ONE TO GROW ON
By Michael Berg, NSCA-CPT | Tuesday, September 7, 2010 5:16:05 AM America/New_York
Six exercises that prove you can build muscle with just one dumbbell.
If the saying "Two heads are better than one" is accurate, wouldn't that logic also hold true for dumbbells? Not necessarily. In fact, sometimes using just one could prove to be one of the single best change-ups you can make to kick-start your gains.
The following six compound exercises are usually performed with an Olympic bar or a pair of dumbbells. In your upcoming workouts, try leaving one 'bell on the rack instead, introducing a whole new dimension to your training, and your results.
#1 One-Arm-Overhead Squat
Target: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, deltoids
Why It Works: This variation of the standard dumbbell squat won't allow you to use as much weight as you could handle with two dumbbells (or a loaded barbell). But what it lacks in poundage potential it makes up for in difficulty, providing a unique stressor on the involved muscle fibers.
Instructions: Grasp a dumbbell in one hand, and press it up from shoulder level to overhead. Now, holding the dumbbell in the overhead position, drop your hips down into a full squat position, thighs parallel to the floor. Drive through your heels to return to a standing position. Either repeat for reps, or for a greater challenge, press the dumbbell up and down between each squatting repetition.
Target: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, back
Why It Works: Although the deadlift can be done with a bar or two dumbbells, you may find holding one dumbbell between your legs with two hands helps your balance, and thus helps you handle more weight with better form. It's a solid deadlifting alternative to occasionally substitute into your regular routine.
Instructions: Place a dumbbell between your feet, which should be set about shoulder-width apart. Squat down and grasp the dumbbell, hand over hand. With head up, eyes focused forward, and lower back and abs tight, push hard through your heels to rise up to a standing position. From there, drop your hips back and bend your knees deep to lower the dumbbell back to the floor for a brief touchdown before starting the next rep.
#3 One-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Target: Hamstrings, glutes
Why It Works: The Romanian deadlift is essential for well-developed hams, prompting thickness no amount of lying leg curls can replicate. Your hamstring routine should be anchored with barbell and two-dumbbell Romanians, but cycling one-leg deads in every three to four weeks can prove a welcome addition. Why? This version isolates each of your hams, helping not only address strength imbalances but providing a unique, slightly different stimulus to prompt continued muscle growth.
Instructions: From a standing position, bend at the hips and grasp a dumbbell at your feet with one or both hands. Now, lift your non-working leg off the floor and slightly up behind you. Flex your hamstrings and glutes to bring your body to a standing position, dragging the dumbbell up your body, keeping it as close as possible. Reverse the motion, throughout keeping that non-working leg off the floor. After a set amount of reps (say, 10), switch legs and repeat.
#4 Flat-Bench Press
Why It Works: The premise behind this is simple: Instead of doing a standard press with two dumbbells, you press with one, working each side of your chest separately. This incorporates plenty of your stabilizer muscle groups, and doesn't allow for a stronger pectoral to compensate for a weaker one (as can happen during a regular barbell bench).
Instructions: Lie back on a flat bench with one dumbbell in hand (or you can also use an incline or decline bench for variety). Place your non-working arm on your hip, or hold onto the bench for support. Press the dumbbell from a position beside your pecs to directly over your body - let it track in so it ends above the midpoint of your chest. Repeat for reps, making sure to keep your elbow out and away from your body through the set.
#5 Standing One-Arm Press
Why It Works: By standing instead of sitting, you should be able to press a bit more weight by using a soft-knee stance and a small leg bounce on each rep. Pressing one instead of the usual two dumbbells also forces your stabilizer muscles to compensate for the uneven load, which gives your muscles a new and unfamiliar stimulus to respond to.
Instructions: In a shoulder-width stance, hold a dumbbell at shoulder level, palm facing forward, non-working hand on your hip. Bend your knees slightly to start the rep, straightening them as you engage your delts to press the dumbbell straight overhead. Lower it back to the start and repeat the sequence.
#6 Twisting Woodchop
Why It Works: This is a heavy-duty midsection exercise, a beautiful complement to non-weighted moves like crunches and hanging leg raises. It helps build strength throughout your core, from your upper and lower abs to your obliques.
Instructions: Grasp a dumbbell in hand-over-hand style, standing solidly, feet-shoulder-width apart. Hold the dumbbell out in front of your lower abdomen, elbows straight with just a slight bend. Twist first to the right, bringing the dumbbell around the right-hip level as you turn your whole upper body in that direction. From there, slowly twist to the left as you bring the dumbbell up to shoulder level. Continue this pattern for a set number of reps (for example, 10), then do an equal number of reps with the dumbbell going left low to right high. Don't twist too fast or out of control - you don't want to torque your spine. This exercise is meant to be performed powerfully and deliberately.