How to use one dumbbell in a full body workout

Editor’s note: Dana Santas, better known as “Navigation maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”


When you think of exercising with dumbbells, you probably imagine using a set of two, one in each hand. There are many exercises you can do with two dumbbells, but as a strength and conditioning coach, I can tell you that there are just as many — if not more — you can do with just one. In fact, you can effectively train your entire body with a single dumbbell in about 10 minutes.

Below, I’ve outlined five exercises you can do in sequence to strengthen your legs, hips, arms, shoulders, and core. Read the detailed descriptions of each exercise to learn about the cues and any modifications needed, next Follow along with me in the video above While I take you through every workout.

It is important that you choose a manageable weight in order to perform all repetitions well. This means avoiding moving your body in ways that compensate for muscle fatigue or weakness in the area you’re trying to work, such as doing biceps curls while swinging your back while lifting a weight with a push from your back muscles.

Compensations can lead to injury, so you want to avoid that! To learn more about choosing the right weight, watch this video.

If you are new to exercising or are back after a break, be sure to relax again. Check out my series On how to restart your workout for a safe and effective path back to fitness Make training an enjoyable part of your lifestyle.

Important note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your physician. Stop immediately if you feel pain.

Do eight to 10 repetitions of each exercise on each side of your body unless otherwise indicated for exercises that do not alternate sides. While doing the exercise, try breathing through your nose and either through your mouth or nostrils – whatever is most comfortable for you.

Breathing through your nose will provide the most oxygen and boost your endurance.

You can learn more about effective breathing techniques here Watch this video And Read this series To breathe better.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in both hands at chest level, with each hand hugging one end of the weight.

Angle your feet slightly outward, opening your hips at an angle that’s comfortable for you to squat.

Angle your feet slightly outward to open your hips at a comfortable angle for you to squat.

Inhale and then hold inhale as you squat down to a level where your hips are aligned slightly below your knees (if this is not possible, see modification below).

Exhale as you push off your feet and return to a standing position.

Try to keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet, legs, and thighs.

How to modify: If a deep squat is difficult, use a low chair or sturdy box as a base for squatting and squatting gently with each rep.

Hold a dumbbell in your right hand by your side while standing on your left leg.

Inhale and then hold the inhale as you stop at the hips to bend halfway as you extend your right leg behind you so that your chest and back leg form a long line parallel to the floor.

Maintain a soft bend in both legs if the back of your leg is too tight to straighten either or both legs.

Stabilizing your standing leg, exhale while using your hips and torso to bring your body back to an upright standing position.

Repeat on the opposite side.

How to modify: If the back of your leg is too tight to straighten either or both legs, maintain a soft bend in both legs. To help with balance, you can do this without weight while holding on to the side of a wall.

Get into a plank position with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart to help balance the weight and movement as you lift the dumbbells to create a single-arm rowing motion.

Hold the dumbbell on the floor with your right hand. Exhale as you lift the weight by bending your elbow and hugging it against your ribcage in a rowing motion.

Inhale as you straighten your arm and bring the weight back to the floor while still holding it in your hand.

Keep your feet slightly hip-width apart to help balance the weight and movement when lifting the dumbbells.

Settle through your core to avoid arching your lower back.

Repeat the exercises on the right side before switching to the left side.

How to modify: Perform this exercise from a basic hands and knees position where you are in a four-legged position.

Stand with a dumbbell in your right hand, raised to shoulder height, resting lightly on your shoulder in what’s called a “rack” position.

Place your left hand on your hip and step your left leg sideways to the left, with your left leg bent like a half-squat and your right leg straight.

Both feet continue to point straight forward as you push off your left leg and return to a standing position.

Then, press the dumbbells above your head and return them to a rack position over your shoulder.

Do all of your reps on one side before switching dumbbells to the opposite hand.

Each repetition takes two breaths: inhale from standing, holding the inhale as you perform a lateral lunge, then exhale as you push back up to standing. Inhale again as you stand, then exhale as you push the weight over your head.

Do all of your reps on one side before switching dumbbells to the opposite hand and a lateral lunge on the other side.

How to modify: If the pressure over the head is too much, you can shake it off.

Sit on the floor with your knees bent, touching together, and your feet flat on the floor, too.

Hold a weight on each end, at your chest, as you did the squat.

Exhale and twist to the right, lowering your arms to make the weight touch the floor on the side of your body.

Inhale back to center, then exhale and repeat to the left side.

Try to keep your knees and feet together when doing curls and push-ups.

Try to keep your knees pressed together throughout the entire set of exercises to help stabilize your hips and torso so that you rotate from the middle of your back — not your lower back.

Since you’re alternating the movement side to side, instead of doing two sets of 8 to 10 reps on each side, you’ll do an alternating set of 16 to 20 reps.

How to modify: If it’s too hard to keep your knees together, press them between them on a folded towel or yoga block.

If a single dumbbell is too heavy for this exercise now, don’t use it until you get stronger; Instead, clench your fingers into a double fist that you can tap on the floor as you rotate.

Depending on your current fitness level and how these exercises feel, one round of this sequence should take about eight to 12 minutes to complete. Never rush: always focus on form. For best results, repeat this circuit two to three times per workout, two to three times per week.

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