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Oct 17

6 Dumbbell Exercises Wasting Your Time and What to Do Instead – LIVESTRONG.COM

If you can't keep your hips level during the renegade row, you're better off doing bent-over rows instead.

Image Credit: Tashi-Delek/E+/GettyImages

Using dumbbells to score an intense workout is a no-brainer. They can help you pack on the muscle and crush even more calories. Trainers love them too, because "you can perform many variations of exercises while also progressing in load," Darren Ross, CPT, owner of P13 Fitness tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Dumbbells are also incredibly challenging, since you have to work to stabilize them throughout your movements, celebrity trainer Ashley Borden, creator of the Hot at Home dumbbell training program, tells LIVESTRONG.com

For all the good dumbbells can do, though, getting the most out of your training sessions means selecting a challenging yet doable weight, performing the right exercises correctly and steering clear of moves that aren't in your best interest.

Here, top trainers share their thoughts on what you need to know about training with dumbbells safely and effectively.

Avoid These Dumbbell Exercise Mistakes

When it comes to what to avoid, many trainers offer varying opinions based on what they feel is inefficient, ineffective or just downright unsafe if you're not experienced.

Still, Borden sums it up best: "The worst dumbbell exercises are the ones where you are using weight that is too heavy and your form is totally compromised," she says. That's because these two things often lead to injury. To help keep you from getting sidelined or wasting your time, here are a few moves that give trainers pause.

Named after the Terminator himself (Arnold Schwarzenegger), this shoulder move is better left to experienced lifters. In fact, this and even regular overhead presses put the shoulder at risk.

"The majority of people do not have the shoulder mobility to properly extend and press overhead," Ross says. As a result, shoulder impingement could occur. He goes on: In order to be cleared for the exercise, you should get a perfect score on the reaching pattern portion of the Functional Movement Screen, which not many people do.

Instead: Do lateral raises, so you take out the rotational transition from biceps curl to overhead press and avoid the overhead pressing motion altogether.

Ross says this move is simply inefficient. "[They're] a difficult exercise to get full range of motion, hard to increase the weight and also puts the elbow in a compromised position, risking injury."

Le Sweat Founder Charlee Atkins, CSCS, isn't a fan either, noting that they're more for aesthetics (think bodybuilders) than being a truly functional exercise.

Instead: Try triceps push-ups, even if you need to do them on your knees. This brings your core into the move and allows you to modify or progress based on your strength.

3. Dumbbell Walking Lunge

"Due to the forward movement of a walking lunge, it is very easy for a beginner to execute this movement with poor posture," Courtney Paul, CPT, creator of Courtney Paul in the House Virtual Training tells LIVESTRONG.com.

"Too often, I have witnessed people rush through this movement and lose balance or overextend the knee, which can pull ligaments and strain the muscles that surround the knee." Add resistance to this move, and an exercise that's already challenging to those who lack balance and stability becomes even more difficult.

Instead: Perform weighted lunges from a stationary position. These are a great substitute for dumbbell walking lunges and still 100-percent effective, Paul says.

Rotate the shoulders back and directly over the hips, with dumbbells directly at your side secures your center of gravity, to give you less chance of losing balance or injury, Paul says.

According to Paul, this exercise is notorious for being done improperly, especially when fatigue sets in.

"Due to lack of core strength, the hips will rise, rock side to side, and the pressure of the body weight due to the raising of the hips go into the shoulders, making this core and back movement more of a shoulder destroyer," he says.

Ross agrees that the difficulty level of this move is high. "People do this exercise incorrectly by not stabilizing the hips on the row and not fully extending their arm back for a proper row."

Instead: Swap in bent-over rows. Most exercise programs lack "pulling" exercises, and the row, which helps train the posterior (back) muscles and is one of Atkins' favorite posture exercises, does just that.

Though loved by many, Atkins says that she'd prefer people steer clear of this core exercise, which finds you in a partial sit-up position for the duration of its execution.

"These are terrible for your lower back, especially when done under load," she says.

Instead: Perform farmer's walks. When done properly, Ross says this move "helps with posture by maintaining scapular retraction throughout the walk."

Also handy: It's a great way to build grip and forearm strength as well as work on core stabilization. Ross also notes that the farmer's walk is a "very underrated exercise when it comes to increasing heart rate."

You'll definitely look like a pro if you can nail this move. The key word, however, is if.

Angela Manuel Davis, co-founder and chief motivation officer of AArmy would rather you skip this explosive movement which is essentially a very complex mixture of a deadlift, biceps curl and shoulder press because of its advanced nature. (Unless, of course, you have a coach present to ensure proper execution.)

Instead: Opt for goblet squats. Not only does this mobility and strength move "help counterbalance the squat position to help train proper squat mechanics," explains Atkins, but it also closely "mimics real-life scenarios," such as picking up a heavy box from the ground.

Watch Your (Dumbbell) Weight

Whether you're building muscle and toning up or working to increase your strength and/or size, the weight rack can be one of your greatest assets. Before you start tossing the pounds around, though, evaluate your current fitness level. Not a regular lifter? Start sans weights first.

"You can build on the basics while building stability, mobility, and strength," Davis says."Start light and as you are able to move correctly, add weight as needed."

Once you're ready to load up, choose a weight that's challenging from the very beginning of your set and also makes you work to complete the last couple of reps. "If you are able to do the last 3 to 5 reps easily, that means it's time to increase the load," Ross says. That said, you should still be able to handle your chosen dumbbell without sacrificing your form.

The amount of weight you lift should also be determined by the body part you'll be working. Typically you'll go heavier if you're tackling, say, the glutes, which are a powerhouse muscle, versus something like your triceps.

A good rule of thumb: "If performing a move that requires 10 or fewer reps, select a pair of dumbbells that leave you breathless after said move," says Borden, who notes that if you're not, increase the weight by 5 pounds.

If you find yourself unable to isolate the muscle or you feel the load in other areas than in the targeted muscle (think: feeling it in your back when performing a biceps curl), chances are you need to lower the weight.

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6 Dumbbell Exercises Wasting Your Time and What to Do Instead - LIVESTRONG.COM

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