Are Dumbbells Good For Weight Loss?


Prevailing wisdom suggests that we need access to a fully-stocked gym if we can ever hope to have productive workouts.

But, the truth is, even if you have access to nothing more than a bit of free space and a pair of dumbbells, you can have awesome workouts. All you need are the right tactics and the willingness to push yourself.

Today, we’ll go over everything you need to know about dumbbells, their role in weight loss, and how to use them effectively.

Dumbbells are incredible for weight loss because of two things: 

  1. You can burn from 300 to 500 calories in a 30-minute metabolic conditioning workout;
  2. Such use helps you to retain your lean tissue while dieting to lose fat.

Both of these are vital for effective weight loss, and dumbbells do a great job of covering them.

Read more to find out how they achieve that and how to use them effectively.

How Dumbbells Help With Weight Loss

There are many ways to go about weight loss – some are easier and more effective; others are more difficult and less effective. It’s in our best interest to find the former. So, here is why dumbbells are so beneficial:

1) Metabolic conditioning.

The body has three pathways that fuel it during physical activity:

  1. Phosphagen – providing the body with immediate energy through creatine phosphate (CP) and has a very rapid production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate)…(think of the energy you use while sprinting 100 yards)

  2. Anaerobic glycolysis – providing the body with intermediate energy by breaking down glucose into pyruvate molecules, which then aid in the production of ATP. The anaerobic pathway doesn’t use oxygen and can produce ATP quite rapidly…(think of running a brutal quarter mile — 1 time around a track — in about 2 minutes)

  3. Aerobic glycolysis – provides the body with a sustained source of energy for more extended physical activities. Here, fats and carbs are broken down and burned for energy with the aid of oxygen. ATP production occurs more slowly here…(think of jogging for a 5k or longer)

With metabolic conditioning training (often spelled as MetCon), we take advantage of the second energy pathway – anaerobic glycolysis. Meaning, workouts tend to be in the moderate to high intensity range, and activity usually lasts for 30 seconds to three minutes before we get a chance to rest.

As far as fat loss goes, MetCon is often deemed to be among the best ways to train because it allows us to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

For reference, depending on the type of activity, level of intensity, your fitness level, and body weight, you can burn anywhere from 300 to 500 calories in a 30-minute workout.

What’s more, metabolic conditioning training appears to boost our metabolic rate for 24 to 72 hours after the workout is done. This process is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and can account for an increase in metabolic rate between five and ten percent. Meaning, you can burn some additional calories even after the workout is done.

…you can burn anywhere from 300 to 500 calories in a 30-minute workout.

2) Muscle retention.

When most people go about weight loss, they rarely think about one vital element – muscle retention. So long as weight is coming off gradually and the scale is showing less and less, people are happy.

Of course, it’s infinitely better to go about it that way than not to try at all. But, since you are already putting in the effort, why not do it optimally and reap the best possible benefits?

Dumbbell training is excellent for weight loss, not just because it allows us to burn fat effectively, but also because it helps us retain our muscle mass. This is because dumbbell training stimulates your muscles and essentially sends a signal to the body that muscle is valuable. 

The more muscle mass you can retain while losing weight, the more efficient the whole process will be. Think about it for a second:

Retaining more muscle means that most of the weight you’ll lose will be fat. Meaning, you’ll be able to reach your desired level of leanness sooner. Rather than having to lose, say, 25 pounds with ten of them being lean tissue, you can lose 16-17 pounds, and only one or two from them being muscle. 

What’s more, retaining your muscle is vital for your metabolic health and will allow you to eat more food while losing fat. The body actively expends calories to keep muscle around, so the more of it you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be.

Rather than having to lose, say, 25 pounds with ten of them being lean tissue, you can lose 16-17 pounds, and only one or two from them being muscle. 

Muscle tissue is also vital for your athletic performance, and retaining more of it will allow you to train harder, burn more calories, be more athletic, and look better once you’re done with your weight loss journey.

Why Dumbbells Are A Great Fit For Metabolic Conditioning Workouts

When it comes to MetCon training, most people think about activities like running or equipment like the jump rope. But, the truth is, dumbbells are an excellent option for having amazing metabolic conditioning workouts.

For example, it’s incredibly easy to create dumbbell-based circuit workouts. You can do numerous exercises back-to-back with the same pair of dumbbells, which makes it incredibly easy to transition from activity to activity without having to waste time to adjust equipment or the weight of the dumbbells.

Here is a quick example here:

Alternating forward lunges (10 to 20 reps per leg) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell press (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Standing dumbbell bicep curls (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell tricep extension (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Bent over dumbbell back rows (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Rest for a couple of minutes

As you can see, all you need is a pair of dumbbells, and you can have an excellent MetCon workout with just a bit of creativity.

What’s more, dumbbells are excellent for metabolic-type workouts because you can quickly increase or decrease the intensity by changing the pace or going for lighter/heavier dumbbells. If you’re busy and you’ve created yourself a small home gym, you need nothing more than a pair of adjustable dumbbells to achieve this effect.

And finally, you can also adjust the intensity of your workouts by changing your rest periods. With the example workout above, you can jump from exercise to exercise without any rest, or, if you’re new to fitness, you can lower the difficulty a bit by having 10 to 20-second rest periods in-between.

And all of these benefits are present if you do nothing but dumbbell-based exercises. But, you can customize your workouts even more.

How to Add Bodyweight Exercises to Circuits

Hopefully, you’ve realized that hitting the gym is not your only option for getting fit. Even if you’re quite busy and can’t possibly spare more than twenty minutes for a workout, there are lots of things you can tweak and experiment with.

One great way to add spice to your workouts and make them even more effective is to include some bodyweight exercises. The most important thing you need to remember here is this:

You need to structure your circuits in a way that allows the exercises to flow one after the other seamlessly. Here are two quick examples to show you what we mean here:

1. Squats No rest Lunges

Doing lunges right after squats isn’t your best option here because both exercises primarily train the same muscle groups. Meaning, by the time you’re done with the first exercise (squats), your legs will be tired, and you won’t be able to perform as good on the second exercise – lunges.

2. Squats No rest Push-Ups No rest Lunges

This is a much better way to structure your circuit because you’re still doing exercises back-to-back, but now you’re strategically giving your legs some time to rest up during the push-up before training them again.

Let’s take our circuit example from above and see how we can make it better with some bodyweight exercises here and there. So, this is the original circuit with dumbbell-based exercises only:

Alternating forward lunges (10 to 20 reps per leg) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell press (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Standing dumbbell bicep curls (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell tricep extension (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Bent over dumbbell back rows (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Rest for a couple of minutes

Now, here’s how we can make it even better:

Alternating forward lunges (10 to 20 reps per leg) ⇒ 

Inverted rows (underneath a table or desk) (8 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell press (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Standing dumbbell bicep curls (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Classic push-ups (10 to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Bent over dumbbell back rows (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Slick floor bridge curls (up to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell tricep extension (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Rest for a couple of minutes

The great thing here is, there are many exercises and variations you can use. So long as you follow the simple rules we outlined above, you can make countless combinations and circuits.

Become Stronger and More Explosive By Adding Plyometric Exercises to Circuits

If you feel that most go-to exercises are too easy and you want to take your training to the next level, then adding some plyometric exercises to your dumbbell circuit is a great option.

Let’s take the original circuit from above:

Alternating forward lunges (10 to 20 reps per leg) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell press (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Standing dumbbell bicep curls (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell tricep extension (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Bent over dumbbell back rows (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Rest for a couple of minutes

You can sprinkle some plyometric exercises to burn more calories, build more muscle, and become more athletic. Remember: 

We’ll be using the same rules from above when it comes to circuit design. Here is how it might look:

Alternating jump lunges (10 to 20 reps per leg) ⇒ 

Inverted rows (underneath a table or desk) (8 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Overhead dumbbell press (up to 20 reps) ⇒ 

Standing dumbbell bicep curls (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Plyometric push-ups (8 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Bent over dumbbell back rows (up to 20 reps) ⇒

Lateral skater jumps (up to 25 reps)

Overhead dumbbell tricep extension (10 to 15 reps) ⇒ 

Rest for a couple of minutes

For the alternating jump lunge, you should start with the bodyweight version and only grab a pair of dumbbells once you’re confident in your technique.

References

ACE Fitness: The Three Primary Energy Pathways Explained

Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 13, Issue 3: Effects of Light Resistance Exercise Using Dumbbells and Rubber Band With Mild Energy Restriction on Body Composition and Physical Fitness in Obese Korean Women

Heath Barrow

Heath is a certified personal trainer, an ordained minister, and most importantly, a father. He loves reading and learning new things...and enjoys it when he's able to pass that along to others!  ~"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)

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