Dumbbell Workout

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

This multitasking routine will shape up your shoulders, chest, back, hips, and thighs in no time.

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Dumbbells aren’t the newest or most glamorous piece of equipment, but they’re still a terrific tool for strength training. They’re available at most gyms. They’re versatile, and just one pair of dumbbells can help you strengthen various muscles in your body. And they’re easy to scale down if you need to go lighter or scale up if you’re ready to go heavier.

That brings us to an important point: You don’t have to use a heavy weight to gain benefits. In fact, it’s best to use a lighter weight—and prioritize good form above everything.

With any strength training, “we start really light, then we think about getting heavy,” says SilverSneakers fitness expert David Jack. If you’re able to perform an exercise with good form and the last few reps feel easy, that’s your cue to try the next weight up.

No matter what weight you use, this multitasking dumbbell workout will shape up your shoulders, chest, back, hips, and thighs in no time.

How the Dumbbell Workout Works

You’ll need a set of dumbbells and a bench, preferably one that’s adjustable. If you’re not sure which dumbbells to use, choose the lightest ones you can find. You can always go heavier if the moves feel too easy.

You may also want to try the workout first without any dumbbells at all—simply pretend you’re holding dumbbells so you can get a feel for the movements.

Warm up with at least five minutes of walking or the warmup exercises from this 20-minute cardio follow-along workout. Perform the exercises below as instructed, and you’ll perform some exercises in pairs as part of a circuit. Cool down with deep breathing and stretches of your choice.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Circuit #1

Do 2 to 3 rounds

Perform the two exercises below as a pairing, resting 60 seconds in between. Aim to do two to three rounds of the pairing.

Exercise #1A: Out, In, Back, Down

Do 10 reps

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Brace your core as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach. Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides with palms facing in.

With palms down, raise your arms out to shoulder level. Slide them in so they’re in front of you. Slide them back out to shoulder level. Finally, lower them down by your sides. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps, and rest for 60 seconds.

Exercise #1B: Up, Out, In, Down

Do 10 reps

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and brace your core. This time, hold the dumbbells in front of your legs with palms facing in.

With palms down, raise your arms up so they’re in front of you. Slide them out to shoulder level. Slide them back in so they’re in front of you. Finally, lower them down in front of your legs. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps, and rest for 60 seconds.

Make it easier: If a dumbbell is too heavy, you can perform this circuit using just your bodyweight. You can also perform this circuit sitting tall in chair.

Exercise #2: Sit Back Squat with Arm Scoop

Do 2 sets of 10 reps on each leg

Take a small split stance with one foot forward, and brace your core. With elbows bent, hold a dumbbell at each end in front of your belly so that it’s parallel to the floor. This is your starting position.

From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to sit back into a small squat. At the same time, scoop your arms into a small biceps curl. Pause, then push through your heels and lower your arms to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps on each leg, and rest for 60 seconds.

Make it easier: Perform this move in front of a chair for support, or bend your hips and knees just a little bit.

Exercise #3: Deadlift

Do 2 sets of 12 reps

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and brace your core. Hold a dumbbell at one end with both hands in front of you.

From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to lower your body toward the floor, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Keeping your core engaged and chest lifted, let the dumbbell gently touch or hover above the floor.

Pause, and continuing to keep your core engaged and chest lifted, push the floor away with your feet and drive your hips forward to stand up. That’s one rep. Do 12 reps, and rest for 60 seconds.

Make it easier: As with any exercise, form is everything—but that’s especially true for the deadlift. If you have difficulty using proper form or have back or hip problems, skip the deadlift and perform a hip hinge instead.

Circuit #4

Do 2 to 3 rounds

Perform the two exercises below as a pairing, resting 60 seconds in between. Aim to do two to three rounds of the pairing.

Exercise #4A: Seated Alternating Shoulder Press

Do 8 reps each side

Sit tall on a bench with your feet wide on the floor for support, and brace your core. With your elbows bent, hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your shoulders. Make sure your arms are aligned with your torso.

Keeping your arm aligned with your torso, press one arm up while gently opening your chest to the opposite side. Make sure that your arm doesn’t travel forward as you press up.

Pause, and lower your arm. That’s one rep. Do eight reps on each side, and rest for 60 seconds.

Exercise #4B: Seated Alternating Curl

Do 10 reps each side

Sit tall on a bench with your feet about hip-width apart on the floor for support, and brace your core. Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides.

Keeping your elbows tucked to your sides, bend one elbow to curl the dumbbell up to your shoulder. Pause, and lower your arm. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps on each side, and rest for 60 seconds.

Circuit #5

Do 2 to 3 rounds

Perform the two exercises below as a pairing, resting 60 seconds in between. Aim to do two to three rounds of the pairing.

Exercise #5A: Arm Supported Row

Do 12 reps each arm

Stand in front of an incline bench or other elevated surface. Take a wide split stance with your left foot forward. Brace your core, and hinge forward slightly from your hips. Hold the bench with your left hand and a dumbbell in your right hand with palm facing in.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your right elbow and pull the dumbbell up to the side of your torso. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbell. That’s one rep. Do 12 reps with each arm, and rest for 60 seconds.

Exercise #5B: Triceps Kickback

Do 12 reps each arm

Stand in front of an incline bench or other elevated surface. Take a narrow split stance with your left foot forward. Brace your core, and hinge forward slightly from your hips. Hold the bench with your left hand and a dumbbell in your right hand with palm facing in. Row the weight up to your waist. This is your starting position.

Keeping your upper arm still and elbow tucked close to your side, straighten your right arm to raise the weight directly behind you. Pause, then slowly bend your elbow to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do 12 reps with each arm, and rest for 60 seconds.

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