dumbbell training athletes

Integrating Dumbbell Training For Athletes

Dumbbell training is your secret weapon for maximizing an athlete's performance. Often overlooked for machines and other newfangled equipment, dumbbell training can increase hypertrophy and fortify your body against injury.

Benefits of Dumbbell Training

Consistency is the holy grail of strength training. Yet, because the body adapts quickly, variety is also important. As a general rule, athletes should adjust workout parameters every 6 workouts. Dumbbell training allows for a huge range of exercises and are fantastic for allowing athletes to get just the right amount of variation into training for continued gains. You can program different motions—pressing, curling, rowing, and rotating movements—and handgrip positions (neutral, semi-supinated, supinated, pronated) to ensure progressive overload.

Other benefits of dumbbell training include the following:

Maximize Hypertrophy

When trying to pack on muscle, the basic goal is to stretch and contract the muscle. The greater the stretch, the greater potential for hypertrophy. Dumbbell movements maximize this stimulus to the muscle motor units by allowing you to train through the fullest range of motion possible.

Promote Structural Balance & Joint Health

Dumbbells are great for building connective tissue and recruiting all the smaller stabilizing muscles that protect your joints. They also allow you to train a more natural motion using neutral grip, which reduces the strain on easily injured joints like the shoulder. They are superior to most machine exercises that limit your body position and restrict the natural arc of the motion.

Target Weak Links

Dumbbell workouts are the great equalizer. Because you have to control two independent implements rather than one barbell with both arms simultaneously, dumbbells reveal weaknesses that you could normally overcome with bilateral movements. The unilateral nature of dumbbells allow you to target your weakest link with extra work.

Increase Neural Drive

Dumbbell training is the perfect tool for overcoming neural inhibition that results from awkward movement patterns or lingering injury. Single-side training increases neural drive to the working limb, allowing you to get stronger faster. Single-arm or alternating-arm exercises provide a sport-specific way to train because athletes rarely apply force against a balanced resistance in competition.

Dumbbell Workout For Peak Performance

For athletes, it’s worth finding a way to incorporate barbell work into your training for maximal overload. But having a killer dumbbell workout in your back pocket is great for when equipment is limited or you need a break from routine. Here is a total body dumbbell workout for your pleasure.

Total Body Workout

This two-day routine that can be repeated for four training days a week. For the tempo prescription, the first number is the seconds it takes to perform the eccentric motion, the second number is the pause in between the eccentric and concentric phase, the third number is the seconds it takes for the concentric phase, and the fourth is the length of the pause before starting the motion over. For tempos with (10) as in 111(10), this indicates a 10-second pause in the top position of the movement.

Day 1
Exercise Series Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest
A1. DB Split Squat 3 x 12-15 3111 60s
A2. DB 75° Incline Press 3 x 12-15 4010 60s
B1. DB Step-Up 2 x 20-25 1010 60s
B2. DB 55° Incline Offset Rotating Curls 3 x 12-15 2110 60s
C1. DB RDL 3 x 12-15 4010 30 s
C2. Single-Leg Calf Raise 3 x 12-15 1211 30s
C3. Ab Crunch Brace 3 x 4-6 111(10) 30 s

Day 2

Exercise Series Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest
A1. DB Heels Elevated Squats 3 x 12-15 4010 60s
A2. One-Arm DB Row 3 x 12-15 3112 60s
B1. Walking Lunges 3 x 12-15 2010 60s
B2. DB Triceps Extensions 3 x 12-15 3010 60s
C1. Single-Leg Glute Bridge 3 x 4-6 111(10) 30 s
C2. Powell Raise 3 x 12-15 3010 30s
C3. QL Side Bridge and Hold 3 x 4-6 111(10) 30 s
Advanced Dumbbell Training For Athletes

For more advanced athletes, you can use an upper/lower body dumbbell training split to maximize hypertrophy gains and target higher threshold muscle motor units for peak performance adaptations.

Upper Body
Exercise Series Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest
A1. Seated DB Shoulder Press 5 x 12, 10, 8, 6, 15 3111 90s
A2. One-Arm DB Row 5 x 12, 10, 8, 6, 15 3012 90s
B1. DB 30° Incline Press (Rotating – Semi Supinated Grip) 3 x 7, 7, 7 (drop set) 3110 75 s
B2. DB 45° Supinated Grip Incline Curl 3 x 7, 7, 7 (drop set) 2211 75 s
C. 30 ° Prone Lying, DB Abduction Pronated Grip (*Prentiss Drop Set) 3 x 5/4/3/2/1 2010 60 s

*The Prentiss Drop Set is an old school bodybuilding method from Ben Prentiss to finish off a muscle group. You take a weight and perform a 5-second isometric hold in the most disadvantaged portion of the lift and then proceed to do 5 reps. After 5 reps you hold at that same position for a 4-second isometric count, and then do 4 reps and repeat with the isometric holds and reps for 3s, 2s, and finish with 1-second hold for 1 rep. It’s absolutely brutal but worth the effort and you will get jacked and tan.....well at least jacked.*

Lower Body
Exercise Series Exercise Sets x Reps Tempo Rest
A1. Single Leg Calf Raise 4 x 8-10 2111 60 s
A2. DB Split Squat 4 x 8-10 3111 60 s
A3. DB Poliquin Step-Up 4 x 15-20 2010 60 s
B1. Assisted or Partner Glute Ham Raise 4 x 6-8 5010 60 s
B2. DB RDL 4 x 10, 12, 15, 20 3010 60 s
C. DB Heels Elevated Squats 2 x 25 3010 90 s


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