Dumbbells, Barbells, And Kettlebells, Oh My...

Stick to the basics when designing a training program. We are going to go over three pieces of equipment here that should help you become a better all around athlete. Check it out!

Today when an athlete walks into their local gym they will realize that they are no longer in Kansas. The equipment selection available in many gyms today is sometimes overwhelming. Go to most gyms and you will see machine after machine that's whole purpose is to train one muscle group and that's it.

Many of the big name manufactures have research departments whose only job is to create the "Next Big Thing." Many young lifters today go to the gym unsupervised and attempt to use every piece available for muscles worked that session. When asked why they use machines many answer,

"Because they are there and I see other
people using them so they must be good."

With so many equipment options available it's no wonder training programs fail to work. I remember when I first started to get into lifting, my father took me to the local health store bought me a can of protein power and a muscle and fitness magazine.

For many of us this is how we got introduced to supplements and weight training. The problem with muscle magazines today is that many show workouts that no athlete will ever benefit from. Their exercise programs are designed for people who are looking to go to the beach, not step on the field of battle and wage war.

Today's athletes need to get faster and stronger, not bigger and slower. Now don't read this the wrong way, I'm not saying not to read muscle magazines because I read them when I travel. Just know what you're reading before you take on a programs listed in them.

Back when I first started I can remember going to the gym with a photo copy of the article and trying each workout only to fail to see the gains I wanted. What was happening is I was looking at the model or bodybuilder and thinking to myself that if I do these exercises and take the same supplements than I will look the same way but I was WRONG.

The reason the "Perfect" lifter was doing the exercises was to promote the magazine and the advertisements in it. Many of the lifters seen in the articles don't even do those workouts because they are either too hard or poorly designed. This is why we need to educate today's athletes on sticking to the basics when it comes to training programs for their sport.

In this article we hope to do just that. We are going to talk about the benefits of 3 pieces of equipment found in most gyms and how the use of them can help you become a better, more complete athlete.


We all have seen them and used them many times. I like using barbells for most of your strength and power exercises. Sticking to the basics these exercises are bench press, squats and deadlifts. When looking at your program design here is how the exercises will benefit you.

  • Bench press: Build mass and strength in the pectorals, front delts and triceps. The bench press is a fundamental compound exercise for the upper body. It produces growth, strength and muscle density, not only for the chest muscles but for the front deltoids and triceps as well.

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Bench Press
  • Squats: Build mass and strength in the legs, especially the thighs. Full squats are one of the traditional mass-building exercises for the entire lower body but are primarily for developing all four heads of the quadriceps.

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  • Deadlifts: Work the lower back. Deadlifts are an overall power exercise that involves more muscles than any other exercise in your routine, including the lower back, upper back and trapezius muscles, the buttocks, and the legs.

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Training with dumbbells allows you to select resistance training exercises based on their similarity to actual movements that occurs during sports. Dumbbells require more balance than training with barbells or machines, and balance is crucial for optimal performance.

Dumbbells also require more muscular control than barbells, thus enhancing kinesthetic awareness. The best part of training with dumbbells is it allows the athlete to train through a greater range of motion than barbells on some exercises.

Understand that it is sometimes more valuable to trade heavy weights (Barbells) for more sport-specific movements.

Here is a list of some dumbbells exercises for wrestlers:

  • DB upright rows
  • DB high pull snatch
  • DB bent-over rows
  • DB squat to push press
  • DB lunges
  • DB lateral lunges

DB Lateral Lunges
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There are four basic categories of physical attributes that you care about that can be increased with kettlebells: grip strength, strength endurance, core strength and explosive power.

  1. Grip Strength: Given the extra-large handle of 'regulation' sized kettlebells and the ballistic nature of many exercises that use them, grip strength improvements are an adjunctive benefit to each and every exercise - as long as you have a heavy kettlebell in your hand, your hand is receiving a training effect. If the thing is moving fast and changing direction in a rapid manner, the effect is increased.
  2. Strength Endurance: Whether you call it general physical preparation (GPP), strength endurance, work capacity, or simply being 'in shape', the ability to survive (and thrive) high volume training is a must for those of us with weaknesses that must be overcome.
    Kettlebell training is one of the most efficient methods to increase whole-body strength endurance. For strength endurance, I'd advocate building up to a reasonably high rep count and minimal rest between sets. Start with 5 reps and work up to 20 or more slowly over time—endurance takes much longer to build than strength does, at least for beginners.
    Give yourself a few months to get your work capacity up, maintain perfect form for each rep, and do this at least twice a week.
  3. Core Strength: Your 'core' muscles include everything from the top of your legs to the bottom of your chest—erector spine, abs and the large number of small muscles throughout the middle of your body. My favorite core exercise with kettlebells is 'passes.'
    Assume a wide stance and circle the 'bell around your body, passing it from hand to hand as you go. Do figure 8's between your legs, and reverse direction often. With a big kettlebell, you can easily work up to 50-100 reps per set.
    The faster it moves and the more often you quickly reverse the direction of the kettlebell, the more ballistic effect is imparted to your core muscles. It is the ballistic effect that causes rapid gains—deep shock like training effect to the small muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout your core.
    As with all new exercises, be careful and work up the rep count and ballistic intensity slowly.
  4. Explosive Power: The Swing, Snatch, and Clean with a kettlebell in each hand, will serve to increase explosive power. It is the explosive lifts that cause the greatest forces to be transferred to the hand, core, and posterior chain—this is the gold mine that's not panned out, so spend your time and energy wisely.
    Two-handed swings in your deadlift or squat stance, with as much 'snap and pop' as you can muster while remaining in control of the kettlebells and in perfect form should constitute the majority of your training.

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Double Kettlebell Snatch.

Why Use These Tools To Train?

Answer: Overall speed, muscular and aerobic endurance, superior joint strength and flexibility, awesome power and explosiveness. Athletes don't need fancy equipment to get in top shape but what they do need to do is train properly and sometime that's hard enough.

You will notice that nowhere did we mention bicep curls, leg presses, leg extensions or any other isolation exercises. When training athletes it's important to get the most out of your training session, this is why we like to train total body and combination movements.

Think sport-specific movements in your program design. You can do fewer exercises and but receive greater returns than with old conventional bodybuilding programs that have some people in the gym for over 2 hours.

Remember, on the mat no one cares how big your biceps or how much you can leg press. It's the moment when your opponent stands up and you need to lift and return him to the mat when you will see the need for total body training and combination exercises.

Remember, hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard!