When it comes to strength-training equipment, dumbbells reign supreme. They're more compact than barbells, easier to hold than kettlebells and better for progressing your workouts than resistance bands. Plus, you can add one or two to just about any exercise.
"Dumbbells wake up your muscles in the sense of activating more muscle fibers and challenging their stabilizers," says Mathew Forzaglia, certified personal trainer and founder of Forzag Fitness on the NEOU App. Meaning you're never just working one muscle — all the surrounding muscles work together to help you lift the weight.
And because dumbbells are unilateral (in other words, you're holding one in each hand), you can use them in more varied ways compared to a barbell, Forzaglia says.
But working out with dumbbells is a bit more complicated than just picking up a set and throwing it around. Form becomes even more important, as the added weight puts more stress on your muscles and joints compared to body-weight exercises.
To help with all aspects of dumbbell training, the LIVESTRONG.com team has joined forces with Forzaglia to create a 30-day dumbbell challenge.
Starting July 1, this month-long, full-body program will help you decide how to pick the correct weight, master proper form for common exercises and build strength in all your major muscle groups.
How the Dumbbell Challenge Works
Throughout the month you'll repeat five different workouts featuring a total of 15 different exercises. Each workout targets a different part of your body. Every third day, you'll have a rest day.
That means you'll repeat the following lineup for five rounds over the 30 days:
- Chest and Arms
- Back and Shoulders
Click here for a printer-friendly version of the challenge calendar.
With every round, you'll add more reps. The first time you do each of the workouts, you'll do 2 sets of 10 reps for each exercise in a circuit, meaning you'll do all the exercises through once, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, then return to the top of the list for set 2.
By the time you work up to 3 sets of each exercise in rounds 4 and 5, you'll do each exercise back-to-back, meaning you'll do 10 or 12 reps, rest for 30 seconds, then do another 10 or 12 reps and repeat.
The 30-Day Dumbbell Challenge Workouts
There's a reason you should never skip leg day: Your lower-body muscles power all your daily movements, from walking to climbing stairs to getting up off the couch. Keeping them strong is imperative to staying active while remaining injury-free.
And while body-weight exercises like squats and lunges are great for beginners, adding dumbbells to those exercises helps you build muscle and get stronger even faster. That's because your muscles need a challenge: Eventually, they adapt to your workouts and you have to up the ante so they're forced to grow.
Chest and Arms
Let's face it: Push-ups get boring after a while. And even though they're the best body-weight exercise you can do for your chest and arms, if you have a pair of dumbbells handy, you can take your upper-body workouts to the next level.
Dumbbells allow you to isolate your chest muscles (called your pectorals), as well as your biceps and triceps, more than you would with push-ups, leading to more targeted muscle and strength gains. And since you can choose a weight based on your fitness level, it's easier to progress without having to add endless reps of push-ups.
Body-weight squats get a lot of attention in the booty-building workout world. But what if you could shape, tone and lift your glutes without a single squat? All you need is two dumbbells and four exercises.
Your gluteus maximus, medius and minimus make up the biggest muscle group in your body. And in order to have a well-rounded backside, you need to hit all three. By adding dumbbells, you can keep progressing.
Back and Shoulders
Arms steal the spotlight when you're flexing and showing off your gains. But if you're only focusing on your biceps and triceps, you're missing a crucial part of your upper-body pump. Your shoulders and back also play a big role in defining your silhouette.
It can be difficult (though not impossible) to target these muscles with body-weight exercises, and not all of us have access to a gym. That's why dumbbells are particularly helpful for building your delts (aka deltoids, the muscles of your shoulders), traps (aka trapezius, the muscles of your upper back) and lats (aka lattisimus dorsi, the muscles of your mid-back).
Days off are just as important as the active days of this dumbbell challenge. That's because your muscles repair and grow stronger on your rest days.
You have two options here: You can take the day completely off. Or, try active recovery, which can involve any low-intensity activity that gets your muscles moving and heart pumping without taxing your body too much, like walking, hiking, riding a bike, yoga, stretching or foam rolling.
How to Join the Dumbbell Challenge
Step 1: Print Your Challenge Calendar
Print out the calendar above (or save it to your phone) and use it each day to help you stay on track. Do the workout (or rest day) listed, then check off each day as you complete it. Before you know it, it'll become a habit.
Step 2: Join Our Facebook Group
For daily support, motivation and camaraderie with your team members, join us in our LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Facebook Group. We'll share tips, motivation, pictures and more. Plus, we'll answer all your questions.
Step 3: Grab Your Dumbbells and Get Going!
On Wednesday, July 1, start the challenge with us with the leg workout on your first day. Post about how it goes in our Challenge Facebook Group by sharing a photo, video, funny meme or simple status update. You got this!
Need Weights? Shop These Dumbbells We Love
- CAP Barbell Neoprene Coated Dumbbells (Amazon.com; $19.89 to $62.88)
- Everyday Essentials Dumbbell Set With Stand (Walmart.com; $89.99)
- Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbells (Amazon.com; $420)
- Aduro Dumbbells Set (Amazon.com; $39.99 to $69.99)
If you can't find a pair in-stock, you can use these household objects as dumbbells in a pinch.