What are Different Types of Dumbbell Exercises?

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  • Written By: Shelby Miller
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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Dumbbell exercises are weight lifting movements that involve the use of handheld free weights. Intended to strengthen and tone muscles, these exercises can be performed using a single dumbbell or a pair of weights, and they can be done in almost any position, provided that the work is performed against gravity in an upward direction. They can be used to strengthen nearly every major muscle group, particularly those in the upper body. Examples of different types of dumbbell exercises include chest presses, rows, shoulder presses, biceps curls, and triceps extension. They may also be held while performing bodyweight exercises for the lower body, such as squats and lunges, and a variety of core exercises as well.


The five major muscle groups of the upper body, all of which can be trained with dumbbell exercises, are the chest, back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps. One dumbbell exercise for the chest muscles, the pectorals, is the chest press, in which the exerciser lies face-up with a weight in each hand, lowers the dumbbells to either side of the chest, and presses them directly above the chest until the arms are straight. A row is a dumbbell exercise for the back — particularly the trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi — that is performed in the opposite direction of the chest press. The exerciser stands bent-over at the hips so that the back is straight and pulls the dumbbells up to either side of the chest, and then lowers them back down toward the floor.

For the shoulder press, an exercise for the deltoids, the exerciser sits or stands holding the dumbbells to either side at face height and presses them directly overhead until the arms are straight. To work the arms, there are dumbbell exercises for the biceps, on the front of the arm, and the triceps, on the back of the arm. A biceps curl is performed by standing or sitting with a dumbbell in each hand, curling the weights up toward the shoulders, and lowering them back down until the arms are straight. One version of a triceps extension, of which there are several depending on how one’s body is positioned, involves standing bent from the hips with a flat back, elbows pulled tight to one’s sides, and a dumbbell in each hand. The exerciser then extends the arms backward until they are straight and slowly lowers them until the elbows are bent to 90 degrees.

Dumbbell exercises for the lower body typically involve performing a bodyweight exercise while holding a dumbbell in each hand. One example is a squat, in which one stands with feet hip-width apart, lowers the hips down and back toward the floor, presses through the heels, and stands back up. Another is a walking lunge, in which one takes a large step forward and simultaneously lowers the back knee toward the floor, and then presses through the front foot to simultaneously rise up and step the back foot forward. A third example of a dumbbell exercise for the lower body is a deadlift, in which one holds the dumbbells against the front of the thighs, presses the hips backward with a straight back until a stretch is felt in the hamstrings, and then squeezes the hips forward until standing upright.


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