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How To Workout With a Single Dumbbell


Working out with a single dumbbell may sound foolish, but imagine the following scenarios. You walk into the gym, ready to roll, and it is packed, and most of the equipment is taken. This makes completing your current program an annoying challenge. Or the will to train is strong, but time is short, or you could be looking for some variety in your workout for whatever reason.

What do you do?

Here’s a suggestion. Grab a dumbbell and do the following exercises and workouts below. These single dumbbell workouts will have you sweating—perhaps even smiling—in no time and able to quickly hit the showers while others are still wrapping finish up their day.

Here we’ll dive into the advantages of using dumbbells, the best single dumbbell exercises, and a couple of single dumbbell workout examples to get your sweat on.

Advantages of Training with a Single Dumbbell

  • Decreases strength imbalances: Training with one dumbbell will help strengthen imbalances between sides when performing unilateral exercises if any exist. When training with barbells, one side can take over for another, creating strength imbalances.
  • Ease of use: You need to take the plates on and off the barbells, and often, another piece of equipment is required to do exercises like a bench or a squat rack. This is not a big deal, but this can be an issue when the gym is busy, and equipment is scarce.
  • Freedom of movement: Barbells and trap bars will lock you into a specific range of motion, which is great for lifting more weight. But with dumbbells, you can hold them with different grips, like the neutral grip. Changing your grip can make it easier on your wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.
  • Improved muscle development: Holding and lifting a single dumbbell in offset, goblet, or rack style will strengthen imbalances between sides, leading to better muscle development on the smaller or weaker side.

How to Hold a Dumbbell

There are a few ways to hold a single dumbbell to increase the training effect, particularly on the squats, lunges, and carries. Holding one dumbbell by your side, like with a suitcase carry, provides an offset load that challenges your balance and core stability.

Holding the dumbbell goblet style provides more anterior core action and is more difficult because the weight is further from your legs. Plus, holding a single dumbbell in the front rack position will challenge your upper back, balance, and glutes more. And having one dumbbell overhead is the most challenging position for a reason already listed.

There is no right or wrong way to hold a dumbbell. Use a position that challenges you and aligns with your fitness goals.

Common Single Dumbbell Exercises

Theoretically, for most exercises where you use two dumbbells, you can use one, but some exercises IMO work better with one dumbbell. Here is a selection of exercises you can use in any single dumbbell workout.

  • Total body: Snatch, squat to press, push press, hang clean, and hang clean and press.
  • Carries: Suitcase, goblet, rack, and overhead carry.
  • Rows: Bench single arm row, RDL row, deadstop row, chest supported row, 3-point row, lawnmower row, bent over row, and Birddog row.
  • Squats: Sumo, goblet, suitcase, offset front squat, offset overhead squat, and split squat variations.
  • Lunges & other lSingle-leg exercises: Reverse, side, forward, and curtsy lunge using any dumbbell positions listed above. Single-leg deadlifts and step-ups.
  • Chest & shoulders: Bench press, pullover, floor press, deadbug floor press, Standing and seated shoulder presses, and Arnold press.
  • Hinges: Dumbbell deadlift, hip thrust, single-leg hip thrust, and offset bilateral RDL.

Single Dumbbell Workouts To Burn Fat and Build Muscle

Note: You can sub in a similar exercise of your choosing. The following suggestions are not written in stone.

Take these single dumbbell workouts for a spin when you’re short on time or equipment. You’ll strengthen imbalances between sides while burning calories and hitting the showers early. You can thank me later. Or not.

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