The 5 Best Strength and Mobility Exercises You Can Do With a Single Dumbbell

Adding a dumbbell to your mobility exercises activates your muscle tissues and tendons, setting you up for stronger lifts.
Image Credit: FreshSplash/E+/GettyImages

If you're prepping your body to lift some serious weight, it's important to squeeze some mobility work into your warm-up. But we're not just talking about doing some 90/90 hip stretches and cat-cows (which, yes, are great and deserve a spot in your workout routine, too). We're talking about loading up.

Adding a dumbbell in your mobility session can improve your exercise prep for safer, more effective workouts, says Zac Marion, DPT, a physical therapist and iFit trainer.

That's because by loading your body, you activate the muscles, central nervous system and the neurons that make your muscles fire. You prepare yourself to better recruit and engage your muscles for stronger, more powerful lifts, Marion says. You also increase engagement of your body's tendons and ligaments, improving your range of motion heading into running, strength and high-intensity interval sessions.

"Even just after 10 reps you'll have some noticeable improvements," he says. "A more mobile muscle is a more resilient muscle, which helps reduce injury."

When you're doing mobility work, you don't want to pick up the heaviest dumbbell you have, though.

"The best weight to use is one that feels substantial but easy enough that there is no fatigue at the end of the warm-up," Marion says. (Think: about half of what you'd use for a similar move during the heart of your workout.) "The idea is to increase muscle and neuronal activity while minimizing any fatigue so that you can put the most effort into your workout."

Also, take your time with each movement. "The longer the contraction, the more demand there is for neuromuscular recruitment. And lighting up all those neurons results in more power that you'll be able to generate during your strength training," Marion says.

Below, Marion shares his five favorite strength and mobility exercises to do before a workout. Bonus: These movements are excellent strength exercises in and of themselves, so while you're not lifting a weight that's super challenging, you are still firing up those muscles.

Try them out and incorporate them into your workout warm-ups. Or, you can perform them on their own to rock your strongest mobility day ever.

Move 1: Glute Bridge With Pullover

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 5
Body Part [ "Butt", "Back", "Chest" ]
  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Extend your arms overhead and hold each end of a dumbbell with both hands.
  2. Pressing your heels into the ground and squeezing your glutes, lift your hips and lower back off of the floor until your body forms a diagonal line from the tops of your knees to your chest.
  3. Maintaining this bridge position, pull the dumbbell forward until it touches the tops of your thighs.
  4. Reverse the motion and bring the dumbbell back overhead, then slowly lower your hips and lower back to the floor.

Move 2: Dumbbell Step-Down

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 5
Body Part [ "Legs", "Butt" ]
  1. Stand on top of a step or box and extend your arms in front of your chest, holding the dumbbell with both hands.
  2. Bend your right leg as you extend your left leg in front of you to tap your left heel on the ground.
  3. Drive through your right foot to straighten your leg and return the left leg to standing.
  4. Alternate sides with each rep.

Move 3: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 5
Body Part [ "Legs", "Butt" ]
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell with your right hand.
  2. Keeping your left knee slightly bent, hinge your hips back as you extend your right leg behind you for balance.
  3. Continue to lower the dumbbell until your upper body is parallel to the floor.
  4. Push off of your left heel on the ground to stand back up and return to the starting position.
  5. Do all reps, then switch sides.

Move 4: Turkish Get-Up

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 5
Region Full Body
  1. Lie on your back with your right leg bent and hold a dumbbell above your chest with your right hand. Extend your left leg out at a 45-degree angle on the floor and your left arm to the side.
  2. Keeping your right arm above your chest and your eyes on the dumbbell throughout the entire movement, push off of your right foot on the floor to roll over to your left side, coming to your left elbow.
  3. Shift your weight from your left elbow to your left hand, corkscrewing your palm to the floor.
  4. Slide your left leg back to kneel on your left knee so that the knee and ankle are in a straight line with your left hand on the floor.
  5. Then, bring your left knee to face forward so that you are in a half-kneeling position. Press into your right heel to stand up, keeping the dumbbell overhead.
  6. Reverse the steps to return to the starting position.
  7. Do all reps, then switch sides.

Move 5: Arm Bar

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 5
Body Part [ "Shoulders", "Arms" ]
  1. Lie on your stomach and extend your arms out to the sides, holding the dumbbell with your left hand.
  2. Driving through your torso, roll your left shoulder to the right, using your lat to pull the shoulder blade down and stabilize the weight. Make sure you're stacking the dumbbell directly over your shoulder.
  3. Pause for a moment here before you lower your arm back down to the starting position.
  4. Do all reps then switch sides.

Related Reading