3 Total-Body Dumbbell Workouts Every Strength Athlete Should Do

We all know the importance of unilateral training, switching up modalities (barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, bodyweight, etc), and how athletes can improve baseline fitness and general physical preparedness by integrating some varied training into their regiments.

Dumbbell total-body sessions are great for improving work capacity, muscular endurance, balance, stability, and total-body stabilization (assuming loads are significant and trained unilaterally and/or imbalanced). Depending on the goal(s) of an athlete, coaches can integrate dumbbell (or kettlebells too) total body workouts to improve muscle mass, athletic movement, and even as an active recovery day.

Below, I’ve highlighted three 20-30 minute total body dumbbell workouts, each detailed with how powerlifters, weightlifters, and functional fitness athletes could specifically benefit from performing them.

Movement Focused Workout

Movement is key to all athletes, especially in sports that require high amounts of tensile loading, mobility, and explosive movement. Taking the time to address movement inadequacies and/or neglected joint actions can improve an athlete’s resilience to injury and overall movement in their sport specific exercises (squats, bench press, deadlift, clean, snatch, jerk, etc).

Perform in order, moving on to next exercise when all reps are completed. The key is to pick moderate loads to allow for high quality movement and control in each position.

  • Turkish Get Ups x 20 (one per side)
  • Cossack Squat x 20 (side to side is one)
  • Single Leg RDL with Contralateral Hip Flexion and Extension x 40 (40 per leg, across 3-4 sets)
  • Kneeling Single Arm Overhead Press x 40 (40 per arm, across 3-4 sets)
  • Renegade Row x 60 (30 per arm, 60 total, across 3-4 sets)
  • Woodchoppers x 60 (30 per side, 60 total, across 3-4 sets)

Powerlifters and Weightlifters

This workout is a great way to sneak in multi-planar movement to diversify overall movement. Both sports require lifters to move primarily in the sagittal plane, which can create movement imbalances and issues if the other cardinal planes are not trained sufficiently (transverse and frontal).

Functional Fitness Athletes

Whether you are a competitive fitness athlete or beginner, performing movement-based dumbbell workouts can improve your overall performance, joint integrity, and work capacity. Taking the time to address the often neglected muscles and joint actions can improve your resilience to injury and stimulate new neuromuscular growth and sport specific development.

Power, Strength, and Hypertrophy Workout

This workout is a very straightforward and physically demanding session. The integration of explosive movements, strength lifts, and increased training volume will allow for hormonal and neuromuscular adaptations to take place that can improve strength, muscle mass, and performance.

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Power: Perform snatches first, then move to jump squats. Rest 1-3 minutes between sets.

  • Single-Arm Snatch 5 x 3 (Build up to heavy and explosive last few sets. Complete 3 reps per arm)
  • Jump Squat: 5 x 3 (Build up to heavy and explosive last few sets.)

Strength and Hypertrophy: The loading should be kept relatively high, with a weight you could perform 8-10 reps maximum (per arm) per movement. The ability to move thoroughly through the circuit will increase work capacity and increase total loading volume, both of which can stimulate muscular development. Perform as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes, resting only as much as you need. For pacing, try to do one movement every minute in EMOM format to complete at least four rounds in 20 minutes.

  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Squat Clean x 10 (5 per side)
  • Single-Arm Push Press x 10 (5 per side)
  • Suitcase Carry x100m (50m per side)
  • Single-Arm Bench Press x10 (5 per arm)
  • Single-Arm Row x10 (5 per arm)

Powerlifters and Weightlifters

Build this workout into deload weeks, or as an additional training day when looking to increase hypertrophy and/or baseline conditioning. Hypertrophy-based training will allow for increased muscle mass, which can then be trained to be strong, explosive, and sport-specific.

Functional Fitness Athletes

Increasing power, strength, and muscular hypertrophy will allow fitness athletes and the ability to transfer newly formulated muscle into more sport specific skills. By integrating this workout into training regimens, you can also increase work capacity, which will allow an athlete to perform more work, become more efficient, and increase overall strength and performance in less time than before.

Active Recovery Workout

The key to active recovery is to sustain a low-intensity heart rate, train throughout the full range of motion, and deliver new blood supply to fatigued muscles. This workout routine incorporates lightly loaded movements, done with control and a certain fluidity, to allow for a sustainable pace and intensity.

Perform five complete rounds, for time, using light to moderate loads. Focus on elongating the muscle fibers, controlled breathing, and conscious contractions of the movements.

  • Dumbbell Russian Swing x 20
  • Single-Arm Overhead Walking Lunge x 20 (10 per side)
  • Side Plank Snatch x 20 (10 per side)
  • Overhead Farmers Carry x 100m

Powerlifters, Weightlifters, and Functional Fitness Athletes

All athletes can benefit from doing total body movements at low intensity. When recovering from hard training session, we look to do large, compound movements at low-intensity to increase heart rate, blood flow, and restore active range of motion. This functional movement based workout is great for overhead athletes, squatters, and everyone else in between looking to recover faster and more efficiently, all while developing greater total body stabilization and endurance.

Final Words

There are a gazillion dumbbell routines out there that coaches and athletes can design to suit the individual needs of their athletes and their goals. When designing a specific routine, I often opt for large compound movements with patterning not typical to the athletes main movements, to allow for greater diversity and injury resilience. Nonetheless, look to these workouts as supplementary to your core training exercises, and do not let these workouts derail the the athtles core training sessions.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @40.hourfitness on Instagram