So you want to know the single, most effective piece of equipment for getting into great shape?
Sure, there are lots of great pieces of equipment out there, ranging from simple and effective (kettle bells, pull-up bars, medicine balls, etc), to complex and expensive (but still very effective if used appropriately, like a good treadmill). But for my money, the best is dumbbells. (Okay, kettle bells are also a strong contender, but that’ll have to be another post :D ).
What’s so good about dumbbells? Well…
- They enable athletic workouts that are both strength and cardio workouts at the same time.
- They enable a very wide range of exercises with a full range of motion, because they place very little restriction on the way your body moves, and they come in a variety of sizes so you can pick an appropriate weight for each exercise. If you’re thinking of curls and flies, banish the thought. There are so many exercises that can be done with dumbbells that utilize whole muscle groups across your entire body. Yes, abs, legs, back, arms, shoulders, chest, can all get a great workout.
- They enable “unilateral training“. What does this mean? Your body has a dominant side – one arm’s stronger than the other, etc. With a lot of equipment, your dominant side can end up compensating for your weaker side, which of course compounds the problem and you become more imbalanced. Unilateral (i.e. “one-sided”) training lets you do a workout where each side needs to do the same amount of work (e.g. by alternating sides). Even in exercises where you’re using a dumbbell in each hand at the same time, there’s no structural connection between them, and each side of your body is more evenly engaged to do the work. Unilateral training also enables you to take advantage of the “bilateral deficit”. This is where when you have a pair of limbs working together, their output per limb is less than when the limb is working on its own (this applies to both arms and legs). In other words, limbs can work harder when they’re not helping each other.
There are also some practical benefits:
- Dumbbells are ubiquitous. Walk into any fitness club or hotel gym and you’ll find a rack of them ready for you to use. Similarly, you won’t have to go far to find collecting dust in a random friend’s basement (Maybe your friend will sell them to you cheap?) Basically this means you can do your workout wherever you go.
- They’re affordable, with styles ranging from basic cast iron (cost effective) through to fancy multi-part, padded, etc (more expensive, and look nicer, but work exactly the same). When you get a set of multiple pairs, the price starts to add up and you’ll end up spending a few hundred dollars. But remember: that’s your whole gym, and it’s really cheap compared to buying fancy machines that are far less versatile.
- And they don’t take up much space. They’re low profile, and you can put them on a space-saving rack. This makes them a great option for an affordable home workout area. (I have 13 pairs of the basic grey cast-iron variety, in different weights, and they’re just lined up on the floor under a shelf in my garage, where they’re out of the way, but easily within reach during my workout. By the way, 13 pairs is a lot more than I actually use. I got a bit carried away. I really only use 6 pairs).
The athletic workout programs I’ve reviewed so far (MAX Workouts, Athletic Body Workout) all feature dumbbells in lots of their exercises. But there are also some great examples of dumbbell-only workouts, such as coach Eddie Lomax’s Superior Dumbbell Workout.
As always, let me know if you want more.