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There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about exercising with dumbbells, what benefits can you expect?
Dumbbells are handles with weights attached to them. They are one of the most popular types of gym equipment and for a good reason. You can use dumbells to make many exercises for a wide variety of muscles more challenging.
Some people question how useful this equipment can be but modifying your workouts with dumbbells can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.
Keep in mind that even though there are benefits, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance.
1. Can help you lose more weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
One way to try to make this happen is by doing a workout. By increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time you use up more energy than usual. Exercising with dumbbells can help with weight loss since doing workouts with them generally requires more energy compared to doing the same workout without them.
A big factor in how many calories you burn during a workout is your weight. To move around your body needs energy, measured in calories. The more weight you carry, the more energy you need to fuel movement.
For example a 155-pound (70 kg) person doing lunges for 15 minutes burns around 110 calories.
On the other hand, a 185-pound (83 kg) person doing lunges for 15 minutes burns around 131 calories.
There will likely be a difference in how much a dumbbell or two increases calorie-burning vs the same weight in body fat but that just shows how dumbbells can benefit weight loss.
Another way workouts help you lose weight is by increasing your muscle mass which in turn helps with burning more energy with everything you do. Exercises with dumbbells help increase muscle mass too compared to the same exercise without them.
You can likely hit your weight loss goals without dumbbells but consistently using this equipment in the right types of workouts can make a big difference over time.
Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
2. Help you build more muscle
Some types of exercise will help more with this but generally exercise will help you build and preserve muscle better than sitting still. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Generally the more weight you have to move, the more muscle you will build with an exercise. That’s one of the reasons why people go to a gym instead of doing bodyweight exercises at home.
Therefore dumbbells can help you increase the amount of muscle mass you build with an exercise.
What muscles you will work more with dumbbells depends a lot on the specific workouts you do. For example, doing squats with dumbbells will help you build more leg muscle than squats without the extra weight.
If you are serious about building muscle you want to consistently increase the weight of the dumbbells you use as you get stronger.
Even if you’re currently able to build muscle with bodyweight exercises, at some point your body weight may stop being enough resistance to build extra muscle mass. When this is the case bodyweight exercises modified with dumbbells or typical strength training exercises with this piece of equipment are the next step if you want to keep building extra muscle.
3. Improved cardiovascular health
Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.
When you move more intensely your body needs to transport these things, which means using your heart, at a higher rate.
Your heart is a muscle that can be trained by using it more intensely. Working out with dumbbells makes your heart beat faster and thus helps you strengthen your cardiovascular system more compared to the same exercises without dumbbells. This in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Do keep in mind that muscles can get injured. If you have not done any physical activity in a long time you may want to start out with low-intensity movements without dumbbells and build up from there.
4. Can improve athletic performance
This next benefit of dumbbells does not mean that you should carry one in your next sports match or competitive race. Instead, using dumbbells during your preparation training can help you improve your athletic performance.
Getting better at a certain sport or exercise isn’t necessarily done by doing these activities more. Cross-training which is training in a different sport can be useful.
One study suggests that jump height in turn is related to sprint performance (8). This means that adding squats with dumbbells to your routine can improve your performance in basically any sport that involves fast running.
5. Improved bone density
This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now. However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.
The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts. The same goes for your bones, by putting pressure on them you make them stronger in the long term.
Exercising with dumbbells puts more pressure on your bones than doing the same workout without them. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term.
Generally, workouts on land with a lot of jumping and strength training exercises are the best for improving bone density. Next, you have exercises that put less pressure on your bones like walking. Lastly, you have exercise in the water like swimming which will still benefit bone density but likely not as much as the other categories.
6. Dumbbells last a long time
When talking about any type of fitness equipment the required investment and how long the gear will last are important factors.
Money put into improving your health is generally a great investment but sometimes you can get the same effects with less. There is also likely a limit to what you want to spend.
Dumbbells require a higher investment compared to something like resistance bands but a lower investment than many big workout machines like a stationary bike.
The thing with dumbbells is that they will be able to improve your workouts for many years and potentially even decades. On top of that, they do not really lose their value which means that if you decide to stop using dumbbells you can likely sell them for a very similar price as what you put into them.
In short, dumbbells can be a great long term investment. Especially if they allow you to cancel your gym subscription. They do require a decent upfront investment.
If you decide to get dumbbells it may be smart to visit a friend with dumbbells or a gym to get a feel for what the best weight range would be for you. There are also dumbbells with adjustable weights to anticipate your increase in strength. These also require less storage room.
7. Make your workouts more time-efficient
Another benefit of working out with dumbbells is that it can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good exercise session isn’t necessarily about duration.
For example to build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.
Using dumbbells during your workout can help with tiring out your muscles faster. This benefit of dumbbells is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
8. Healthier lungs
To move around your body needs oxygen, the more intensely the more oxygen. Your body absorbs oxygen from the air through your lungs.
Improving how well your lungs function leads to benefits like improved exercise performance and getting tired slower.
9. Improve coordination and balance
Although with some exercises more than others, you will likely challenge your balance and coordination skills with many dumbbell workouts. By doing this frequently you get better at it like with most skills. Many people forget to implement balance training into their workout routine but it is a helpful fitness component.
The benefits of improved coordination and balance don’t just show up in other technical sports. Daily activities as simple as walking the stairs require coordination and balance.
Two dumbbells can also be more helpful compared to an external weight like a barbell for certain exercises like weighted lunges. With one dumbbell in each hand you are still able to use your arms for balance. When holding a barbell during lunges your risk falling down.
10. Helps you avoid muscle asymmetries
Many other ways to make your resistance training more challenging like a barbell and gym machines put one weight on both of your arms and legs at the same time. This enables the possibility of using one side of your body more than the other.
In turn, this can lead to muscle asymmetries. Muscle asymmetries can lead to increased injury risk and bad posture so likely something you want to avoid.
In many exercises dumbbells allow you to make sure that each side of your body carries the same weight. If you already have muscle asymmetries, you can use a different weight of dumbbell on each side to solve this.
11. Help you build faster muscle
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (20).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
As a strength training beginner bodyweight exercises will initially help you build type 2 muscle fibers. However, once you get to a point where bodyweight exercises start being a less intensive exercise they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers. Dumbbells can help you with building faster muscle for a longer amount of time.
12. Enables resistance training at home
A downside of many exercises is that they need you to be in a specific location, or use specific equipment that you generally don’t have at home.
This makes it so you often have to drive, cycle, or walk somewhere for a while. Let’s say you exercise twice a week and going to your workout takes 10 minutes to get there and 10 minutes to go back. That’s 40 minutes less free time per week.
This extra transportation also makes it easier to say no to your workout. Being able to be consistent is key to a good workout plan.
However, if you have dumbbells at home you generally don’t have to worry about these things. All you need is a few blocks of free time throughout the day and you can get in a dumbbell resistance training workout. In turn, resistance training can lead to a wide variety of other important benefits.
All in all it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one piece of equipment to your workout routine.
One thing you need to remember is that even though there are benefits to using dumbbells, your injury risk is generally also higher. Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner you want to start with soft workouts without dumbbells and build up from there.
Dumbbell workouts may also require more rest between sessions than workouts without. You can for example implement 3 dumbbell workout sessions a week instead of every day. How many times a week you should do dumbbell exercises will vary from person to person and on the exercises you plan to do.
One disadvantage of the typical dumbbells is that they require a decent amount of storage room if you have multiple. There is a solution if that would be an issue for you. There are adjustable dumbbells that allow you to switch between different dumbbell weights in a compact way.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor for a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If you like dumbbell workouts, great. If not there are plenty of dumbbell alternatives and other workouts to consider that can also offer a lot of benefits.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
If your goal is to build more and stronger muscles it is OK to use dumbbells every day as long as you target different muscle groups on different days. After a good dumbbell workout, the muscle group you targeted likely needs a day or more rest to repair.
Dumbbells can be extremely effective for goals like building muscle, losing weight, and getting healthier when used right. Do not forget to supplement any dumbbell workout program with the right nutrition and enough sleep.
The order of areas where you lose fat is generally not that easy to influence. Dumbbells can help you burn belly fat but only because they can help you lose body fat in general.
Dumbbells of the right weight implemented in the right exercises combined with good nutrition and other good lifestyle habits can definitely help you build muscle.