One of the many benefits to working with a winning brand like Men's Health is that I get to hear what type of workouts and training tools fitness consumers all over the world prefer. It's no accident that most of the poster workouts you see in Men's and Women's Health involve some combination of dumbbell and bodyweight exercises.
This makes sense since all of the implements can be easily found in any commercial gym. If you're looking to train at home, buying a pair of dumbbells at your local sporting goods store certainly won't break the bank (a pair of 20-pound dumbbells typically costs $25-50 based on the type, brand, and used/new status).
As CEO of StreamFIT.com, my job is to bring the most affordable and accessible metabolic workouts to our busy members. Calisthenics and dumbbell movements certainly fit the mold. Most dumbbell routines focus on using a pair or multiple pairs of dumbbells, but I created a series of fat-blasting, muscle-building, 10-exercise circuits that only require a single dumbbell.
Why? One fewer dumbbell is one fewer excuse to miss a workout. Believe it or not, there are a handful of benefits to training with one dumbbell at a time, especially if you only ever exercise with dumbbells as a pair.
Top 5 Reasons To Train With A Single Dumbbell
1 Reduce Imbalances Between Sides to Boost Symmetry and Reduce Injuries
Everyone has a strong arm and a strong leg, which means everybody's got a weak arm and a weak leg, too! As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. For example, when you see most people fail at a barbell bench press, typically one arm rises slower than the other when pressing the load off of the chest (this happens with the push-up, too).
This causes the barbell to tilt to the weak side, thus terminating the lift and putting the trainee at great risk of injury unless using a skilled spotter. By adding single-arm dumbbell presses, you can fix this strength imbalance and ultimately boost your double-arm pressing (or push-up) totals.
I also recommend you use a 2:1 or 3:1 weak side to strong side work set ratio to accelerate the time it will take to gain equal strength in both sides.
2 Increase Loading on One Side at a Time for More Upper Body Muscle Strength and Size
Holding one dumbbell on one side at a time allows you to train that side with more focus and intensity. Test it for yourself: Grab a pair of 25-pound dumbbells and do as many double-arm presses or curls as you can. Then rest for five minutes and perform as many single-arm presses or curls as you can on your weak arm (or left arm).
More often than not you'll perform more total reps one arm at a time than with the simultaneous bilateral alternative. This provides a new stimulus that will add slabs of muscle to your arms, chest, back, and shoulders.
3 Instantly Make your Exercises More Core-intensive
Any time you load one side of your body at a time, the muscles on the opposing side need to activate to help keep your body balanced and stable. This is called asymmetrical loading, and it's one of the most effective and efficient ways to amplify your ab work every time you train without actually needing to add any additional isolated core work (unless you want to).
For example, performing single-arm biceps curls and overhead presses targets your arms and shoulders and it enlists all the sexy muscles around your torso to stabilize your spine.
4 Get More Complete Hip and Thigh Development
Just like with the previous example of increased core activation, asymmetrical loading with lower body exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges forces the muscles on the inside and outside of your hips and thighs to work harder than normal. Let's take a look at the alternating lunge, for example.
When performing alternating lunges while holding a pair of equally weighted dumbbells in both hands, you will primarily target the muscles on the front and backside of your hips and thighs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes).
Hold only a single dumbbell in one hand at a time when lunging, and this immediately calls more of your ankle, knee, and hip stabilizers that surround your joints into action.
Specifically, your hip abductor and adductor muscle groups—the ones that pull your legs outward and inward, respectively—get taxed a lot more.
This will build you wheels of steel and bulletproof your ankles, knees, and hips.
5 Access Workouts with a Small Footprint that You Can Easily do at Home or in the Gym
All you need is one dumbbell for one hell of a workout. It's super simple and easy to train with a single dumbbell at home or in the gym, indoors or outdoors. Plus, when you want to go heavier, all you need to do is buy one additional dumbbell instead of an additional pair, which doubles the cost to purchase and increases your overall storage space needs.
If you train at a gym, you also don't have to feel as bad about hoarding one dumbbell instead of two. You just can't find more user-friendly, cost-effective, and time and space-efficient workouts than with single dumbbell routines (besides bodyweight exercises, of course).
Dumbbell Dynamite: The Single Dumbbell Workout Series
All you need is a single dumbbell to transform your body! Here's how it works: Alternate between 50 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest for each exercise in the following 5-exercise total body circuit. That's one cycle. Perform two total cycles for a 10-minute workout.
For all unilateral exercises, switch sides at the halfway mark (25 seconds into each work period). Alternate between Workouts A, B, and C for each training session … or feel free to combine any two or all three single-dumbbell workouts for a longer, more challenging routine.
Single Dumbbell Workout A
Exercise 1: Dumbbell Single-arm Staggered Hip-hinges Progression
How to Do It: Assume a staggered stance with your left foot forward and your right foot back. Your right toes should be aligned with your left heel. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand (ipsilateral loading) and hinge back at your hips until your trunk is parallel to the floor with a flat back. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 2: Dumbbell Uneven Push-ups Progression
How to Do It: Assume a push-up position with your left hand holding a dumbbell and your right hand on the floor. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders. Preferentially load your right hand (hand on floor) and lower your chest to the floor with your body as one unit. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 3: Dumbbell Close Stance Goblet Squats Progression
How to Do It: Cup the top of a vertically-positioned dumbbell with both hands at chest level. Place your feet hip-width apart or closer with your toes forward or pointed out slightly. Push your hips back and knees out and squat down as low as you can without rounding your back. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat.
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Single-arm Bent-over Rows Progression
How to Do It: Assume a split stance position with your right leg forward, left hand holding a dumbbell, and hips hinged back so your trunk forms a 45-60-degree angle with the floor. Pull you shoulders down and back and drive your left elbow tight to your ribcage until the weight reaches armpit level. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 5: Dumbbell Bottom Half Get-ups Progression
How to Do It: Lie on your back holding a dumbbell overhead with your left hand. Your left leg should be bent at 90-degrees and your right leg should be fully extended. Your right arm should be flat against the floor at a 45-degree angle from your torso. Now push through your left heel and get-up onto your right forearm, moving diagonally to your right. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Single Dumbbell Workout B
Exercise 1: Dumbbell Single-arm Swings Progression
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your feet as close together as needed so the weight doesn't touch your thighs. Next, hinge back at your hips like a downhill skier with your back flat. Then drive through your heels and hips to swing the weight to chest level. Immediately reverse the movement and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 2: Dumbbell Single-arm Overhead Presses Progression
How to Do It: Assume a kneeling position on a padded surface with your right hand holding a dumbbell at shoulder level. Keep your shoulders down and back and elbow packed tight to your rib cage and press the weight overhead with your biceps aligned with your ear. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 3: Dumbbell Single-arm Alternating Lunges Progression
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and step your right leg back and lower your hips as far as you can until ideally your back knee hovers just above the floor.
Hold for a count, reverse the movement and repeat with your other leg. Be sure to load the front heel and stay tall up top throughout the move.
Switch hands at the halfway mark.
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Single-arm Biceps Curls Progression
How to Do It: Assume a kneeling position on a padded surface with your right hand holding a dumbbell at your side. Keep your shoulders down and back and elbow packed tight to your rib cage and flex your elbow until the weight reaches shoulder level. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 5: Dumbbell Shoveling Progression
How to Do It: Hold the ends of a dumbbell with both hands. Pivot your feet and rotate your hips to the left so the weight rests just outside your left knee. Now lift the weight to chest level until it's weightless and then immediately pivot your feet and rotate your hips to the right. Repeat for time.
Single Dumbbell Workout C
Exercise 1: Dumbbell Single-arm Step-ups Progression
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your right foot placed on a stable bench, box, step or chair (ipsilateral loading). Stand up through your right heel, hold for a count, and then slowly reverse the movement and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 2: Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions Progression
How to Do It: Assume a kneeling position on a padded surface holding a vertically positioned dumbbell overhead with your hands cupped underneath the top of it. Keep your glutes and abs tight and bend at your elbows until the bottom of the bell touches your shoulders. Hold for a count and then return to the starting position and repeat.
Exercise 3: Dumbbell Single-arm Hinging Lunges Progression
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and take a small step forward with your right leg. Both bend at your knees and hips as you reach the weight toward the instep of your right foot with a flat back. Pause for a count, reverse the movement, and repeat. witch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Single-arm High Pull Progression
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in your left hand with your arm straight so it hangs between your knees.
Start with bends in your ankles, knees, and hips and then fully extend your body and pull the weight straight up until it becomes weightless at chest level. Immediately reverse the movement and repeat.
Switch sides at the halfway mark.
Exercise 5: Dumbbell Single-arm Windmill Progression
How to Do It: Hold a dumbbell in your left hand. Fully extend your right leg with your toes pointing ahead. Bend your left knee and point your toes 45-degrees to the left. Push your hips back to the right, loading your right heel, and slide the weight down the inside of your left leg without moving at your lower back. Hold for a count, reverse the movement and repeat. Switch sides at the halfway mark.