Strength coach and Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. regularly creates YouTube videos designed to help people fix the small mistakes they might be making in the gym that are holding back their progress, and recommending the most effective exercises for growing muscle. In a new video, he runs down what he calls the "10 best dumbbell exercises ever," with a great option for whichever muscle group you want to develop.
Dumbbell gorilla row
"The versatility of this specific variation is why it's on this list," he says. "If you want to target your lats, you can do it by simply tucking your elbow a little tighter to your side... but if you want to hit more of the upper back, all you have to do is allow the elbow to drift out and away from you, so you can hit more of the upper back or mid-scap muscles."
Cavaliere adds that you can perform plyometric version of this exercise if you want your workout to be more athletically focused. Because "not everybody's trying to be a bodybuilder."
Static dumbbell bench press
This asymmetrical exercise requires you to hold one dumbbell in place either at the upper or lower end of the movement while you lift the weight on your other side. Holding the weight up will challenge your core in addition to hitting the usual muscles, while holding it at a 90-degree angle will increase time under tension. "Anybody with a moderately strong core is going to be able to do this," says Cavaliere, "but it gives you a little added extra benefit, without compromising the intent of building a bigger chest."
Dumbbell reverse lunge
Cavaliere favors this exercise as you can easily switch it up to focus on either the anterior or posterior chain, depending on the angle of the upper body. An upright position targets the quads, while tilting the torso forward moves that to the glutes and hamstrings.
Clean up and over
When performing this full body strength builder (and less technical, more accessible alternative to the barbell clean), Cavaliere recommends paying special attention to three points along the kinetic chain movement: the floor, and each of your shoulders.
This functional strength training staple does not just test endurance in your hands and upper traps. Cavaliere likes it because it's a real test of willpower once your grip and traps start to fatigue. Developing mental toughness here, he believes, will help you in all other aspects of your workouts.
And don't neglect the lower body here. You might be putting all of your energy into maintaining an upright stance, but ensure your steps aren't short and choppy. Move slowly, with an exaggeratedly slow heel to toe step.
You can incorporate this dumbbell move into a number of your workouts, regardless of whether you're training chest or back, or doing a push or pull day, as the angle of the elbows here determines where you'll be placing that strain.
Dumbbell step up
An ideal exercise for building functional, everyday fitness, Cavaliere explains that you can perform the step up to target different areas. Maintaining an upright torso will help you work your quads, while angling your chest forward will engage the hamstrings and glutes.
"What's great about this exercise is, it's not the upright row," says Cavaliere. "But it does do an incredible job of hitting the middle delts and rear delts, and also your traps... The key is getting your elbows down and your wrists high. That will also bring in some external rotation of the shoulder, activate that rotator cuff. It really is an all-encompassing exercise that does everything it can to strengthen your shoulder girdle rather than break it down."
A rotational, ab-torching exercise would usually be described as a Russian twist, but Cavaliere calls it a row to reinforce the kind of movement you actually want to be doing here: rowing the dumbbell back like an oar and driving your elbows side to side behind the body. This helps to avoid the weight pulling on your shoulders and ensures that the obliques are also being engaged.
Strict curls into cheat curls
After reaching failure on the strict curls (which are performed with your back against a wall, eradicating momentum and making each rep more challenging), Cavaliere recommends then allowing a little swing and momentum in your lift, and performing to failure once again.
"Any exercise which allows me to go beyond failure, particularly for the biceps where I can apply a slow eccentric to it, is going to be a great one for building the biceps to their maximum potential," he explains.
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