While lifting heavy has obvious benefits when it comes to building strength, lighter weights have their role as well. Lightweight dumbbells (think two to four pounds) are a great equipment choice for a gym-free workout, because they're both inexpensive and don't take up much storage space.
Plus, they can help you yield impressive results in a short amount of time and can be just as effective as their heavier counterparts, according to a McMaster University study.
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"The best exercises to do at home with small weights should include a variety of movements to work your whole body," says Lindsay Bennett, a celebrity trainer in Nashville. "Don't be fooled by the hype that says you have to lift heavy loads to get strong and fit." While many programs have you lifting heavier lifts at lower reps, you can ramp up the number of reps when you're lifting less weight.
7 Exercises to Do With Lighter Weights
The best lighter-weight exercises to do at home are true multitaskers — so you can work more muscles groups in a short amount of time while increasing your caloric burn. Here are six great moves to get you started.
1. One-Two Punch
This kickboxing-inspired move tones more than just your arms. You'll feel this one in your our chest, shoulders and core.
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold a pair of weights in close to your body at chest height, palms facing in.
- Engage your core. Extend your right arm out across your body, rotating your torso the the left and pivoting on your right toes.
- Retract your arm and punch the opposite one out in the same direction.
- Come back through center and repeat on the other side.
Reps: 12 to 20 on each side
2. Lateral Raise
Lighters weights are also really effective at (and safer for) targeting smaller muscles like those in your shoulders. The lateral raise is a perfect example of that.
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, hands at your sides. Keep your core tight to avoid arching your back and hunching over.
- Lift your arms until they're at shoulder height. Your hands should be slightly out in front of you.
- Slowly lower back down with control.
Reps: 12 to 20
This fun exercises allows you to channel your inner superhero while strengthening your back, arms, shoulders, butt and the backs of your legs at the same time.
- Lie flat on your stomach with your arms and legs extended out straight, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Engage your core and lift your arms, chest and legs off the ground. Remember to keep your legs straight throughout the movement so that your glutes stay engaged.
- Pause for a moment, then release back down.
Read more: The Best At-Home Weight-Loss Exercises
4. Hip Lift and Extend
This might be challenging to figure out at first, but it's a great total-body exercise for your home dumbbell workout that especially targets the arms, abs and glutes.
- Sit with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Place your left hand on the floor about a foot behind you and hold a light weight in your right.
- Press through your feet and your left hand to lift your hips off the ground, extending your right arm out above you toward the ceiling at the same time.
- Lift your hips up in line with your chest.
- Lower down to the starting position.
Reps: 12 to 15 reps on each side
5. Triceps Kickback
You don't need much weight to feel the burn with this exercise, which will also tone your upper and mid-back, core and shoulders.
It's good to focus on your triceps because it's a functional muscle, says Bennett. "Not only does it help the arms to look good when the triceps are toned, but it allows your arms to move without any dysfunction."
- Stand with feet hip-distance, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hips so your torso is at a 45-degree angle. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Reach your arms behind you and bend your elbows to 90 degrees
- Extend your arms out straight behind you, then bend them in again.
Reps: 12 to 20
6. Renegade Rows
A push-up, row and plank combined, this move builds strength in your arms, chest, back and abs. To modify, drop your knees to the floor.
- Start in a high plank position, holding a small weight in each hand.
- Lower down into a push-up, then press back up.
- Lift your right hand, bending at the elbow, until the weight meets your chest.
- Lower your right hand back down.
- Repeat the lift with the opposite hand.
Reps: 10 to 15
Read more: The 17 Most Effective Fat Loss Moves
7. Overhead Squat
Holding your small weights overhead makes this exercise more challenging. Feel the burn from this exercise in your lower body, core and shoulders.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. With a dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms straight above your head, palms facing forward.
- Engage your core and squat down, sending your hips back and keeping your knees behind your toes. Keep your biceps in line with your ears, chest open, torso erect.
- Lower down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then stand back up by pushing your heels into the ground.
Reps: 12 to 20
- Spotebi: Dumbbell Punches
- Crossfit Journal: Three Levels of Dumbbell Squat
- Rodale Wellness: 6 Light-Weight Exercises for Toned Arms
- Prevention: 5 Arm-Toning Exercises You Can Do With Light Weights For Big Results
- Men's Health: 10 Exercises You Can Do with 10-Pound Dumbbells
- Skimble: How to do: Renegade Row with Push-up