By Craig Ballantyne, CTT
Craig Ballantyne is “Men’s Health” fitness expert, a GQ model, and Certified Turbulence Trainer at TurbulenceTraining.com.
While most people think of dumbbells in terms of gaining muscle, there is an after-burn effect your body goes through after you train with dumbbells that leads to rapid weight loss.
Cardiovascular exercises have their place, but once you hop off the treadmill or stop pedaling on the bike, your workout is done.
With weight lifting, your body continues to work long after you are done to help your muscles recover as well as giving your metabolism a hearty boost. This all leads to fat loss. What follows are twenty of the most highly effective dumbbell exercises for fat loss:
These exercises will focus mainly on the upper body, but still rely on many supporting muscles so you get more out of it than just a strong upper body.
Chest Press: Chest presses work all of your upper body including your chest, shoulders and triceps. To do a chest press, hold the dumbbells above your chest with your palms facing out towards your feet. Be sure your feet are firmly on the floor and your back is against the bench without any arching. Slowly bend your elbows, lowering the dumbbells to your chest. Hold the weights in that position for a second before pushing them back up to your starting position. Do not forget to squeeze your chest muscles together when you push the weights back up to start.
Close-grip Chest Press: Even the most basic exercises like a chest press need a tweak to make them a bit more challenging. The close-grip chest press is similar to a regular chest press only this time you hold the dumbbells with your palms facing in towards each other and your body. The same rules apply, however, on execution–push the weights straight up so they are above your chest (never your face) and then lower them down slowly. This exercise puts more emphasis on the triceps and less on the shoulders.
Alternating Chest Press: Now that you have mastered chest presses with two hands, can you handle using only one arm at a time? That is what an alternating chest press entails. You are still holding two dumbbells at a time above your chest with your palms facing out, but instead of lowering both arms down, you only lower one at a time. Make sure you complete one side (meaning all the way down and all the way back up) before you go to the other side. Again, maintain flat feet on the floor and lower back contact with the bench.
Dumbbell Row: Just because you cannot see your back does not mean you should not work it just as hard as every other muscle. Dumbbell rows are perfect for strengthening your back. Take a weight and put it in your left hand while resting your right knee and right hand on a bench. Lean over making sure your back is flat and extend your left arm all the way down while holding the weight. Slowly row (lift) the weight straight up towards your lower abdomen. It is very important that your back does not round and that your elbow stays tight to your body. Focus on squeezing the muscle behind your shoulder blade to get the weight up rather than using your bicep muscles. Once you lift the weight up, lower it back down. Complete a set on that side before switching to the other side.
Rear Deltoid Raise: Rear deltoid raises are another exercise focusing on the muscles you can never see. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend your upper body so it is parallel to the floor. Keep your abs tights, your back flat and contract your glutes. Let the weights hang down in front of you. Your knees should also have a slight bend in them. Lift the weights up and to the side in a lateral motion in a slow and controlled movement. Be careful that you are not using your back and lifting your upper body as you perform the movement. Lower the weights back down and continue with your set.
Shoulder Presses: The shoulders take on a lot of responsibility throughout your day which is why keeping them strong is so important. Shoulder presses work your shoulders in the simplest way–you lift, you lower–plain and simple. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet staggered (one foot a few inches ahead of the other). Start with the weights at shoulder height and keep your abs tights. Now raise the dumbbells straight up so they are over your head. Slowly lower them back to shoulder height and continue until all your reps and sets are done.
One-arm Shoulder Presses: This exercise is similar to a regular shoulder press, but as the name implies, you are working only one arm at a time. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a weight in one hand with the palm facing in towards your head. Your arm should be at a ninety degree angle with your elbow and shoulder at the same level. Keep your knees bent slightly and your abs braced. Slowly raise the weight over your head and then bring it back to the starting position. Complete all your reps on one side before going to the other side.
Dumbbell Curls with Back Braced: The biceps might be a smaller muscle than your chest and back, but they still deserve to be worked just as hard. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides. Place your back against a wall with your knees slightly bent, your shoulders back and your chest up. Now curl, or raise, the weights up towards your shoulders keeping your elbows and arms close to your body. Slowly lower the weights back down. By keeping your back against the wall, your biceps are doing all the work by taking out your back and shoulders from helping.
Lying Triceps Extension: Your arms need balance, which is why if you work your biceps, you need to work your triceps as well. Lie down on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your lower back flat against the bench. With your palms facing in towards each other, hold two dumbbells above your chest. Now slowly lower the weights to the side of your head but make sure to keep your shoulders where they are. The movement comes from the triceps so the only part of your arm that is moving is from the elbow down to the hand. The upper arm stays in place. Once the weights are at the side of your head, squeeze your triceps to lift them back up to the starting position.
Your lower body has many active muscles that you use throughout the day. Just walking alone utilizes your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and calves. For this reason, working your lower body keeps these muscles strong so they can continue to support your daily movements as well as aiding in fat loss.
Dumbbell Squat: This is a lower body staple as it is the most basic of all the lower body exercises. With your feet a little more than shoulder width apart, weights in your hands, abs tight, glutes squeezed and toes facing front, lower your body to the ground as far as you can while keeping your back straight and not allowing your knees to go beyond your toes. The best way to remember to do this exercise correctly is to push your hips back as if you want your butt to tap the top of a chair behind you. Most importantly, never round or arch your back–always keep it neutral. Push through your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps to return to your starting position. Be sure to keep your arms down through the complete movement.
Romanian Deadlift: This exercise works the back part of your lower body including your hamstrings and glutes. However, it is imperative that you maintain proper form throughout this exercise or you will not be working the proper muscles and run the risk of hurting your back. If you already have a lower back issue, you may want to choose a different exercise. To begin the Romanian deadlift, start in a standing position while holding weights with your arms extended down. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. While keeping the dumbbells as close to your thighs and shins, slowly lower the weights down making sure that your back is flat, your head is up and your shoulders are back. You also want your butt to be pushed back. It is very important that you bend from the hips and not your back or your knees. Come down as low as you can without rounding your back before reversing the movement.
Swing Lunge: The lunge on its own is a lower body powerhouse of an exercise. But why not make it even better by incorporating weights? Hold a weight in each hand and start in a standing position. Take a step behind you with your leg and then lowering yourself to the ground as you would in a forward lunge only you are taking a step back rather than forward. Watch your front knee, bend the back knee to the floor and keep your chest up. Now, take that back leg and swing it all the way forward into a forward lunge. Keep doing that with one leg before switching to the other.
Walking Lunge: Now that you mastered a swing lunge, you can add some more movement to it. Rather than standing in one place and swinging your leg forward and back, alternate bringing your legs forward as if you were taking giant lunging steps while holding the weights.
Goblet Squat: Begin with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest. Be sure to hold one side of the weight it so it is vertical. Lower your body by pushing your hips back as if you were going to sit in a chair. As opposed to a regular squat, you want to go as low as you possibly can while keeping your back straight. When you return to your starting position, push through your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.
Bulgarian Split Squat: While holding dumbbells in your hands, place the instep of one of your feet on top of a bench. Take a giant step forward with the other foot keeping it flat on the floor and your toes facing forward. Keep your abs braced, chest up and slowly lower your back leg trying to get the back knee to the floor while the thigh of the front leg is parallel to the floor. Lift off the front heel to return to start. Complete all your reps on one leg before switching to the other leg.
Step-ups: Here is a lower body exercise that serves as a cardiovascular exercise as your heart rate will certainly get a workout on this one. Find a six-inch high step or bench to start and stand in front of it while holding a weight in each hand. Use your right leg and step up onto the bench with your left foot still on the floor. Now squeeze your glutes and push through your right foot to bring the left leg up. Hold it for a second and then lower back down. Do a set on the right leg before switching to the left. As this exercise becomes easier, start using a higher step or bench.
No fat loss workout is complete without some cardiovascular exercise. Here is where you will really elevate your heart rate and push your body to the max.
Burpees: Whether you love them or hate them, burpees will never fail you when it comes to cardiovascular exercise. And if you add some weights, your will be feeling it even more. Start in a standing position holding a weight in each hand. Lower down so your knees are bent and your weights are firmly on the floor. Kick your legs straight out behind you so you are in a standard push-up position and then jump them back in to your chest and then stand up while taking the weights with you. For a cardiovascular bonus, you can add a shoulder press when you come back up to standing.
Shuttle Sprints: Take two dumbbells and place them about five meters apart from each other. Start at one dumbbell and sprint to the other, touch the ground and then run back to the other. Do this for eight seconds, rest for twelve seconds and then repeat this at least two more times.
You do not want to lose all the fat and still have a big belly which is why any good fat loss workout incorporates working your abdominal muscles.
Two-hand swings: Swings are a total body exercise that utilizes your core muscles to keep the body steady and to control the swinging weight. Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of your body with your arms extended down. Now push your hips back and swing the dumbbell between your legs. Be sure to bend your knees. Now drive the weight back up to chest level while pushing your hips forward and keeping your abs tight. Do this exercise at a fairly quick pace.
Turkish Get-up: Here is a core exercise that will have your heart and your body working hard. Lie flat on your back on the floor with a dumbbell in one hand and raised straight above you. Bend the leg on the same side of the weighted arm. Keep the arm up the whole time and curl your body up to a seated position. Now slide your other leg under you. You should be in a kneeling position. Bring yourself all the way up to a standing position. Reverse the movements so you are back to lying down. Complete all your reps on one side before putting the weight in the other hand.
Putting it All Together
The best way to make the most out of these exercises is to use them as part of a circuit or interval training program. You can mix it up any way you like. For example, you can do one upper body exercise, one lower body exercise, one core exercise and one cardiovascular exercise with no rest between. When you are done, take a few seconds to catch your breath and do it all over again. Try to get in six to eight circuits. The nice part is there are so many exercises to mix and match that you can have a different workout every time
You also do not want to forget about proper nutrition. Eating healthy and smart is part of any fat loss program and it will help you see results from your workouts even faster. Your body needs energy for your training so provide it with the proper fuel so you can go all out. And in no time, you will be winning the battle of the bulge.