There is no question that weight training is essential for keeping your body-fat low, increasing metabolism and strength, and improving posture and bone density. But with busy schedules, hectic lives and tons of commitments, it may be hard to find time to get to the gym. While playing around with machines and fancy equipment is nice, it is certainly not necessary for a great total-body workout. With just a pair of dumbbells, you can strengthen your muscles and tone your body in the comfort of your own home.
Note: When shopping for dumbbells, chose ones that challenge your muscles within 10 to 15 repetitions. As you get stronger, you may need to invest in heavier dumbbells to keep progressing and improving.
Lateral Lunge with Shoulder Raise
Hold dumbbells in each hand. Take a large step directly out to your right side. Bend your right knee, but keep your left leg straight, with the majority of your weight on your right leg. Push your hips back so your right shin remains close to vertical, chest up, knee behind your toes. Push off your right heel and return to stand in center with your feet together. Once standing, immediately raise the dumbbells out to your sides, palms mostly facing the floor. Keep your arms straight and lift them until horizontal, then slowly lower back to your sides. Repeat the lunge on your left leg, and return to center, but for this repetition raise your arms straight in front of you. Repeat 10 to 12 times per leg.
Forward Lunge with a Biceps Curl
Hold the dumbbells in your hands and step forward with your right leg to execute a lunge. Step far enough forward so that your right shin stays vertical, still holding dumbbells down by your sides. Push off your right heel and step back to return to standing, simultaneously performing a biceps curl. Finish with feet together and dumbbells up in a curl. Step forward with your left leg, and lower the dumbbells back down, finishing with your arms straight down, legs in a lunge. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions with each leg.
Reverse Lunge with a Shoulder Press
Hold the dumbbells up by your head, palms forward and elbows bent at about 90 degrees. Reach back with your right leg and bend your left knee to drop into a reverse lunge, still keeping your left shin vertical. Push off your back leg to return to standing, while simultaneously pushing the dumbbells overhead into a shoulder press. Finish with arms extended overhead in a standing position. Repeat this pattern for 10 to 12 repetitions, alternating legs. As a progression, you can incorporate Arnold Presses for a more complete shoulder movement.
Squat to Upright Row
Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. You can turn your toes slightly out, so that as you squat your knees stay tracking over your feet. Hold the dumbbells in each hand, palms facing your body. Push your hips back, keep your weight over your heels and squat down, lowering the dumbbells simultaneously between your knees. You may have to place your hands close together so they fit. Stand back up and lift your elbows up and out to the sides, bringing your dumbbells to the top of your chest in an upright row. Keep your elbows higher than your hands. Slowly lower the dumbbells back down, and resume the next squat. For a slight variation to work your inner thighs and glutes, stand with your feet farther apart, toes pointed out for a Sumo squat.
Deadlift (Optional: Single Leg)
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold the dumbbells in front of your legs, palms facing your body. Bend at your hips and press your glutes behind you, keeping your back in neutral position or slightly arched. Keep the dumbbells close to your shins during the entire movement. Slowly lower the dumbbells until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Squeeze your glutes and press your hips forward to stand back up. For an advanced movement, do a single-leg deadlift. As you lower the dumbbells, simultaneously lift your right leg behind you at the same rate. Ideally, finish with your back leg and chest horizontal to the floor, and left leg stiff but slightly bent. Slowly return to stand. Repeat 10 to 12 times on each leg.
I’s, Y’s and T’s
There are a variety of back exercises that can all be executed in a bent-over, straight-spine position. The only thing that varies is the position of your arms. Bend over at the hips, keeping your back neutral and chest open (do not round your shoulders forward). Keep your arms straight, and lift them both straight up in front of you to finish with your arms by your ears in an “I” position, and then bring them back down. Now raise them up and out to the sides at a diagonal angle for a “Y” position, and return to start. Finally, bring them straight out to your sides in a “T” position, and return to start. You can do these in succession like the example, or vary which letter you work on different days. As a variation, if you have trouble with your back or limited range of motion through your shoulders, you can work these exercises while lying prone on a mat, with light dumbbells or no dumbbells for mobility. Just place your arms in the desired letter position on the floor, and lift them about 6 inches, and return to the floor.