Dumbbell exercises are go-to exercises for many, but the truth is not that simple

So strong is the new sexy, it’s no wonder more people than ever want to start lifting weights. Instagram hashtags such as “fitspiration” (fitness inspiration) and #gym feature millions of posts, usually flexing muscles, inspirational quotes and exercise tips.

While strength training can be a great way to lose weight and build muscle, it can be confusing and even daunting to know where to start, especially when there’s so much conflicting fitness advice available online. Another problem is that most fitness advice you find online will tell you that there are certain “must do” exercises that you must include in your fitness program – otherwise you won’t see any progress. .

These are often barbell exercises, such as barbell squats (balancing a barbell across your upper back while lowering your hips about 90 degrees before coming back up), deadlifts (raising a barbell from the floor at the hips) or hip thrusts (resting the upper back on a bench or flat object and using the hips to push a barbell up).

But are these exercises really necessary? Well, the answer is a bit more nuanced than a simple yes or no.

While dumbbell exercises allow you to load heavy weights, they require you to perform very specific movements. Whether it’s upper body exercises such as the bench press (lying on a bench and pushing a barbell skyward) or the overhead press (standing or kneeling and pushing the barbell from chest level to above the head), or lower body exercises such as squats or deadlifts, dumbbell exercises are bilateral exercises – meaning that two limbs work together at the same time to lift the weight.

But dumbbell exercises may not work for everyone. Due to the nature of the bar, this means that a person’s individual anatomy can actually make these moves uncomfortable depending on a number of different factors, such as limb length or past injuries. This means that dumbbell movements could actually put some people at increased risk of injury if performed incorrectly.

For example, people with long legs may find barbell squats more difficult due to the extra range of motion required to move the barbell. Muscle imbalances (which can alter natural movement patterns and range of motion) can also cause shoulder pain or even injury during overhead presses or bench presses with a barbell.

pass the bar

Dumbbell and kettlebell variations (smaller, hand-held weights) can be much more forgiving, especially for upper body pressing exercises – such as the overhead press – and exercises one leg. This is because dumbbell and kettlebell exercises are often unilateral exercises, meaning each limb moves independently to perform the exercise. This means that we can adjust an exercise to move in a way that reflects our unique autonomies.

Although there is still a lot of debate in the scientific community about whether bilateral or unilateral exercises are better, there is some evidence that the unique way unilateral exercises recruit muscles during an exercise can actually help us lift more. long-term weight. This may be due to bilateral deficit, which is a phenomenon where the force produced by using two limbs at once is less than the combined force produced when they are used independently.

But while unilateral exercises are a great way to build balance and strength, bilateral exercises are always useful if you’re short on time. They can also be adjusted to make them safer and more comfortable – such as using a trap bar (a big hexagonal bar that you step into) for deadlifts, as this places less load on the bottom of the back and can be particularly useful for people with back problems or longer legs.

If your goals are to build muscle and get stronger, the most important thing you need to do is put the muscle under load (weight) and gradually do more of it over time. This can take the form of lifting heavier weights, increasing the number of sets and reps performed, or adjusting rest times to get more work done in less time. This is called “progressive overload”.

But progressive overload can be done with any weightlifting exercise – not just barbell exercises. If we can remove our attachment to a particular exercise and view them as tools for doing a job, this opens up new possibilities for making exercise more varied, individualized and perhaps even more enjoyable – which could also mean that we we’re more likely to stick with it for the long haul.

It could even be argued that any exercise that you enjoy and do regularly is the best form of exercise for you. And consistency, not the exercises we do, is the most important factor in getting the long-term benefits of exercise.

Strength training has many benefits, such as helping us lose weight and build muscle. It can even reduce symptoms of chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and reduce the risk of death by 15% from all causes. So it’s important to remember that you can get these benefits with any weight-based exercise, whether or not you use a barbell.

David Rogerson, Lecturer in Sports Nutrition and Strength and Conditioning, Sheffield Hallam University

This article first appeared on The Conversation

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