Picture it: the year was 2017.
The CrossFit Open had just started and the first workout had dumbbell snatches.
For those of you that don’t know what that is, you can check out the movement here. With that said, there are a couple important things I want to point out that have nothing to do with that workout or that specific movement…
First off, once the workout was announced, CrossFit gyms worldwide were freaking out because they had few to no dumbbells at the weights required. This standard piece of equipment had been collecting dust in most gyms for years or even worse, wasn’t there at all.
Secondly, I remember barely being able to walk for about 4 days after this workout. Because even though I had been throwing weight around on a barbell that was much heavier, that single dumbbell humbled me. I found out that my technique and strength was lacking way more than I thought.
Fast forward to 2020 and gyms are shut down. A lot of us miss our barbell movements and have been fearful of “losing all our gains” because most of us don’t have a barbell at home. But the good news is that most of us do have a more practical piece of equipment in our arsenal. One that if wielded properly will help you get stronger overall. What? The dumbbell.
That’s right, even without access to a barbell, you can still get stronger through all of this with just a dumbbell.
Now, I want to preface this by saying that once gyms re-open, you will probably struggle with your favorite barbell movements. . Josh Everett, A CrossFit coach and staffer has this to say, “Obviously when you talk about the basic squat, deadlifts and Olympic lifts, the barbell is better for gaining strength because you won’t be able to handle the same types of load with a dumbbell, so the barbell reigns supreme in many ways.” But you can still maintain and gain general strength through all of this with just a dumbbell.
How? So glad you asked.
Most of us are Weekend Warriors. We go to the gym to improve our quality of life and don’t make money off of working out and competing. This means that your biggest goal, in theory, is taking care of your body, and dumbbells can play an important role in that.
Dumbbells are so important because they force unilateral work. Many people have strength or mobility imbalances from one side of the body to the other and working with dumbbells can be a great way to iron out those differences. And you don’t need to be a physical therapist to know being imbalanced isn’t beneficial for health or performance.
Dumbbells also require greater motor complexity and motor recruitment. Using two dumbbells force you to refine your movement because controlling two objects is harder than one, so the nervous system has to work harder. This also means your coordination gets taxed more.
They are a particularly useful tool for inexperienced athletes, as well as for those with mobility deficiencies or injuries. They can kind of be a gateway for people who aren’t familiar with certain lifts or who lack mobility. Front squat, a thruster, a clean, a snatch are all movements that someone with mobility restrictions can usually do better with a dumbbell. Or if you’re not ready to push the intensity with a barbell yet, you can substitute with a dumbbell to help build your capacity.
And have we mentioned how practical they are? They’re available almost everywhere. If you’re not working out in a gym or you’re on vacation, they usually have them at hotel gyms. They’re also easy to move; you can throw them in your car for vacation or simply to bring out to the park to give your workout a change of scenery.
We get it. We miss the gym. We miss the barbell, too. We’re ready to get back to “normal”. But this time in our lives is the perfect time to not only get back to basics, but to re-learn to do the basics well.