The new exercise hero- The humble dumbbell

Author: Kate Cross

­Who’d have thought a simple piece of exercise equipment would become so popular? But, online interest in dumbbells ballooned 725 per cent during COVID-19 lockdown conditions, based on March 31 data from Statista.


Whether this translated to actual sales is anyone’s guess, but if you managed to get your hands on a pair, or already owned some dumbbells, you might be aware of how great they are.


Strength and Conditioning Coach Greg Jacobs says “dumbbells are enormously versatile and take up very little space”. 


“They allow you to do a huge variety of exercises from beginner level to advanced and have the added advantage of forcing the weaker limbs to do the same work as the stronger side.”  

Here, Mr Jacobs shares his top five dumbbell exercises you can do anywhere.


As for which weights to choose for each of the exercises, Mr Jacobs says “ideally you should use a weight which produces muscle fatigue after approximately eight repetitions”. 


“As you get stronger, you will be able to do more repetitions before fatiguing. When this gets to approximately 15 reps, switch to a heavier dumbbell, reduce the number of reps and repeat the process of adapting to the heavier weight.”


Now, let’s go …


ONE: Romanian dead lift

Why your body will love it: “Strengthens glutes, hamstrings and postural back muscles.” 

The moves:


  1. Start by standing with a dumbbell in each hand, with feet shoulder-width apart and knees soft. 

  2. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together and maintain this tension until you finish the exercise.

  3. Bend forward from the hips by pushing your tail back and positioning your upper body almost horizontally with a straight back. You can stop lowering when you feel a stretch in the hamstrings but keep your shins vertical and knees soft. 

  4. Using your hamstrings and glutes, return to the upright standing position and repeat.


TWO: Goblet squat


Why your body will love it: “Mobilises and strengthens legs, glutes, shoulders and back muscles and is great for core stability.”


The moves:


  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and, with dumbbell positioned vertically, cup both hands under the weighted section of the top of the dumbbell. 

  2. Keeping your elbows tucked in, imagine pinching the lower portion of the dumbbell between your forearms.

  3. Keeping your back muscles tight, chest high and feet flat on the floor, sink down into a deep squat and try to get your elbows in between your knees. Don’t let your upper body slump forward. 

  4. If you can’t maintain good posture and squat to a point your elbows are between your knees, try squatting onto a seat first and then progress to a deeper squat as your flexibility improves.


THREE: Dumbbell row

Why your body will love it: “Strengthens the muscles of the upper back and shoulder blade area.”

The moves:

  1. Start in the Romanian dead lift position with your knees slightly bent, hips pushed back and your back straight but inclined close to horizontal. 

  2. Support your upper body with one hand on a seat or coffee table and hold a dumbbell in the other hand, letting this arm hang towards the floor.

  3. To perform the row, pull the dumbbell to your waist, drawing your shoulder blade towards the middle of your back.

  4. Return to the starting position and repeat several times before swapping sides.

FOUR: Dumbbell step back lunges

Why your body will love it: “Strengthens glutes and legs, improves balance, coordination and core stability [and is sure to] … get your heart rate up”.


The moves:


  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand and arms hanging by your sides. 

  2. Take a big step back with one leg and as you maintain an upright torso, lower your back knee to the floor so that both knees are at a 90-degree angle. For cushioning, you could have an exercise mat or pillow under the knee. 

  3. To return to the standing position, push through the front heel and lift yourself up in one smooth movement.

  4. For a strength challenge, perform a set on the same side, before switching legs. For a more cardiovascular challenge, alternate the legs each time.


FIVE: Dumbbell clean and press


Why your body will love it: “[It’s] a total body exercise emphasising mobility, core stability and coordination.”


The moves:


  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell between your feet. 

  2. Squat down and grab the dumbbell with one hand, keeping your hips lower than your shoulders. 

  3. As you return to the standing position, pull the dumbbell and swing it up to shoulder height by bending your elbow. The dumbbell should now be in front of you, at shoulder height with your elbow directly underneath it and your palm orientated towards your collarbone. 

  4. Press the dumbbell overhead by completely extending your elbow and rotating your arm so that your palm faces forwards. Feel free to use some leg power to reach this position.

  5. Lower the dumbbell back to shoulder height. 

  6. Squat down and lower the dumbbell to back to its starting position on the floor in between your feet.

  7. For a strength challenge, perform one set on one arm, before swapping sides. For a more cardiovascular challenge, alternate the arms after each repetition.


Our expert: Greg Jacobs is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor with 30 years’ experience in the fitness industry. He owns and runs a Pilates and strength and conditioning studio in Australia.


Remember, these exercises are aimed at a general audience. Consult an appropriate health professional for individual advice, especially if you are pregnant, have a medical condition or injury, or are new to physical activity. Stop exercising and seek medical attention if you experience any severe, unusual or otherwise concerning symptoms.




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