin in fitness is to let your toe go past your knees when you squat or lung. This is a myth. Whether or not a person’s knees go past their toes is mostly dependent on the length of their femur. When focusing on form, your priority should actually be how far apart your knees are. Your knees should ALWAYS be pushing outward when you squat. Turning them inward puts you at risk for serious injury.
Regularly performing this compound exercise will greatly increase the strength in your shoulders and core. It will also aid in performing isolation exercises such as lateral raises and overhead triceps curls (visit the Stay Fit blog to learn how to incorporate isolation exercises into your fitness journey).
Begin by standing upright with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise them up to your shoulders with your palms facing forward. From there, push upward and raise the weights above your head. Your goal should be to fully extend your arms without locking your elbows. From this position, lower the dumbbells back down to your shoulders.
The chest press (or bench press) is another well-known and accessible compound exercise. Ideally, this movement should be completed on a bench in order to utilize your full range of motion. However, for those with previous shoulder injuries or issues, it can be done flat on the floor as well.
To complete this movement, lie on your back on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Start with them down next to your chest, palms facing toward your feet. From there, push with your arms to raise the dumbbells above your head (remember not to lock your elbows). From that extended position, lower the weights back down to your chest.
Fitness is a Marathon
It’s important to remember that your fitness journey is a marathon and not a sprint. If you have never attempted any of these exercises before, don’t start with 35 lb. dumbbells. Instead, give yourself some grace and let your muscles and joints grow stronger.
If you are already-fit and lifting regularly, perhaps it’s time to revisit your form and make sure both sides of your body are balanced and can handle the same amount of weight.
No matter where you are in your journey, consistently doing these three exercises will make a huge difference in building muscle mass and strength quickly. Stay consistent and don’t give up!