Whenever you’re faced with an ill-equipped or crowded gym, head for the dumbbell rack. With a single weight, you can train total-body strength without waiting on machines or suffering through outdated equipment. Below, you’ll find the best four exercises to do.
Go heavy for this workout. If you regularly lift, a 45-pound single dumbbell is a good place to start. If you’re just getting back to the gym, aim for a 20- to 30-pounder. You’ll notice there are no supersets, because with movements this complex and metabolically demanding, there’s no need. Rest for no more than 90 seconds between sets, and two minutes between exercises. Expect a solid 45-minute session that leaves you sweaty and sore.
One-Arm Dumbbell Snatch
This exercise works most of the pulling muscles (hamstrings, glutes, lats) and also trains timing, coordination, and explosiveness. Start with feet shoulder-width apart, squatting just far enough for the dumbbell to hang at mid-shin level between the legs. Keep the back flat and avoid supporting yourself with the opposite arm. Next, drive hips forward to explode up, even slightly jumping off the ground, and allowing the momentum to move the dumbbell to eye level. Aggressively pull the weight up to lock out your arm overhead. This should all happen in one motion (watch video). Keep the weight close to your body and don’t let it swing outward. Complete four sets of eight reps per arm.
A dumbbell is more unwieldy than a loaded barbell, which is why the goblet squat can work more muscles than a barbell front squat or back squat. It requires small, stabilizing muscles to fire to keep you upright. The front load also allows you to keep a more vertical torso, which often allows more depth and better body alignment. Doing goblet squats with good technique (watch video) can be challenging, but it will build the proper mobility and motor patterns needed for a quality back or front squat. To do it, stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, holding the dumbbell against your upper chest. Push hips back while keeping your chest up, and squat until elbows touch the insides of your knees. Perform five sets of 15 reps.
Single Arm Plank and Dumbbell Row
One of the key functions of the abdominals is to keep your torso stable against outside forces (say, someone accidentally running into you on the street; strong abs will keep you upright). A great way to train this is by doing anti-rotational plank work. On a bench or knee-level surface, get into a plank with palms on bench, feet together on floor, straight arms, and a dumbbell in one hand. Move the hand with the weight off the bench so the arm hangs straight down to the side next to the bench. Engage your abs to hold plank as though both hands were still on the bench. Keeping hips level and without twisting, row the weight up to the torso, squeezing shoulder blades together at the top. Slowly lower the weight back down and repeat (watch video). Perform four sets of 12 reps per arm.
This final move strengthens your legs, core, back, chest, and shoulders — so, everything — and provides metabolic conditioning, pushing your heart rate up quickly as you rise to stand up with the weight, then bringing it back down as you lower to the floor. (Doing several Turkish Get-Ups in a row can feel as taxing as running sprints.)
Lie face up with a dumbbell in your right hand held over your right shoulder, arm straight. Bend your right knee, with the right foot flat on the floor. Slide your left arm out to a 45 degree angle and begin to shift your weight to your left side. Pressing your left palm into the floor, lift your hips and slide your left foot backward under your body so that you’re kneeling on your left knee, keeping your right arm locked and your shoulder stable, eyes on the dumbbell the entire time. From here, shift your weight into the right foot and come up to a standing position with the dumbbell still pressed overhead. Now, perform each step in reverse order, keeping the dumbbell stable and overhead with arm locked, until you’re on your back again (watch video). Perform three reps on one side, then repeat on the opposite side, for a total of three minutes.