I believe that strength training is an integral part of a well-rounded exercise program and most experts recommend them for people of all ages, including children and seniors.
Using a pair of dumbbells and/or kettlebells is an excellent way to perform a broad range of exercises that will help you build muscle mass, while improving your cardiovascular health and strengthening your body from head to toe.
Unfortunately, many ignore weight training when devising their exercise plan, thinking they don’t want to “bulk up.” But gaining more muscle through resistance exercises has many benefits, from firing up your metabolism to losing excess fat and maintaining healthy bone and muscle mass as you age.
Strength training will help slow down (and in many cases stop) many of the diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle, such as diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
It also provides “anti-aging benefits,” such as helping you maintain good range of motion, balance, and stability, as well as reducing those pesky aches and pains. Strength training benefits at least 10 biomarkers of aging that you are capable of controlling:
|Strength and muscle mass (which results in greater balance as you get older)||Body composition||Blood lipids|
|Bone density||Cardiorespiratory fitness||Blood pressure|
|Blood glucose control||Aerobic capacity||Gene expression and telomere length|
Dumbbells for Dummies
First and foremost, proper form is essential when performing strength/resistance exercises. This not only includes your body position during the actual exercise, but also when you pick up and put away the weights! You might be surprised by how many people incur injuries while moving weights around, as people momentarily forget about body mechanics. Ideally, you’ll want to include a variety of exercises in your strength training routine. Men’s Fitness has an article that will help you with this, entitled “The Best Two-Dumbbell Workout.”
The article features two full-body dumbbell workouts designed to be performed circuit-style (completing one set of each exercise in turn without resting in between). Alternately, you could use a pair of kettlebells. The sets involve a combination of planks, lunges, squats, deadlifts, push-ups, rows, step-ups, rows, and presses—all using just a single pair of dumbbells.
One of the nice things about these routines is you can adjust them for your load. So, if you have only two dumbbells available, the exercises can be modified by changing the speed and number of your reps. You can even perform these routines with a pair of “mismatched” dumbbells—meaning, two of different weights. If you’re a visual learner, Dumbbell-Exercises.com has a number of animated illustrations to guide you, which may be especially helpful if you’re new to strength training.
Before Adding Weights, Master the Perfect Push-Up
The Men’s Fitness dumbbell workouts include push-ups, which are excellent strengthening exercises—even without the dumbbells. Be especially careful about your form when you do push-ups, as an improperly performed pushup is a waste of your precious workout time and raises your risk for a strain. Common mistakes people make when performing push-ups include going too fast and using only a partial range of motion.
Pay particular attention to the alignment of your elbows. The ideal angle from your sides is about 45 degrees. This allows you to effectively work your chest muscles and prevent injuries from overextension. As you get stronger, you might add in a few reverse push-ups for added challenge. I recommend watching Darin’s demonstration of proper push-up form, but here are some of his key points:
- Keep your body stiff and straight as a plank
- Elbows at a 45-degree angle from your sides
- Breathe in on the way down
- Lower your body all the way down, allowing your sternum to gently touch the floor
- Breathe out on the way up
Take Advantage of Countless Squat Variations
The dumbbell series also incorporates squats, which are one of the best functional exercises out there. Adding dumbbells to your squats is a great way to add an extra challenge and boost your workout results. As with push-ups, pay attention to proper form when doing a squat. Once you have mastered the basic squat, there are squat variations that really kick up the challenge several more notches, such as the Isolated Squat Hold, Jump Squat (which is plyometric). You can also do the Goblet Squat, using dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a medicine ball. For instructions and video demonstrations on how to properly perform these variations, please see the hyperlink provided.
Dumbbells Can Eliminate Neck Pain—Who Knew?
Do you have neck or shoulder pain? Dumbbell exercises may provide some relief! Many office workers report frequent neck pain related to spending too much time in front of computers, known as “trapezius myalgia.” Your trapezius, the large muscle that extends from the back of your head down your neck and into your upper back, can become irritated from too much desk or computer work.
Two studies found strength training that targets your neck and shoulder muscles to be very helpful in reducing trapezius myalgia. Researchers found that the following five strength exercises, using hand weights, can substantially reduce this type of neck pain. (For video demonstrations and instructions, refer to this page.)
- Dumbbell shrug
- One-arm row
- Upright row
- Reverse fly
- Lateral raise/shoulder abduction
Super Slow Lets You Do High Intensity Training with Dumbbells
Dr. Doug McGuff is one of the more popular people I have interviewed. I love his work as he has a great variation of high intensity training alternative to cardio that uses strength training. While there are Super Slow gyms that have special modified Nautilus equipment to perform the workouts, they can easily be done in the convenience of your home with your body weight and some dumbbells.
Please review the video or the interview I did with him for more details, but essentially, it involves using the dumbbell or body movement exercise very slowly, approximately 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down. I am doing these once a week now and it is really surprising how much they challenge your muscles. You know you did a workout after doing only one set of these and in less than 15 minutes I feel I have gotten a better workout than most one-hour weight training sessions. This is my regimen:
- Pull Ups
- Shoulder Press
- Biceps Curls
- Triceps Extensions
Use Whole Body Vibrational Training with Dumbbells for Advanced Training
Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT), also known as Acceleration Training, employs a vibrating platform like the Power Plate that forces your muscles to accommodate, resulting in dramatic improvement in strength, power, flexibility, balance, tone, and leanness.
You can do almost any exercise on the Power Plate and massively improve your results with less effort, because the machine does much of the work for you. The vibrational component will passively stimulate your type 2 muscle fibers and help stimulate growth hormone.
A study at Florida International University examined the energy people expended with squats on a Power Plate with the energy they expended doing conventional squats. They concluded that you can get the same metabolic bang for your buck on the Power Plate using significantly lighter weights, less risk of injury, and possibly faster recovery time. The Power Plate offers the additional advantage of activating more muscles.
Another great thing about the Power Plate is that it can be used safely by nearly everyone, including the elderly, injured, or disabled, because there is benefit to even passively standing or sitting or standing on it. This makes it ideal for helping to strengthen your legs even if you’re unable to perform traditional leg-strengthening exercises like squats. If you want to see the Power Plate in action, check out the video above and visit my Power Plate Video page.
Basic Strength Training Dos and Don’ts
I firmly believe that most people would benefit from strength straining, but the key is to start slowly if you have any medical or physical concerns. Remember, while your body needs regular amounts of stress like exercise to stay healthy, if you give it more than it can handle, your health can actually deteriorate. So it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your exercise routine accordingly. When doing a strength training session—whether it’s with dumbbells or something else—you are wise to follow a few basic guidelines:
- Use an appropriate amount of weight; using weights that are too heavy makes it difficult to maintain proper body form and sets you up for an injury
- Don’t rush
- Don’t ignore pain
- Don’t skip the warm-up, and make sure you are doing the right kind of warm-up. Dynamic stretching, an active type of stretching such as walking lunges, squats, or arm circles, has been shown to positively influence power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, and strength performance when used before your training session; you can also augment your warm-up with foam rolling
- Allow full recovery of your muscles between strength training sessions, and alternate muscle groups; post-workout stretching does little to reduce lactate levels and is not necessary for muscle recovery, although it may help increase your flexibility
Tips for Building a High-Quality Fitness Program
Your strength training workouts should be part of an overall fitness program that incorporates intense interval exercise, core strengthening, proper stretching, stress reduction, restorative sleep, and good nutrition. You’ll learn much more about how to put together a safe, effective, time-efficient exercise program for yourself in the fitness section of my website, but here are a few basics to consider:
- Stand Up Every 15 Minutes. Compelling research now tells us that prolonged sitting can have a tremendously detrimental impact on your health, even if you exercise regularly. Your body needs to interact with gravity in order to function properly, and this has to be ongoing, throughout your day. Whenever you have a chance to move your body, do so! I invite you to look at our list of 30 videos for ideas about what you can do when you stand up.
- Interval (Anaerobic) Training: Interval training involves alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods, and are central to my Peak Fitness routine.
- Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen, and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury, and improve your balance and stability. Foundation Training, created by Dr. Eric Goodman, is an integral first step of a larger program he calls “Modern Moveology,” which consists of a catalog of exercises.
- Stretching: My favorite type of stretching is Active Isolated Stretching (AIS). With AIS, you hold each stretch for only two seconds, which works with your body’s natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscle joints. This technique allows your body to repair itself and prepare for daily activity. You can also use devices like the Power Plate to help you stretch.
*Image of “lady with dumbbells” via Shutterstock