In our last three fitness installments, we’ve covered the pros and cons about Cardio Machines, Strength Machines, and Barbells. Today, I would like to discuss dumbbells, aka the other of my two favorite apparatuses!!
Why do I like dumbbells? Dumbbells challenge your strength, train your complementary stabilizer muscles, provide flexibility, allow for creativity, are relatively portable and, among many other things, become a total body workout when used in safe but less than traditional ways. Ranging in size from 1 pound to 100 pounds (perhaps more but this is a fairly standard range), dumbbells can meet the needs of the freshest beginner or the most seasoned athlete. They force both sides of the body to do its own work thereby eliminating the crutch of the dominant (stronger) side assisting the non-dominant (weaker) side. They are the least stable of the apparatus we’ve discussed thus far and require the complementary muscles to do their job of stabilizing the joints and setting the correct form. Therefore, it is important to be smart about weight selection—maintaining proper form and stability can become impossible if the weight is too significantly over your limits. This is why I like to alternate between dumbbells and barbells. The stability edge that barbells offer allows me to go heavier while the dumbbells challenge my stability. Another fun thing with dumbbells is they provide flexibility in so many ways. They can be turned in numerous angles. One side can work while the other holds. They can go from floor to overhead in a blink. They can go on a lunge-about the gym. They move with you and fit in small, tight spaces where other apparatus can’t…and yes, they can usually squeeze into a corner near your treadmill or elliptical machine. Basically, the only true limit is that of your imagination with the caveat that your brain should be engaged on safety issues. I tend to ask myself, “Do the benefits outweigh the risks?” or put another way, “Are the risks higher than the potential benefits?” “Can I achieve similar or comparable results in a safer way?”
Much as I would like to take credit for these thoughts and while I naturally think this way unconsciously, I have to give credit where it is due. The amazing trainers from the National Academy of Sports Medicine managed to ingrain this thought into my conscious brain years ago at one of their two-day CPT workshops. I approach training with this thought in the front of my mind at all times. So, when analyzing even my favorite two apparatuses, I ask myself, “what are the risks?” and “what are the benefits?”
With dumbbells, the biggest risk is also one of the biggest benefits—the lack of stability, which, as mentioned above, is mediated by using a smidge of caution in selecting the amount of weight to use. One of the lessor considered dangers of dumbbells, especially in a tight gym environment, is the hazard of being struck by a dumbbell. One of the reasons women tend to avoid The Weight Room is because of the mentality of some of the guys who gravitate to this venue. Not only do some drop their dumbbells after each and every set, I’ve seen many who actually throw them when finishing a set. Dumbbells bounce quite nicely on their own but add to it the rubber flooring of your typical gym and they can often get a very good bounce and roll going! This creates a hazard for those working nearby but is also very bad for the dumbbells. Perhaps you’ve used a set where one or both are bent or spent considerable time looking for the mate to the set you really wanted to use only to discover it doesn’t exist anymore as it’s been broken from one too many hard landings.
On one of my early forays into The Weight Room, I had set myself up in a quiet 3’ X 4’ corner where I could do my typical strength/cardio circuit in peace while not interfering with anyone else’s workout. Shortly after I had really gotten into my workout, some guys came in and began using the incline bench next to me. It didn’t bother me to have them there despite the fact that these were the “drop the giant dumbbells after each set” kind of guys. Within a few minutes, one of the guys began a conversation with me that went like this,
“Can you move over there to do your little jumps?” he said flicking his fingers vaguely in order to impress upon me that I needed to move.
I glanced in the mirror and saw that moving would cause me to interfere with other people’s workouts. “Well, I was kinda here first,” I murmured.
“We just don’t want you to get hurt by the weights when they bounce.”
“Then stop dropping them.”
“But they’re heavy!!”
Wisely, I bit down very hard on my tongue and did NOT tell him that perhaps his weights were too heavy if he couldn’t handle them with a bit of respect.
By comparison to barbells, dumbbells are pretty expensive, both on your budget as well as on your real estate. While an adequate set of Olympic weights and barbell can run under $500 and a lightweight cardio barbell set is only about $125, you are looking at thousands of dollars for a decent full set of dumbbells. Starting at over $1 per pound, putting together even a small complement of dumbbells can add up very quickly. For a commercial gym set, the racks to store these dumbbells pretty much fill an entire wall of The Weight Room while a standard set of Olympic plates can be stored on a small weight tree that occupies maybe 1-2 square feet and the barbell can be stored in a corner or a larger selection for a commercial gym can easily be stored in just a bit more space—and/or on the pegs normally built into the lifting racks that fill the rest of the room. Though few will need a full set of dumbbells, it is quite limiting to purchase only 2 or 3 sets. This is possibly the biggest limitation of dumbbells for the average person’s needs.
All said, though, when I return to my risk analysis, the benefit of dumbbells definitely outweigh the risks. They do their job and, with a bit of practice and imagination, the sky is the limit on what you can do to take your workouts to the next level…and the next.