Dumbbells are great, they are like the barbells little brother and for good reason. Dumbbells help you move more naturally than a fixed bar which works each limb independently while also building some size and strength. You’ll notice that you can’t go as heavy with dumbbells as you can with the bar, but that’s why it’s good to do your heavy barbell work first and then have a few dumbbell or bodyweight exercises to help build up the volume and frequency without destroying your joints in the process. Cables are fine as well but the only Cable exercise I probably use right now is the seated cable row.
I am not a big fan of machines, not to say that there is anything wrong with them because every smart coach knows that exercises are not good or bad, every exercise is simply a tool and you use the right tool for the appropriate task. I still use some machines in my training such as the leg press, but they don’t make up the bulk of my program, maybe like 5%. I personally like to start off my workouts with one or 2 heavy barbell compound movements and then the rest of the workout will most likely be assistance work with dumbbells or bodyweight. In this article I will be showing you my top 10 favorite dumbbell assistance and accessory lifts that I personally use in my programs. Each program I follow will include at least 5 of these dumbbell exercises to help me increase my workload. Here they are:
1) One arm DB Rows
Dumbbell rows are great because they put minimal stress on the lower back and you are able to handle heavy weights. It’s a unilateral movement so you can fix imbalances from side to side and it’s a fairly simple exercise to learn. After I am done my High Pulls and Pendlay Rows I like to incorporate this exercise to increase the volume. For more lat emphasis keep your elbows tucked and for more upper back emphasis flare your elbows out a bit to the side.
2) DB RDL
DB RDL’s are great for hamstring and glute work because you can use a pretty decent amount of weight and hit the posterior chain in a unique way. These could be done with a single leg as well for more unilateral work.
3) DB Bench
This is a good movement to help improve your bench press and if you do it properly then your strength will carry over. These can be done on an incline, flat or decline bench, the choice is yours.
4) DB Seated Shoulder Press
After I am done shoulder pressing with a barbell I like to do some other form of shoulder pressing with dumbbells to help get more volume in. These also have a good carryover to improving your military press if you do them properly. Improving your military press will automatically improve your bench so don’t sleep on this exercise because you can get a lot out of this movement. The good thing about shoulder pressing is that it also hits your triceps pretty hard as well.
5) DB Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian split squats are hands down my favorite unilateral lower body exercise because you can use a decent amount of weight and they are great at assisting your squat while adding volume and frequency while sparing the lower back in the process. These can be done with a forward lean for more hamstring emphasis or upright for more quads.
6) DB Shrugs
I ‘m not the biggest fan of shrugs (and I barely ever do them) but if you want to bring up your traps then it wouldn’t hurt to throw them in once per week. I personally don’t like to go heavy on these, I like to get a solid 1-3 second squeeze at the top and get a really good pump. I use straps on these if my grip is too fatigued at the end of the workout.
7) DB Bent Over Rear Delt Flies
I have almost always been a freak when it comes to the back meaning that I have a big obsession for a big back so these are great to do at the end of a back or shoulder workout to really hit those rear delts efficiently. I like to use high reps of 10-20 reps on this exercise and really get a good pump in the rear delts. Sometimes I will do drop sets on this exercise as well. I also rarely go over 25lb on this exercise because the rear delts are a small muscle and I don’t feel like its that necessary. I also like to do these while sitting in a bent over position on a bench to really try to isolate the rear delts.
8) DB Chest Supported Row
Dumbbell chest supported are an exercise that I should start incorporating again. These are a great way to hit the back without cheating. The only problem is that once you get to heavier weights it might be hard to breath because your chest will be compressed which is why its good to do a 1-3 second pause at the top of the movement so you won’t need a lot of weight.
9) Tate Press
Direct trice p work has always been tricky for me because I found that extensions would bother my elbows and I wouldn’t feel push downs that much either. Tate presses are kind of like a hybrid of a press and an extension and they don’t stress the elbows too much. As a bonus you are able to handle some decent weights for as far as isolation movements are concerned. Don’t go too heavy on these either, you want to focus on getting a good pump when doing direct tricep work to save your elbows. Go heavy on close grip benching, weighted dips and then do some pump work with Tate presses and you should be all set.
10) DB Hammer Curls
Want to get bigger biceps and forearms while keeping your elbows and wrists healthy? Make sure that you are including dumbbell hammer curls in your routine. Too much extension work could destroy your elbows in no time, but if you are incorporating some form of hammer curl in your routine then it will help even things out. I like to do these once per week and do 8-15 reps while getting a good squeeze.
BONUS: DB Pullovers
Dumbbell pullovers are a classic by Arnold and they are a forgotten exercise in bodybuilding. Pullovers are mainly a lat and triceps exercise but they also hit the chest to a certain degree. These will help you on your quest to getting wider lats. Remember that the lats the biggest muscle in the upper body and if you really develop them it will have a huge impact on the way you look. Big arms and big pecs are cool but no single muscle group will stretch out a t-shirt and give you a V-taper more than big wide lats will.
So there you have it, these are my favorite dumbbell exercises that I like to include as assistance/accessory work in my programs to help me increase my volume and frequency. These lifts help me get stronger while sparing my joints and helping me stay more injury free. Let me know if there are any other dumbbell exercises that you think should be on the list and don’t underestimate the power of dumbbells because they are a solid tool in the training world.