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contents Disclaimer and advisory 1 the basics of exercising with dumbbells The S.A.F.E. trainer system (Simple, Achievable, Functional, Exercise) How to use this book FAQs Find your starting point Assess, don’t guess Isolation vs integration Learn it, then work it First you need stability Add some strength Power beats size 2 the portfolio of moves Which moves should I do? The classic moves The best of the best Dull, but dependable Trash! Don’t waste your time 3 training with dumbbells How to use the dumbbell training sessions And finally… Fitness glossary About the author disclaimer and advisory Before attempting any form of exercise, especially that which involves lifting weights, always ensure you have a safe working environment. Ensure that the floor surface you are on is non-slip and do not stand on any rugs or mats that could move when you exercise. Also, clear your exercise space of items that could cause you harm if you collided with them; this includes furniture, pets and children. Pay particular attention to the amount of clearance you have above your head and remember that for some of the exercise moves you will be raising your hands and the weights above head height, so keep away from doorways and light fittings. The information, workouts, health related information and activities described in this publication are practiced and developed by the author and should be used as an adjunct to your understanding of health and fitness and, in particular, strength training. While physical exercise is widely acknowledged as being beneficial to a participant’s health and well-being, the activities and methods outlined in this book may not be appropriate for everyone. It is fitness industry procedure to recommend all individuals, especially those suffering from disease or illness, to consult their doctor for advice on their suitability to follow specific types of activity. This advice also applies to any person who has experienced soft tissue or skeletal injuries in the past, those who have recently re; ceived any type of medical treatment or are taking medication and women who are, or think they may be, pregnant. The author has personally researched and tried all of the exercises, methods and advice given in this book, on himself and with many training clients. However, this does not mean these activities are universally appropriate and neither he nor the publishers are, therefore, liable or responsible for any injury, distress or harm that you consider may have resulted from following the information contained in this publication. 1 the basics of exercising with dumbbells the S.A.F.E. trainer system (Simple, Achievable, Functional, Exercise) We need to exercise our bodies in a way that is achievable, effective and, most of all, sustainable so that the method becomes part of our lifestyle, rather than an inconvenience. In a perfect world everyone would be able to lift their own body weight above their head, have ideal body fat levels and be able to run a four-minute mile. Any one of these goals is achievable if you are highly motivated and have very few other commitments in your life, but the reality is that most ‘real people’ are so far off this state of perfection that the biggest challenge is either starting an exercise programme, or staying committed and engaged with a method of training for long enough to see any kind of improvement. Exercise is in many ways a perfect product because it has very few negative side effects, it is cheap to do and highly versatile. But so many high profile, quick-fix programmes and products make exercise sound easy, as though it is a magic wand that once waved will bring near instant results. And with the fitness industry constantly driven by innovation in products and methods, the diverse and sometimes bewildering amount of advice available makes it all too easy to be overwhelmed. The truth is that many training programmes and methods will theoretically work, but the level of commitment needed is so high that when you add in work and family responsibilities, stress and other demands upon time, most of us simply cannot stick to a plan. I also find that those programmes which seem too good to be true usually have a series of components that are not explicit in the headline, but are required to achieve the spectacular results it boasts about. So you sign up to a workout programme claiming: ‘Instant fat loss – ultra 60 second workout!’ only to find that to achieve the promised weight loss you have to go on an impossible 500 calorie a day diet. These methods also assume that everybody is fairly perfect already; by this I mean they don’t have any injuries, they are strong, mobile and flexible and have a cardiovascular system that will soak up anaerobic training from day one. If these people are out there I don’t see them walking up and down the average high street. There is a real need to approach fitness in a more down to earth, less sensationalist way. We need to exercise our bodies in a way that is achievable, effective and, most of all, sustainable so that the method becomes part of our lifestyle, rather than an inconvenience. My S.A.F.E. trainer system (Simple, Achievable, Functional, Exercise) is all of these things. It is based on 20 years of personal training experience, including many thousands of hours of coaching, lifting, running, jumping and stretching with people from all walks of life, from the average man or woman to elite athletes. My system respects the natural way that the body adapts to activity and creates a perfect physiological learning curve. All S.A.F.E. trainer system moves develop stability, strength or power. If you’re not familiar with these essential components of human performance, I am sure that you will recognise the saying: ‘You have to walk before you can run’. This is the epitome of my approach, because when a client says they want to run or jump, the first thing I have to establish as a personal trainer is that they are at least already at the walking stage. I consider stability to be the walking phase of human movement, as it teaches you the correct muscle recruitment patterns; strength the running phase, as it trains the body to do these moves against a greater force (resistance); and power the jumping phase, since it teaches you to add speed and dynamics to the movement. Whether you are a personal trainer, sportsperson or fitness enthusiast, I hope this book will fully equip you to get the most out of the valuable time you spend working out with dumbbells. Dumbbells are an iconic piece of fitness equipment and they offer so many solutions to so many different training objectives. The possibilities are endless, and no matter what your goals, dumbbells can play a significant part in helping you achieve them. This book contains a collection of ideas and observations that I have practiced and developed during two decades as a personal trainer. The reality is many books and guides are written with an attitude that readers have the same commitment and potential ability that professional sportspeople and athletes have. However, the reality is that for many people ‘exercise’ (the time spent exerting themselves) plays a relatively small part in busy lives and therefore quality of movement and my sensible approach to intensity ensures that rather than simply ‘draining’ the body, all the exercises you perform with dumbbells will have a positive productive end result. When you get to the portfolio of exercises demonstrating the actual exercises (or ‘moves’ as I like to call them) you will find that, rather than just being a list of exercises with dumbbells, I have focused on the moves that really work. There are hundreds of moves that can be done with weights, but many of them are very similar to each other, ineffective or potentially dangerous. This book is all about combining skills and methods to create safe and effective fitness ideas for lifting weights. You will see that I have given each move a classification: ‘isolation’, ‘integration’ and even those worthy of being filed under ‘don’t waste your time’. Isolation moves are generally good, but are in some ways a luxury, first, because working the body one muscle at a time takes longer than most people have available for a training session and, second, isolation moves do not really mimic the way we ask our body to work day to day. Integration moves are all the exercises that mimic the way we move in everyday life where multiple joints moves with muscles throughout the body play a role either in creating the actual movement or stabilising sections of the skeleton as you move. I included the ‘don’t waste your time section’ because those exercises that are either pointless or potentially dangerous never seem to die. I think this is often because many people learn their technique from watching other people in the gym and replicating their bad habits, rather than getting a proper grounding in how to perform these moves. Therefore, I’m hoping that by including these problem exercises you will realise that some of the ‘old favourites’ should be laid to rest. how to use this book To help you make sense of each dumbbell activity and how it relates to my S.A.F.E. training system, each move is classified by its respective outcome, whether that be an increase in stability, strength or power, rather than the less subjective easy, medium and hard. In everyday life when we carry out activities that require strength it is through the hands and feet that the majority of force first enters the body (kinetic chain) and therefore challenging muscles and loading the skeleton by using dumbbells is probably the most user friendly and effective way of getting results. Obviously, the amount of time you spend lifting weights will dictate the outcome of your training as will the weight you use, but the actual moves you perform will be the most significant factor for success. The portfolio of moves has been created to ensure that wherever possible, one exercise can be performed to achieve multiple positive results. All the workout sessions are progressive and have been created with the attitude that you can solely use these programmes to provide you with the strength component necessary for a healthy active lifestyle. When I started to think about writing a book about exercising with dumbbells, the first thing I had to come to terms with is that there are many other books available that set out to teach you how to use dumbbells. Likewise, in my everyday life as a personal trainer I know that my clients have access to information not only from myself, but from a wide range of sources such as the web, books and no doubt other personal trainers they come across in the gym. As I have worked with many of my clients now for over a decade, clearly they find my approach productive and a worthwhile investment. With this in mind, my aim is to condense 25 years’ experience of training my own body and, more importantly, 20 years’ experience as a personal trainer and many thousands of hours of training the bodies of other people into this book. Don’t worry: this isn’t an autobiography in which I wax lyrical about the celebrities and Premier League footballers I’ve trained. Yes, I have trained those types of people, but to me every client has the same goal for every training session: they want to get maximum results from the time they are prepared to invest in exercise. Every exercise I select for their session, therefore, has to have earned its place in the programme and every teaching point that I provide needs to be worthwhile and have a positive outcome. In essence, my teaching style could almost be described as minimalist. Now that the fitness industry enters its fourth decade, many of you will have accumulated a level of knowledge and information equal to some fitness professionals in the industry, so I don’t go in for trying to show you how clever I am when all that is required are clear and concise instructions. I learned this lesson many years ago when I was hired as personal trainer to a professor of medicine. There was absolutely nothing I could say about the function of the body that she didn’t already know, but what I could do was assess her current level of ability and take her on the shortest, safest and most effective route to an improved level of fitness. Fifteen years on I am still finding new ways to help her enjoy and benefit from the time we spend training together. The thought process and methods I use are based on my belief that everybody feels better when they build activity into their lives, but not everybody has the motivation and time to create the type of bodies we see on the covers of fitness magazines. When training my clients, I am ultimately judged on the results I deliver. These results can present themselves in many ways, for example, in the mirror or on the weighing scales, but I also aim to help my clients make sense of what we are doing together. I find when talking about any activity it is best to focus on the outcomes rather than use subjective classifications, such as beginner/advanced, easy/hard. Therefore, to help you make sense of each dumbbell activity and how it relates to my S.A.F.E. training system, each move is classified by its respective outcome, whether that be an increase in stability, strength or power, rather than the less subjective easy, medium and hard. every body is different Just to be clear, any attempt to classify physical activity has to respect the fact that each human body responds to physical demands differently – there isn’t an exact point where one moves stops being beneficial for stability and switches over to being purely for strength. The transition is far more subtle and means that no matter which version of a move you are doing, you will never be wasting your time. don’t skip the moves Human nature might lead you to think that the way to achieve the quickest results would be to skip the stability and strength moves and start on day one with the power versions. Overcoming this instinct is the fundamental difference between the ‘old school approach’ of beating up the body every training session, rather than using your training time wisely. My approach is about quality and not quantity. For a personal trainer to take this approach it requires true confidence and belief in the system, as some clients (particularly men) feel that they should be ‘working hard’ every session. This I feel is a situation unique to fitness training. In no other sport or activity would you set out to teach the body to cope with a new skill or level of intensity by starting with the high intensity or fastest version. For example, if you are learning to play golf, you don’t start by trying to hit the ball a long way, rather you start by simply trying to make contact and hit it in the right direction. Or how about tennis? When learning to serve, if all you do is hit the ball as hard as you can, it is unlikely that any shot will ever stay within the lines of the court and therefore count. In all cases quality and the development of skill is the key to success. mixing it up Personal trainers, coaches and instructors think very differently about exercise and human movement today compared to just 10 years ago. In just one decade the focus went from training with dumbbells through limited planes of motion and on machines that moved in straight lines to trying to incorporate the body’s three planes of motion (sagittal, transverse and frontal) into the majority of our exercises using both improved weight machines, ‘compound’ free weight exercises (free weight) and the huge selection of functional training products now available: sagittal involves movements from left to right of the body’s centre line; frontal (coronal) involves movements which are forward and backward from the centre line and transverse which are movements that involve rotation. The reality is these planes of motion never occur independently of each other so the best way to ensure you are working through all three planes is to create exercises that incorporate bending and twisting rather than concentrating on movement of joints in isolation. Before functional training equipment (such as the gym ball) became popular we used resistance machines in the gym to help us work muscles in isolation and then relied on the work with free weights (dumbbells and barbells) to do the compound or integrated moves. Isolation moves are generally good for overloading and challenging an individual muscle to adapt and react to the challenges of exercise, but working muscles one at a time leaves you with a body full of great individual muscle when what you actually need are muscles that work as a team and in conjunction with the muscles that surround them. For example, despite most of the classic free weight exercises being integrated movements (i.e. they work more than one set of muscles at a time), the vast majority of free weight moves involve no rotation of the spine (through the transverse plane) and therefore don’t train the body for the reality of every day where we constantly rotate at the same time as bending, pushing or pulling against external forces. As any good personal trainer will tell you, if you only ever do one type of training you will probably miss out on reaching your full potential, so try also to incorporate other types of activity into your week. Many of the moves that follow in this book are to be performed in the prone position (lying face up), so while they are highly productive, it is wise to make them a part of your active lifestyle rather than relying on them to be your single dominant form of exercise. Therefore, I suggest that every session you spend lifting weights you should also try to build in time for upright free-flowing activity, such as walking, jogging or running. the workouts In the final section of the book you will find a series of workouts. They are designed to be realistic sessions that you can do on any day of the week, without the need for ‘rest’ days or anything more than a reasonable amount of space. All the workouts are sequential, so in theory you could start with 15 minutes of stability moves and do every workout until you reach 45 minutes of power moves. This is, of course, the theory; in reality you will naturally find the right start point depending on how you do with the assessment (see ‘Assess, don’t guess’) and how much time you have available on a given day. Continue using that particular workout until you feel ready to move on. I would advise everybody to start with the stability sessions, then move onto strength and then finally power, but I also accept that some people will find that the stability and strength moves don’t challenge them enough so they will dive into the power phase. Please bear in mind that, if this is how you plan on approaching the exercises in this book, you might be missing out on a valuable learning curve that the body would benefit from, as well as risking the loss of potential conditioning of some of the less significant muscles that play a key role in many of the more intense exercises. a resource for life My aim is for this book to be an ongoing reference point, and I suggest reading the entire contents and then dipping into the specific areas that interest you, such as the training programmes or fitness glossary. I guarantee you’ll discover nuggets of information that perhaps you knew a little about, but had never fully understood because they had been explained in such a way that left you confused. If fitness training is an important part of your life, or even your career, then I know this book will be a long-term resource and will help you get the most from the time you spend using dumbbells. FAQs When learning to train with dumbbells, there are a handful of important questions that you should ask before attempting to lift the weights. Find the answers here. What size dumbbells do I need? This comes down to budget as much as ability. Most people find that they can use heavier weights for the leg exercises than they can most upper body moves, so if you only want to buy one pair of dumbbells, then purchase an adjustable set. It is preferable to have at least two different weights for the upper body. Select the lighter weight for moves that use individual muscles, such as the deltoid raise or triceps press, and then use the heavier weight for moves that use multiple muscle groups, such as the chest press and clean and press. Your heaviest weights will be used for legs exercises. You will find that if you lift weights frequently your ability will rapidly progress, making exact recommendations subjective. • For healthy females who are non-athletes, I use a range of 3–7.5kg for upper body work and 7.5–10kg for lower body work. • For healthy men who are non-athletes, I select from 5–12.5kg for the upper body and 7.5–20kg for the lower body. These weights will sound light to advanced athletes, so remember they are based on the average healthy person. It is always better to decide that the weights you are using are too light and be able to increase them rather than starting too heavy and hurting yourself. Is lifting weights bad for joints, especially the knees? In many ways the opposite is true. Strength training has a positive effect on the four structural components of all articulated joints: bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. However if you have a pre-existing injury or condition, then loading a joint may slow down the healing process, so get the joint working well with your bodyweight first, then when it is fully healed begin to introduce light weight training. When do I breathe? I find that nine times out of 10 people are already breathing correctly when they ask this question. Exercise teachers say a lot of things, it seems, just for the sake of something to say and coaching breathing is one of those things. For the vast majority of the moves you would breathe out naturally during the exertion phase (hard bit). However, during a handful of the moves actually holding the breath has a positive effect on the exercise, because it creates intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which is is a natural reaction that stabilises the torso internally. On the few moves where it is desirable to get the IAP effect, I have noted this in the notes on technique. As a woman, I’m worried that using weights will make my muscles bigger – is that true? Building muscle doesn’t happen by accident; it requires intensive lifting of heavy weights, an increased consumption of protein and often nutritional supplements. However, females don’t easily increase their muscle size because they don’t have the same muscle-building hormone levels that men do, particularly of testosterone. With that fear laid to rest, let’s focus on the desirable outcome of lifting weights for females (and men): the potential to improve muscle tone. Muscle tone is the body’s natural reaction to a muscle being worked against resistance. A toned muscle feels firm, and when it is covered by only healthy amounts of body fat, the contours of the muscle can actually be seen through the skin. Can I lose weight by working with dumbbells? If a reduction of fat levels is the goal, weight training is not only desirable but essential. Lifting weights is at least as effective for fat burning as cardio training and, in fact, when you take into account the ‘after-burn’ effects of weight training, where the body continues to burn calories following cardio and strength training activity, it is more effective. After-burn or, to use the full name, excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is the human body’s method for erasing the oxygen debt that occurs when we undergo strenuous activity. Increased oxygen consumption occurs in conjunction with increased consumption of fuel, which is taken from subcutaneous fat stores. If this phenomenon is new to you, the chances are you have heard it previously referred to as ‘speeding up your metabolism’. However, this process isn’t speeding up your metabolism in the truest sense, as this really occurs when you increase lean muscle mass (tone). But, since you gain muscle tone through resistance training, when you combine the two physical adaptations you get a higher consumption of energy (and therefore fat loss) in a person who is physically active compared to a sedentary individual. Will dumbbell training give me better muscle definition? The short answer is yes. But the individual results will depend upon the frequency and intensity of the lifting and the overall visual effect is highly dependent upon your body fat percentage (the total weight of your body fat divided by your total weight). To have a lean defined appearance males require a body fat percentage of approximately 5–10 per cent and females 10–15 per cent. These figures will sound high to those interested in the ultra lean or ‘ripped’ appearance you see on competitive body builders, but it is important to understand that pre-competition bodybuilders undergo an extreme regime to eradicate the fluid and fat in their bodies. This is an obsessive approach to diet and exercise and is, therefore, physically and practically unsustainable for long periods of time. For the average person lifting weights is the most practical way of developing muscle definition, and as long as the diet is sensible and contains enough protein, the amount of muscle definition you achieve will correspond with the frequency and intensity of your training. Should I wear a weight lifting belt? No. Weight lifting belts are part of the ‘old school’ method and belong to the era before we recognised the importance of core strength. Weights belts have a role in power lifting competitions and during some maximum weight lifts. However, rather than protect your back, wearing a belt makes it weaker over time because you become dependent on the support it gives and, thus, don’t build up your stabilising muscles. Is it good to carry dumbbells when I walk, jog or run? No. For weights to have any effect on the intensity of your workout they need to be heavier than the tiny 1kg weights people often walk with. If you carry heavy weights when walking or jogging it will have a negative effect upon your walking or running gait. This is because having the weights in your hands at the ends of your limbs significantly affects your smooth forward propulsion. A more productive product that won’t interfere with your biomechanics is a weighted vest. This adds to the weight on your muscles, but keeps the load close to your natural centre of gravity. In some of the moves the knees joints bend past 90 degrees – is that safe? Yes. Our knees naturally bend past 90 degrees and sitting in a squat position is a common position for many people around the world to take up without a second thought. If this is something you are not used to doing, then condition yourself to do this bending without any weights before adding any load. What is the difference between a dumbbell and a kettlebell? Dumbbells have their weight distributed equally between the two ends of the handles whereas on a kettlebell the weight is positioned away from the handle. This gives the effect that when a kettlebell is swung or moved quickly, the resulting inertia causes it to feel heavier than a dumbbell of equal weight. What is the best time of the day to exercise? The answer to this question is very subjective. If you are an athlete training almost every day, perhaps twice a day, then I would say that strength training in the morning could be more productive than at other times due to higher levels of desirable hormones being present in the bloodstream after a good nights sleep. However, in the case of a casual exerciser with an average diet, a job and busy lifestyle my answer would be to exercise at any time of the day, particularly as exercise is such a fantastic use of your valuable free time. find your starting point Before starting any exercise programme, test your body against the fitness/function checklist: mobility, flexibility, muscle recruitment and strength. Before you think about picking up any weights you need to establish what your starting point is in terms of mobility, flexibility and strength. Every first consultation with a new personal training client revolves around the wish list of goals they hope to achieve. This list inevitably combines realistic goals with entirely unrealistic aims. Invariably people focus on their ‘wants’ rather than their ‘needs’ when goal setting, and there is a big difference between the two mindsets. While ‘wanting’ could be considered a positive attitude, it will never overcome the need to slowly expose the body to processes that will change its characteristics and ability. Men in particular want to grab the weights and start lifting, but it makes no sense to overload a muscle if you haven’t given your starting point any consideration. realistic goal Setting Want (v) ‘A desired outcome’ Need (n) ‘Circumstances requiring some course of action’ By identifying your needs, your goals may not sound so spectacular but you are more likely to achieve better and longer term results, and your progress through the fitness process will be considerably more productive. Therefore, rather than thinking about the ultimate outcome, think instead of resolutions to the ‘issues’. fitness/function checklist The checklist you need to put your body through before making a grab for the heaviest dumbbell is very simple and logical. Our ability to lift weights relies on a combination of: • Mobility • Flexibility • Muscle recruitment • Strength If any of these vital components is neglected, it will have a knock-on effect on your progress. For example, while you may have the raw strength in your quadriceps to squat with a heavy weight, if you do not have a full range of motion in the ankle joints and sufficient flexibility in the calf muscles, then your squat will inevitably be of poor quality. Likewise, in gyms it is common to see men who have overtrained their chest muscles to such an extent that they can no longer achieve scapular retraction (they are round shouldered and therefore demonstrate poor technique in moves that require them to raise their arms above their heads). This type of checklist is traditionally the most overlooked component of strength training and, while testing weight, body fat levels and cardiac performance is now a regular occurrence in the fitness industry, the introduction of screening for quality of movement has taken a much longer time to become a priority. This, despite a selfadministered assessment being as simple as looking in the mirror. assess, don’t guess If you want results from any type of physical exercise then starting a programme without first assessing your ability and quality of movement is like going on an unfamiliar journey without first looking at a map – you might reach your destination but you also might get lost. This section of the book aims to help you think about human movement and the way it relates to strength and conditioning training. There is no better summary of how important mobility is than in one of my favourite sayings: ‘Use it or lose it’. What does this mean you ask? Well, I can honestly say that the one time in my life that I was at my fittest was also the time that I applied the least amount of science to my training – I simply did the things that felt good: stretching muscles, lifting weights, running fast and slow and being involved in lots of sports that combined speed, balance and coordination – basically I was as active as you could imagine a person could be. Throughout this time I can’t remember being injured or suffering any aches or pains – I put this down to the fact that unlike most people I didn’t have to stand still or sit at a desk or drive a vehicle for long periods of time and therefore I didn’t have any of the problems that many people seem to live with these days – I was so active that all the imbalances, aches and pains that start to occur when you become sedentary were kept at bay, so what I am saying with my statement of ‘use it or lose it’ is simple, if your body exists in a perfect ‘bubble’ of activity and recovery then you are most likely to be strong, mobile and flexible but as soon as you start to not use your body for productive physical tasks then you start to lose the luxury of being able to do so without a second thought. Today, the assessment of ‘functional movement’, or biomechanical screening, is its own specialised industry within the world of fitness. Those working in orthopaedics and conventional medical rehabilitation have always followed some form of standardised assessment where they test the function of the nerves, muscles and bones before forming an opinion of a patient’s condition. Becoming a trained practitioner takes many years of study and practice. Not only must a practitioner gain knowledge of a wide spectrum of potential conditions, but just as importantly they must understand when and how to treat their patient, or when they need to refer them to other colleagues in the medical profession. Having been subjected to and taught many different approaches to movement screening, in my mind, the challenge isn’t establishing there is something ‘wrong’, rather it is knowing what to do to rectify the issue. mobility and flexibility The most common problem limiting quality of movement in the average person is a lack of mobility and flexibility, which can be provisionally tested using the standing twist and the overhead squat assessment (see below). To understand why mobility is key to human movement, think how as babies we start to move independently. We are born with mobility and flexibility, then we progressively develop stability, balance and then increasing amounts of strength. As we get older we may experience injuries, periods of inactivity and, to some extent, stress which all contribute towards a progressive reduction of mobility. There is no better summary of how important mobility is than in one of my favourite sayings: ‘Use it or lose it’. If you sit for extended periods or fail to move through the three planes of motion, then you invariably become restricted in your motion. With this in mind, I hope you can see that lifting weights without first addressing mobility issues is like trying to build the walls of a house before you have completed the foundations. The following two mobility tests challenge the entire length of the kinetic chain (the actions and reaction to force that occur throughout the bones, muscles and nerves whenever dynamic motion or force is required from the body) and help to reveal if you are ready to move beyond bodyweight moves to begin adding the additional load of dumbbells. This test focuses on the following key areas of the shoulders, the midthoracic spine, the pelvis, the knees, ankles and feet. Any limitation of mobility, flexibility or strength in these areas will show up as either an inability to move smoothly through the exercise or an inability to hold the body in the desired position. Test 1 standing twist This is the less dramatic of the two mobility tests and serves to highlight if you have any pain that only presents when you move through the outer regions of your range of movement, and also if you have a similar range of motion between rotations on the left and right sides of your body. • Stand with your feet beneath your hips. • Raise your arms to chest height then rotate as far as you can to the right, noting how far you can twist. • Repeat the movement to the left. • Perform the movement slowly so that no ‘extra twist’ is achieved using speed and momentum. Your observation is trying to identify any pain and/or restriction of movement. If you find either, it might be the case that this reduces after a warm-up or a few additional repetitions of this particular movement. If you continue to experience pain, you should consider having it assessed by a physiotherapist or sports therapist. Test 2 overhead squat (OHS) I’ve used the OHS test over 5000 times as part of my S.A.F.E. approach to exercise and I have found it to be the quickest and easiest way of looking at basic joint and muscle function without getting drawn in to speculative diagnosis of what is and isn’t working properly. If you can perform this move without any pain or restriction, then you will find most of the moves in this book achievable. There is no pass or fail, rather you will fall into one of two categories: ‘Good’ or ‘could do better’. If you cannot achieve any of the key requirements of the OHS move, then it is your body’s way of flagging up that you are tight and/or weak in that particular area. This, in turn, could mean you have an imbalance, pain or an untreated injury, which may not prevent you from exercising, but you should probably get checked out by a physiotherapist or sports therapist. Perform this exercise barefoot and in front of a full-length mirror so that you can gain maximum information from the observation of your whole body. See table 1 for a list of key body regions to observe during this test. (This move also doubles up as a brilliant warm-up for lifting weights.) • Stand with feet pointing straight ahead and at hip width. • Have your hands in the ‘thumbs-up position’ and raise your arms above your head, keeping them straight, into the top of a ‘Y’ position (with your body being the bottom of the ‘Y’). Your arms are in the correct position when they are back far enough to disappear from your peripheral vision. • The squat down is slow and deep, so take a slow count of six to get down by bending your knees. The reason we go slow is so you do not allow gravity to take over and merely slump down. Also, by going slow you get a chance to see and feel how everything is moving through the six key areas. The magic of this move is that you will be able to see and feel where your problem spots are and, even better, the test becomes the solution, as simply performing it regularly helps with your quality of movement. Stretch out any area that feels tight and aim to work any area that feels weak. Table 1 Key body regions to observe in the overhead squat As you perform the OHS you are looking for control and symmetry throughout and certain key indicators that all is well: • Neck: you keep good control over your head movements and are able to maintain the arm lift without pain in the neck. • Shoulders: in the start position and throughout the move you are aiming to have both arms lifted above the head and retracted enough so that they are outside your peripheral vision (especially when you are in the deep part of the squat). In addition to observing the shoulders look up at your arms to the hands – throughout the OHS you should aim to have your thumbs pointing behind you. • Mid-thoracic spine: there is no instruction to keep your back straight, so in this area of the body you are looking for ‘flow’ rather than clunking movements. • Hips: imagine a straight line drawn directly down the centre of your body. Around the hips you are looking to see if you shift your weight habitually to one side, rather than keeping it evenly spread between both sides. • Knees: the most common observation is the knees touching during the OHS, suggesting a weakness in the glutes. Less common is the knees parting, showing weakness in the inner thigh. Good technique is when your knees move forwards as you bend the legs. Note that clicking and crunching noises don’t always suggest a problem unless they are accompanied by pain. • Ankles and feet: the most obvious issue is the heels lifting from the floor, suggesting short achilles and calf muscles. Less obvious are the flattening of the foot arches that cause the feet to roll inward (overpronation) or the foot rolling outward (underpronation). Ideally, the foot should be in a neutral position. If when you do the OHS in front of the mirror you observe any of the visual signals that suggest you don’t have optimal movement qualities it really isn’t the end of the world, in fact, most people find that they are tight in some areas (if not all of them) when they first try this test. The absolutely fantastic news is that if you do spot any issues, performing the OHS as an exercise, rather than merely a test, will improve your movement pattern, joint range and muscle actions over time. overhead squat: the results My rule is that if you cannot perform a perfect OHS, with none of the key warning signs listed above, then you are not ready to perform the power moves in the exercise portfolio. So, use the OHS as a guide to whether your body is as ready as your mind is to start doing the toughest, most challenging, exercises. If you find by doing the OHS that your body is not ready, don’t think of it as a setback, but rather as a blessing: you are following a training method that is in tune with how the body works rather than one that merely sets out to punish it. isolation vs integration While intensity can be great, when you isolate your muscles you do not get the highly beneficial activity created by the rest of the kinetic chain. I am certainly not saying isolation moves are not productive, but with the biggest obstacle to exercise being a lack of time, integration work is going to have an instant usable impact on the entire body. All movements that we do in training or everyday life can be classified as either isolation or integration moves. The vast majority of isolation moves have been created/invented to work specific muscles on their own, with the primary intention of fatiguing that muscle by working it in isolation, usually moving only one joint of the skeleton. Integration, or compound, moves are less of an invention and more of an adaptation of movement patterns that we perform in everyday life. They are designed to work groups of muscles across multiple joints all at the same time. In real life we never isolate. Even when only a few joints are moving there is a massive number of muscles bracing throughout the body to let the prime muscles do their job. As you go about an average day I doubt you give a second thought to how you are moving. If you take the time to watch the world go by for a few hours you will notice that human movement consists of just a few combinations of movements that together create the millions of potential moves we (hopefully) achieve everyday. Everything, and I mean everything, we do boils down to the following key movements: • Push • Pull • Twist • Squat • Lunge • Bend • Walk • Run • Jump Figure 1 The nine basic human movement patterns: (a) push, (b) pull, (c) twist, (d) squat, (e) lunge, (f) bend, (g) walk, (h) run and (i) jump All of these movements are integrated. I am certainly not the first person to make this observation, but it constantly amazes me how my industry manages to complicate exercise. With this observation in mind, I am not a huge fan of old fashioned machines that isolate small areas of muscle to work them apparently more intensely. While intensity can be great, when you isolate you do not get the highly beneficial activity created by the rest of the kinetic chain. I am certainly not saying isolation moves are not productive, but with the biggest obstacle to exercise being a lack of time, integration work is going to have an instant usable impact on the entire body. Because of this, I moved away from using exercises that focused on isolation many years ago. When I first started using twisting and bending moves in training, those who used weights machines with seats, and even seatbelts, to fix them into position suggested that it looked dangerous. However, in reality I was lifting weight in such a way that the moves could be directly compared to how I moved in my chosen sports of athletics and rugby – my sprint start required me to explode out of the starting blocks, driving through one leg at a time, and in rugby I needed to be conditioned to push, pull and twist all of the time. Therefore, exercises such as lunges, cross chops and single-leg squats were all perfect for this, but they were far from mainstream exercises. That was many years ago, and since then a completely new section of the fitness industry has sprung up that specialises in what we now call functional, or core, training. Of course, I’m not claiming to have invented this approach to exercise; in fact, that honour must go to a guy back in Ancient Roman times, who decided one day to start swinging a weight around: these days we would call it a kettlebell. Because of these conclusions, I find it increasingly difficult to justify performing only isolation exercises myself and with my clients, and multiple muscle integration moves are at the heart of all of my training programmes. Subsequently, the majority of the moves in this book are integrated, designed to achieve maximum results in the most economical amount of time. learn it, then work it As we have discovered, you must walk before you can run in any exercise method, and the body works best if you learn the activity prior to engaging in exercise, so that you will positively soak up the benefits. Lifting weights is very natural with hardly any complex skills required to achieve results. However, that is not to say you cannot do it incorrectly. In fact, along with failed runners, re-building the confidence of people who have tried weight training and then failed or injured themselves has featured frequently in my working life. Because of this, I use the phrase ‘learn it, then work it’ to encourage people to take time to ‘imprint’ good quality movement patterns upon their bodies. how to ‘learn it, then work it’ How do you know what ‘good quality’ moves look like? Simply put, the move should look smooth and controlled and should not create pain in your joints. Aim to perform the concentric and eccentric phases (the lift and lower phases) at the same speed – lift for two counts and lower for two counts. When power and speed becomes more of an objective for you, aim to lift for one count and lower for two counts. You can perform moves at slower speeds, but that then moves away from how we move/function in day to day life, rarely do we do any movement in slow motion just for the sake of it. It is really only beneficial to perform slow or super slow (quarter-speed) moves if you are training for specific sport activities, so as to prolong the time each muscle is under tension (known as ‘time under tension’). Therefore, move at a natural speed: athletes and sports people train at ‘real time’ once they have learned the required movement pattern, so without even knowing it they are ‘learning it, then working it’. The beauty of grounding your workout in the ‘learn it, then work it’ approach is that by keeping the approach simple, achievable and functional you won’t get tied up with methods that either do not work, or have ridiculous expectations of how much time you are going to dedicate to your fitness regime. It is quite often that I see people in gyms who perform difficult versions of exercises that are clearly beyond their level of ability – presuming because they think difficult/advance must equal quicker results. The obvious signs are that they can’t control the weights or their body seems overpowered by the movements it is being asked to do – learn it, then work it relates to most physical tasks in life but especially sport. For example, if you have tennis lessons the first thing you would learn would be to make contact with the ball slowly rather than starting with the fastest hardest movements. So the key is to simply switch off your instincts to ‘work hard’ until you are satisfied that you can move correctly by maintaining quality and control throughout all the repetitions. As you get more adventurous and diverse with your exercise remember all your goals are achievable: remember, if you’re moving you’re improving. ‘learn it, then work it’ in sport Practising movements in weight training is paralleled in all performance-based sports. Athletes routinely perform low intensity ‘drills’, which echo the moves they need to make in their sport. For example, during almost every track session, sprinters practise knee lifts, heel flicks and other bounding exercises to improve their quality of movement and condition their muscles in a highly functional manner. first you need stability Stability is the first key ingredient to ensuring safe and effective exercise, the basic building block to everything that follows in this book. To perform exercise safely and effectively, we have to firstly ensure our body is stable. The essence of stability is the ability to control and transfer force throughout the body. All human movement is, in fact, a chain of events involving the brain, the nervous system, muscles, fascia, ligaments and tendons. So, while a simple move like a bicep curl may appear to involve only activity from the shoulder down to the hand, in reality there is a chain of events that occur to ensure that the right amount of force is applied and that the two ends of the bicep are tethered to a stable base. In essence, wherever there is visible movement in the body, there are always invisible reactions occurring within the kinetic chain to facilitate this movement. The engine room of all this activity is in the deep muscles of the trunk and involves the: • Transversus abdominus (TA) • Multifidi (MF) • Internal obliques • Five layers of muscle and fascia that make up the pelvic floor. Figure 2 The deep muscles of the trunk are crucial for stability These muscles work as a team and their simultaneous contraction is known as ‘co-contraction’. This complex muscle activity produces intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and it is the creation of this pressure that stabilises the lumber spine. The misconception that the transversus abdominus looks like a ‘belt’ around the torso no doubt led fitness instructors to continuously advise clients to pull their stomach in (hollow the abdominal muscles), thinking that this would amplify the stability of the spine. However, it is not simply the recruitment of these muscles that instills strength and stability, but, more importantly, when they are recruited. In effect, they should have been advising clients to ‘switch on’ (brace their core). remember: don’t hollow your abs Pulling in, or hollowing, the abs actually makes you less able to stabilise. If you imagine a tree that is perfectly vertical, but then you chop in or hollow out one side, the structure of the tree becomes less stable. I have two ways of coaching the correct technique to avoid hollowing the abs, depending on the client: 1 Switch on your abs as if you were going to get punched in the stomach, or 2 Engage the abs in the same way as if were about to be tickled. Both methods achieve the desired outcome – with only a few of my male clients actually insisting that I really do hit them! Stability is, therefore, a goal in everything that we do. However, we shouldn’t have to undertake yet more training just to achieve core stability, rather we should ensure that the everyday movements we make encourage the muscles deep inside the trunk to work correctly during dynamic movements, and that the stabilisation is instinctive, as opposed to something that we have to remind ourselves to do every time. For instance, if you drop an egg in the kitchen and very quickly squat and make a grab to catch it, you don’t stop to think: ‘Did I line up my feet, pull my stomach in and keep my head up?’ Actually, your body will have fired off a co-contraction which enabled you to grab the egg before it hit the ground (or, at least, make a good attempt). When I use this analogy to explain the concept of stability to my clients, they often get a twinkle in their eye, for if this process is instinctive, why should they continue to train? The reality, however, if that you still have to exercise that inclination to keep the system working properly: ‘use it, or lose it’. In the workout sessions later in this book, you will find that almost all the moves are classified as being good for stability. Since stability is the first stage of development, you might assume the strength and power moves that follow are more productive because they are more ‘intense’. While this is true, that intensity will only be constructive if the body has the ability to control and direct all that extra force, which can only be learned through the stability moves. the development of core Stability in the fitness industry During the 1990s, there were only three components of fitness that personal trainers focused on with the average client (by ‘average’ I mean a person looking for fitness gains rather than to compete in sport). Cardio was the route to cardiovascular efficiency and was the most obvious tool for weight loss; strength training isolated the larger muscle groups and gymnasiums were filled with straight line machines; and we only worked on flexibility because we knew we had to, but the chosen method was predominately the least productive type of stretching, i.e. static. Then, it seems almost from nowhere, there was a new ingredient to every workout: core stability. New equipment such as Swiss balls and modern versions of wobble boards, such as the Reebok Core Board® and the BOSU® (Both sides up), increased the wave of enthusiasm for this type of training as, of course, did the new popularity for the more physical versions of yoga and Pilates. In retrospect, we in the fitness industry could have thought to ourselves that we had been doing everything wrong up to that point. However, the reality is that rather than being ‘wrong’ we were just learning as we went along. In fact, many of the methods that suddenly became mainstream had been used in sports training for years before, but without the ‘label’ of core stability, and rather than treating them as an individual component, we trained them instinctively as part of our dynamic strength moves using body weight or free weights. add some strength The second key ingredient, there are several types of strength that you can gain performing these exercises with dumbbells. When trying to establish a client’s fitness objectives, ‘I want to improve my strength’ is often the only information given to a personal trainer. This seemingly simple request requires much more detail if you are going to achieve the outcome that is really desired. The one-line definition of strength could be summed up as: An ability to exert a physical force against resistance. However, this catch-all is not specific enough when you are dealing with strength. In fact, there are three main types of strength: 1 Strength endurance: achieved when you aim to exert force many times in close succession. 2 Elastic strength: achieved when you make fast contractions to regain a position or posture. 3 Maximum strength: our ability over a single repetition to generate our greatest amount of force. Each of these specific types of strength can be achieved using dumbbells either as individual components or preferably as part of an integrated approach. Unless you are an athlete training for an event that requires a disproportionate amount of either endurance, elastic or maximum strength, then the integration of functional training methods will create a body that is more designed to cope with day to day life and amateur sports. While strength is an adaptation that the body willingly accepts, the reality is that changes take time, so treat strength gains as something that happens over weeks, months and years rather than mere days. power beats size The development of power, rather than size, in muscles is not only a more rapid process, but is also considerably more practical, usable and functional for those men and women who have reached a point in their training where they have no need to be any ‘stronger’, but they want to make more of the strength they have. Increasing the size of a muscle is a long process that requires focused attention to training and nutrition. The majority of super-huge bodybuilders need to train for hours every day and consume massive volumes of food and supplements to increase their muscle size, and this type of training often becomes an obsession – if not an addiction. For many years people believed that training with weights and getting bigger muscles were mutually exclusive. And while body building has a cult following around the world, the reality is that training purely in the pursuit of increasing muscle size is a niche market. It is true that clients (predominately men) ask to increase the size of their muscles, but with closer scrutiny, they want to achieve an athletic physique rather than massive bulk. Power is the ability to exert an explosive burst of movement. In everyday life it presents as bounding up stairs three at a time or pushing a heavy weight above your head. The development of power, rather than size, in muscles is not only a more rapid process, but is also considerably more practical, usable and functional for those men and women who have reached a point in their training where they have no need to be any ‘stronger’, but they want to make more of the strength they have. When you get to the training stage, you will see that the power moves are, in fact, progressions of the skills that you will have already developed during your stability and strength sessions, only performed at speed. In this respect, it becomes easier to understand why I advise not to skip a stage when learning movement patterns. power and agility Think of power as a very close relation of agility; you don’t learn agility by overloading and working while fatigued, rather you develop it by achieving quality over quantity. In fact, introducing yourself to the pursuit of power can mean performing the moves without any weights and simply performing the movements fast, as athletic power is actually a finely tuned combination of speed and strength. 2 the portfolio of moves which moves should I do? This section contains a portfolio of moves that I have selected from those I use every day with my personal training clients and are based on the principles I explained in the first part of this book. The only moves that have made it into this book are those that deserve to be here – every one of these moves is tried and tested to ensure it gets results, in fact, I have spent hundreds of hours using them myself and thousands of hours teaching them to my personal training clients, who over the years have included men and women from 16 to 86 years old, from size zero through to 280lbs. These clients have, justifiably, only been interested in the moves that work – and that is what you have here in this portfolio. It is not an exhaustive list of moves, simply because many extra moves that could have been included are really just subtle adaptations of those included here. For instance, changes to foot position and the amount of bend that you have in your arms and legs will encourage the body to recruit slightly different muscles, but I would class these as adaptations rather than unique moves. dangerous dumbbell moves There will always be those people who dream up dumbbell moves that are dangerous, pointless or just plain stupid. A pair of dumbbells in sensible hands is a very safe product but, having spent thousands of hours in gyms all around the world, I know that there are plenty of people who think that just because they have invented an ‘exercise’, it must be doing ‘something good’ to the body. Without even acknowledging the really crazy stuff I have seen, I simply cannot condone or include any moves that use a dumbbell in ways that were never intended. Dumbbells are not designed to be thrown or caught and, unlike a kettlebell, they are not intended to be swung between the legs. I would also recommend that you don’t attempt any exercises where you swap the dumbbell between your hands mid-exercise. presentation of the moves I wanted to show the moves as a complete portfolio, rather than simply wrapping them up into workouts, because you are then able to see how the stability, strength and power versions relate to each other. Understanding these progressions is something I encourage of my clients because they need to know that subtle changes can make all the difference between a good use of time and a waste of it. By thinking this way you can very quickly learn all the moves because, in the majority of cases, the main movement pattern stays the same throughout the stability, strength and power progressions, with only a slight change to the length of levers (arm/foot positions), range of motion or the speed. The third part of this book then goes on to present a selection of training sessions, designed for a range of levels, and following my method of progressing through stability, strength and power exercises. I have also provided you with a post-workout stretch session suitable for weight lifting training. Please remember that you should always warm-up before embarking on any type of exercise. I have written the descriptions as if I am talking to you as a client – the key information for each explanation includes: • the correct body position at the start and finish of the move; • the movement that you are looking to create. When I work with my PT clients I avoid over-coaching the movement as my goal is to see them move in a lovely ‘fluid’ way, where the whole movement blends together. every muscle plays a part I purposefully haven’t included diagrams of the muscles that are targeted by each move as hopefully by now you understand that, used correctly, every muscle plays a role in every move. reps This is a ‘learn it’ section rather than ‘work it’. Therefore, for the vast majority of the moves I don’t talk about how many repetitions you should do of each – that information is included in the workout section in the third part of the book. How many repetitions you perform should relate to your objectives; almost all the moves can be used to improve stability, strength and power (at the same time), and the speed and resistance at which you perform it will dictate the outcome. For example, a slow squat performed with a light weight will provide stability benefits. Exactly the same move performed with a heavier weight will increase strength and the same move at speed will develop power. weight As speed and resistance are both subjective (one person’s ‘light’ is another person’s ‘heavy’), it is simply not possible, without being in the same room as you and looking at how you move and your physical characteristics, to suggest the exact weight you should use. When you are learning the moves from this portfolio, you should use a weight that allows you to perform six to eight excellent quality repetitions. When you reach the workout sessions in the third part of the book each of the moves has a specific repetition number applied to it so that they work in context with the suggested time for each workout, i.e. 15, 30 or 45 minutes. ! tricks of the trade For each exercise, I have included a ‘tricks of the trade’ box which contains a nugget of information that I use to help my clients get the most out of each exercise. key to exercises As you move through the exercises, you will notice that each is identified by the following key words. A quick glance will tell you which element the move focuses on, what type of move it is and whether you need any additional equipment to perform it. stability As has been discussed earlier in the book, you don’t have to use gym balls and wobble devices to get stability benefits. Stability is, essentially, a reaction within the kinetic chain in which the body says to itself: ‘Switch on the muscles around the lumbo pelvic region, because this movement is looking for an anchor point to latch on to’. On this basis, you don’t improve stability when you are sat down, neither do you generally improve it when a move involves just one joint. strength We could get all deep and meaningful about biomechanics here, but to qualify as a strength move, the exercise needs to be making you move a force through space using muscle contractions. Therefore anything that only involves momentum is a waste of time because you are just going along for the ride and not actively contracting your muscles. However, don’t confuse speed with momentum – speed is good, especially when mixed with strength, because that combination develops the highly desirable power. power Every time you read the word ‘power’ you need to think of speed, and vice versa. The maths and physics required to understand how we measure power are enough to make you glaze over, and in reality you are much better off measuring your power ability by doing a simple time-trial sprint, or time yourself over a set number of repetitions, rather than trying to calculate exactly how much power you are exerting for a specific exercise. If you want more power, you need to move fast, but you need to be able to maintain speed while pushing or pulling a weight (that weight could be an object or your own body). For example, you might have a guy who can skip across a shot put circle faster than the other guy when not holding and throwing the shot, but he is only speedy. The guy who can move fast and launch the shot (using strength) is the one with all the power. isolation This is a move where you are intentionally using only one muscle (or group, such as the quadriceps) to move a weight. This means that usually you are also only moving one joint. There is nothing wrong with isolation moves and they are particularly good at forcing several muscles in the body to grow (for example, the biceps, triceps and quadriceps). However, they need to be part of an organised approach to strength training, because if you only do isolation moves you won’t develop good movement patterns. Think of it this way: if you were a tree, there would be no point having really strong branches without a trunk and root system. Isolation training, without incorporating integration moves, develops strength that you will find hard to use for anything other than more isolation moves. integration/compound This is a move that will have a beneficial knock-on effect on every physical task or sporting challenge you undertake. Integration moves can usually be classed as being beneficial for the core muscles. They might also be referred to as ‘functional’ moves (however, this is an overused term, as some people say that swinging a kettlebell is ‘functional’, but I can’t think of any activity in everyday life where I swing a weight between my legs rather than over my head). Integration is essentially moving the dumbbell using multiple muscles, ranges of motion and joints. You may have guessed by now that I’m a big fan of this set of moves – why bother working muscles one at a time when you can train them to work as a team and get more done in less time? don’t waste your time Moves which include the above ‘trash’ symbol, fall into two groups; those that actually achieve nothing, usually because gravity or momentum is creating all the movement rather than a muscle contraction, and those that give you the impression that you are doing good because they are causing fatigue (pain) in muscles. However, what you may not have realised is that the pain you are feeling actually comes from a tiny postural muscle like for example teres minor that you have suddenly loaded in a way unsympathetic to the way it functions best. bench These moves require a bench to perform them. Ensure that the bench you use is specifically designed for weight training. Most training benches adjust so that they can be used flat or at an incline of 30, 45 and 70 degrees. For exercises that require only a flat surface, a fitness step can be used as a platform to lie on, but do not adapt them to incline. The Reebok® Deck offers an excellent solution for home use as it provides all the features of a fitness step as well as adjusting to 30, 45 and 70 degree inclines. ball These moves require a ball to perform them. In the world of fitness there are good balls and there are bad balls; make sure that the ball you are using has load capacity strong enough to hold you and the weight of the dumbbells. (See The Total Gym Ball Workout (Bloomsbury, 2011) by this author for everything you could ever wish to know about gym ball exercises). the classic moves These are without doubt the need-to-know dumbbell moves. With a few exceptions, the oldest and most popular dumbbell moves are also the most effective. Long before the term ‘core’ came along athletes and bodybuilders were practising the basic moves that work the prime movers in our body, which in turn developed integrated strength. Isolation moves emerged when people became more interested in the cosmetic effects of weight training rather than the performance-enhancing effects. Sadly, it seems an entire generation of personal trainers missed out on learning these classic moves because weight machines became the dominant force in most gymnasiums. Fitness machines have since significantly improved, but if you want to develop a great foundation in the skill of lifting weights that will help you to keep fit and strong throughout your entire active adult life, then these are the moves that you need to perfect. As a self-confessed trend watcher and trend predictor in the fitness industry I am pleased to say that I have seen a real increase in the number of people in gyms who are using these classic free weight exercises on a regular basis. Classic is a term that should only be bestowed upon something that has managed to stand the test of time. All of the classic moves and the best of the best moves in this portfolio have earned their place in this portfolio as a result of thousands of hours training and coaching, and I predict they will still be worthy of the title in another 40 years. exercise 1 bicep curl, under grip stability strength power isolation • Stand with your feet together, i.e. as wide as your pelvis or you will hit the sides of your legs with the dumbbell. • With your palms facing forward and your upper arm hanging vertically1, lift the weight up until you have closed your elbow joint as far as it will go. • Then, lower the dumbbell back to the start position. ! tricks of the trade What can you possibly do to a bicep curl to make it more interesting? With my clients, if their attention starts to wander I make them change their foot position every couple of reps, so they shift their weight from one foot to the other and stand in a slightly split stance (one foot forward). This has no adverse effect on the curl and is also beneficial for coordination. exercise 2 bicep reverse curl, over grip stability strength power isolation • Stand with your feet no wider than your pelvis and hold the dumbbell so that your knuckles are facing forward. • Keep the upper arms hanging vertically, then using your biceps lift the dumbbell up until you have closed the elbow joint completely. • Then, lower the weight back to the start position. ! tricks of the trade There is a huge temptation to lean forward during this move. When my clients cheat in this way I make them touch their butt cheeks and shoulders against a wall (touching, not leaning), and then do the the curls – you simply can’t cheat. exercise 3 bicep curl 21s stability strength power isolation These are deceptively hard! The aim is to perform the three sets of seven reps immediately after each other. Why do we do this? Mainly because the biceps are very resilient muscles that do not often have to function through their full range every time they are used, so this approach is very good at creating a reaction. • For the first seven reps, lift the dumbbell through the first half of your range of motion. • Follow with the second set of seven reps, where you should lift the weight from halfway to the end of your range of motion. • Finally, for the third set of seven reps lift the weight through the complete range of motion. ! tricks of the trade Whatever weight my clients think they can lift during this move, it will usually be 25 per cent less in reality. A nice personal trainer will tell you this, a nasty one will let you suffer and potentially fail the set. exercise 4 overhead triceps press stability strength power isolation This exercise is best done in front of a mirror so you can see where the dumbbell is. • Stand with your feet a little bit wider than pelvis width. • Lift the dumbbell above your head and hold the shaft with both hands. • Start at the top and lower the dumbbell behind your head, bending at the elbow. • As soon as it touches your body push it back up to the start position. ! tricks of the trade The mirror is good because you should be able to look at yourself throughout the move. As a personal trainer, I act as the mirror and make my clients aware of when they are in the wrong position. The best solution is simply to stand in front of my clients, as this means they naturally keep their head up to maintain eye contact. exercise 5 single-arm triceps press stability strength power integration This exercise is also best done in front of a mirror so you can see where the dumbbell is. If you start with your right arm, have your right foot slightly in front of the left. The nice thing about doing one arm at a time is that you will get some work out of the pecs as well because you naturally shift your weight forward as you drive the dumbbell into the air. • Hold the dumbbell in one hand and lift it above your head, with your arms fully extended. • Bend your arm at the elbow and lower the dumbbell. • Push it back up again using the triceps. ! tricks of the trade Shift your bodyweight around from foot to foot and also to the ball of the foot and heels – try it, you will find that you actually stay more focused on the arm movement than when you were standing still. exercise 6 wrist curls, over grip strength power isolation bench The muscles used in this movement tend to be weaker than the under grip version – if you look at your wrist this is understandable because you have more flesh on the underside than you do on the top. This exercise can also be performed standing or sitting on a bench. • Stand up and hold your wrist in a position that allows it to move like a hinge above your knee. • Keep your palms down and lower and lift the dumbbell. ! tricks of the trade This is the weakest range of motion for most people, so leave this move until the very end of a workout otherwise your grip will be affected for the rest of the exercises. exercise 7 wrist curls, under grip strength power isolation • Stand with feet apart, elbows at right angles and palms up. • You need to remember that the range of motion here is determined by bones rather than flexibility, so don’t force the joint to go further than it wants to. • Relaxing the fingers at the end of the down phase will create work for the hand muscle as well as the wrist, but don’t relax the grip too much as you are likely to drop the weight. ! tricks of the trade Despite the small amount of muscle bulk in the wrist area you will be surprised how much you can lift on this move. However, be sure to start light and progress slowly because the wrist is full of ligaments and tendons that take longer to condition than the blood-rich muscle tissue. exercise 8 dead lift stability strength power integration My mantra ‘learn it, then work it’ is key here, so practise this movement without any weights before you add extra load to your muscles and joints. • Stand with your feet as wide apart as your armpits. • Let the weights just hang in front of you then lower them towards the floor (that’s the easy part because gravity is in charge). • When your hamstrings reach the point that they want to stop you going any lower, stand up. • Watch the line that the dumbbells go through – they should be going straight down and straight up again, any swing forward or back suggests the weight is too light or that you have a tight spot somewhere in your hamstrings or glutes. ! tricks of the trade The smart people practise the dead lift without a weight so that they almost pre-programme the move into their muscles and brain. An excellent practice tool is a wooden pole, because if the pole hits your knees you are too stiff or unstable to do this move with heavy weights. exercise 9 deltoid raise front stability strength power integration Just to clear one thing up here. When we work the deltoids we don’t isolate the anterior, middle or posterior section of the muscle. Each of the sections works all of the time, but depending upon the movement each section will take on variable amounts of the load. • Except for when using really heavy weights on this exercise, stand with you feet in whatever position is most comfortable, which means either with your feet hip width apart or in a split stance (one foot forward). If you are braving a very heavy dumbbell then a wide stance will be better. • Before you start the lift you must retract your scapular (in other words, pull your shoulders back) otherwise your deltoids (one of the shoulder muscles) can’t function as well as they should. • Lift the dumbbell up to chin height. Any higher and you will again be asking the slightly isolated anterior deltoid to move in a way that it isn’t designed to. I find that lifting slightly off centre is kinder on the shoulder joint than lifting straight up in front. • And please, lower the weight under control – the eccentric phase is more than half the reason for doing this move. ! tricks of the trade This exercise needs to flow. In the past you would have been coached to keep the rest of the body very still as you lifted the weight up, but I encourage my clients to think about and feel the muscle activity that is occurring through the upper back and all the way down to the buttocks. exercise 10 deltoid raise side stability strength power integration • Stand with your feet apart or together – it won’t affect how the deltoid works, but you may find that you get a little more back extension into the exercise with your feet together. • Starting with the dumbbell in front of you, rather than at your side, let the supraspinatus muscle do its job (this little muscle in the upper arm is like a starter motor for the deltoids; it gets the arm moving before the bigger deltoids take over). • As you lift and the weights reach eye level, twist the dumbbell so that the front end is almost pointing at the ceiling. This stops you squashing the tendon of supraspinatus against the humerus bone. • A good way of judging the quality of movement is that you will feel the bodyweight shift from the ball of the foot to the heel as you raise to the top of the move. ! tricks of the trade This move always seem easier if you do it in front of a mirror – I know it sounds a really simple suggestion, but it really does make a difference to how well my clients perform it. exercise 11 bent arm pullover stability strength power integration bench If you are doing this move on a step or low bench, then having your feet on the floor should be fine, but if you are on a full-size bench you might find as you take the dumbbell back that your feet lift off the ground, which is bad technique. Personally, I like to put my feet on the bench – that means I can’t use my legs as a counterbalance for the moving dumbbell, and my legs will always weigh more than any dumbbell I’d be using on this move. • Lie on your back with a dumbbell held in both hands and with arms slightly bent, above your sternum. • Your arms and the weight travel through an arc starting from above the sternum and ending when the weight is behind the head. ! tricks of the trade If you practise the move first without the weight you will establish how good your range of motion is (‘learn it, then work it!’). The dumbbell will just go out of sight as you lower it, which is the easy part, then you have to turn on the force and lift it back to the start position. Remember this is predominantly a chest move so that’s where you want to feel the force coming from when you pull the weight back to the start position. exercise 12 straight arm pullover stability strength power integration bench This move is more intense than the bent arm version (exercise 11) because of simple mechanics – as the straight arm is effectively a longer lever, the weight on the end of it will feel heavier. The same rules for the bench and where you place your feet apply. Again, practise the move first without the weight to establish how good your range of motion is (‘learn it, then work it!’). • Lay on your back with a dumbbell held in both hands. Hold your arms straight above your sternum. • The dumbbell will just go out of sight as you lower it, which is the easy part, then you have to turn on the force and lift it back to the start position. • Remember: this is predominantly a chest move so that’s where you want to feel the force coming from when you pull the weight back to the start position. ! tricks of the trade I see a lot of heavy lifters lifting their butt high off the bench. If you look closely this actually cancels out the movement in the shoulder and instead induces a simple pivot or roll on the back of the shoulders. They are still working muscles, but probably not those they intended. Put a towel between the knees and squeeze it throughout the move and you will be surprised how much your movement quality improves. exercise 13 chest press strength power integration bench It is unlikely that you will chest press as much weight using dumbbells as you could with a barbell. However, if you set vanity aside, the dumbbell version will call upon a wider range of muscles because of the additional challenges placed on the torso to control these two lumps of metal as they move separately up and down. • Start with the dumbbells above your sternum and the handles parallel to each other. • As you lower the dumbbells, rotate them so that as they reach their lowest point they have gone through a 90-degree rotation. If you have a good range of motion then your knuckles should get as low as your ribs. • When you reach the low point try not to ‘push’ with anything else like your buttocks; just reverse the contraction in the pecs and push the dumbbell back up. ! tricks of the trade I see some terrible versions of this move. The worst sin is pushing against the bench with your head in an attempt to exert more force. If you find yourself doing that then the dumbbells are just too heavy for you. Apart from just telling clients off, the best way to overcome this cheat is to bring the knees into the chest and leave them there throughout the exercise. exercise 14 incline chest press strength power integration bench Most benches are adjustable between 30 and 70 degrees – any more or less than that and you may as well be flat or upright. You are using the incline because it will target the upper potion of the pectoralis major. Notice I don’t say the ‘upper pecs’; the pec muscle originates at the collar bone and goes to the base of the sternum, so it is one muscle that can fire different amounts of force throughout its span. • Sit firmly against the bench and begin with arms bent, the dumbbells just off your chest, handles parallel to each other. • Start to lift the dumbbells up. The starting position of this move is initiated by the triceps – which is fine, but if the primary targets are the pecs then you want to avoid straightening the arms until the highest point of the movement, so that they don’t dominate the action. • You will feel that the pecs are doing more of the work if you finish the move at the top with the dumbbells side by side rather than touching them end to end, which you achieve by rotating the humerus (bone in the upper arm). ! tricks of the trade Many personal trainers cue the client to keep their elbows in. There is no problem with this, but what actually happens is it inhibits the shoulder joint from going through its natural and strongest line of motion. exercise 15 decline chest press strength power integration bench Since the pecs are such large muscles this exercise is really only going to be productive if the dumbbells are heavy, so you might find that an incline press-up feels more productive. However, this is a classic move so here goes. • Start with the weights in the down position. Hold them so they are end to end. Your elbows need to be away from the side of your torso, or the triceps will just take over the force production. • As you push up think about bringing your hands together only at the very top so that the pecs are active for the longest possible time. • Finish at the top with the dumbbells side by side. Touching them together is purely optional – some people feel they are cheating if they don’t, so you decide. ! tricks of the trade When I am training with clients I can help them get in and out of the correct position and hand them the dumbbells. If you are training alone, the easiest way of picking up and putting down the weight is to do it one at a time. exercise 16 fly strength power integration bench This move is more than a classic. It’s not perfect because if you have long arms, the dumbbell is so far away from the fulcrum your natural instinct is to bend the arm more, which is considered bad technique. In reality, it’s maybe just the wrong exercise for long limbed people. Before you lift the weights know what ‘good’ looks like; go through the movement without any resistance so you can get a feel for your range of motion – normal is roughly when your hands disappear from your peripheral vision at the widest part of the fly. • Start from the top, dumbbells side by side. Separate the weights so they arc out away from the body, your arms should be slightly bent throughout the entire fly. • When you reach your full range follow the same arc back up again. If you get ‘stuck’ at the bottom, quickly bend the arms to bring the weights back in towards the centre line of your body. • Remember, the pecs attach below the collarbone so this exercise doesn’t involve the neck muscle. If you seem to be ‘pushing’ your head into the bench, then the weights are too heavy. ! tricks of the trade I find it helpful to give clients feedback as we train. For example, in this particular exercise the client should select the weight based on how tall they are and also how long their arms are (the longer the arms, the less light the weight). Keeping people informed makes the exercise experience more positive. exercise 17 incline fly strength power integration bench If the incline becomes too great (past 45 degrees), then this really becomes a shoulder press, so bear that in mind when setting up the bench. • The same rules apply as for the incline chest press (exercise 14), but this time the triceps are completely left out of the move with the front of the deltoids taking over where they left off. • You need to really keep control as you lower the weights. I see many people also rebounding off the bottom of the movement; that is fine, but I also suggest that you are going a little fast. The movement should look like you are drawing slow smooth arcs as you take the dumbbells down and out. ! tricks of the trade Try this: when you brace your abdominals in preparation to push also push your heels into the floor – you will instantly feel more muscle activity in your torso. exercise 18 decline fly strength power integration bench Again, this is really only going to be productive if you are using a challenging weight. • If you think about how this move would look if you did it stood up rather than lying on a bench, then what you would see is a really big hugging action. • The technique is the same as the fly on the flat bench (exercise 16), but the range of motion is less, so rather than the dumbbells going out of your peripheral vision they stay within it. ! tricks of the trade Think about the position of your wrists. Keep your forearm muscles engaged throughout the fly – this will help the biceps and pecs work together more effectively as a team. exercise 19 seated bent over row stability strength power integration bench ball Clearly, being seated is going to switch off the work in the legs and torso that you get doing the standing move, so this becomes purely an upper body move rather than total body. This shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a negative as it just gives a different outcome. Use either a bench or a ball to sit on. • Sit on the end of the bench with the dumbbells next to your feet. Check out your range of motion first by running through some repetitions without the weights in your hands. If your range is good, then the hands should come just a little higher than the knees. • With the dumbbells in your hands, lift them up. • It is really tempting to just drop them back to the floor, but don’t: lower them slowly but don’t put them completely back down on the ground. ! tricks of the trade Many clients seem to cut this exercise short by only going through approximately 80 per cent of their potential range of motion. To combat this it helps to raise the heels slightly: you can either rest them against the legs of the bench or place a block of wood or towels under them. exercise 20 bent over two arm row stability strength integration For this move to work the latissimus dorsi (widest and most powerful muscle of the back) you have to get into a pretty low squat position to begin. If you don’t, this ends up being more about the arms than the huge targeted back muscles. Aim to look almost like a ski jumper in the tuck position, however, you don’t want to get so low that your chest is resting on your thighs. • Get into a squat position. Your hands should be in line with your toes and the dumbbells parallel with the feet. To fully lengthen the lats you need to have your shoulders rounded, but try not to hunch the shoulders up. • Pull the dumbbells up towards the ribs so they parallel up to the legs. • During the top end of the move squeeze the shoulder blades together (scapular retraction). ! tricks of the trade Some clients find the hardest part of this move is staying in the bent forward position. This position simply helps us to target the right muscle rather than being part of the challenge. Therefore if it is uncomfortable, stand up between every few repetitions – this is training, not torture. exercise 21 hip hinge rear deltoid raise stability strength power integration I didn’t really start using the hip hinge stance until I began to understand the importance of core training. The hip hinge feels wrong when you first do it because unless you have practiced yoga or Pilates, then you have probably avoided this movement pattern. However, it is a good one to work on as it helps develop strength around the lumbopelvic region in a way that doesn’t happen as soon as you push the hips backwards like in the regular bent over exercises. • First, practise the hip hinge without any weights. If you have poor flexibility in the glutes (buttocks) and hamstrings it will feel like you are about to topple forward, so a good way to learn this start position is to do it with your bottom resting against a wall. • To avoid targeting similar muscles as the bent over fly (exercise 19), your legs remain almost straight as you bend forward from the hips. • When you reach the limit of forward flexion your arms will be hanging vertically. From there ‘flap your wings’, i.e. move your arms through a nice smooth arc, paying attention not to allow the dumbbells drop with gravity on the down phase. ! tricks of the trade Does your neck ache when you do this move? Yes? Try pushing your tongue against the roof of your mouth – this will activate muscles in the neck and stop the ache. exercise 22 squat stability strength power integration Clearly this is a leg exercise, but because in biomechanical terms the dumbbells are away from the fixed point (the feet), it means this move is one of the most total body actions you can practice. Bear in mind that the load on the muscle is the dumbbells plus your bodyweight, so for some people that can really add up. • Your feet really need to be no wider than your pelvis. Keep the dumbbells at your sides so that they run straight up and down rather than swinging. • Bend the legs and squat down, holding the dumbbells on either side. • I hear a lot of personal trainers constantly asking their clients to keep their heads up, but if you look at how the body really moves, it is more natural to look at the floor approximately 3m in front of yourself – why? Because the head weighs approximately 3kg and keeping it up actually means tipping it back, so it throws you off balance. Also, because you are going down, your brain really wants to know where it is going so it is desperate to look towards the floor. ! tricks of the trade The big mistake many people make when they squat is that they bend forward rather than ‘sitting down’. Therefore, keep the weight spread between the front and back of you feet and get all of the depth from bending the legs rather than taking a bow. With my clients I often make them stand close to a wall while they squat. By having their toes 30–40cm from the wall they simply cannot bow. It is virtually impossible to squat with the toes actually touching the wall – in 20 years I have only ever seen one person who could. exercise 23 clean and press stability strength power integration This move is more frequently performed with a barbell. I think this move is harder with dumbbells than it is with a barbell of the same weight, as while the bar is bigger, you will find having the weight separated in a pair of dumbbells requires greater coordination. Therefore, though performing a clean and press with a barbell can look more spectacular, treat that version as part of the learning curve to get good at the clean and press with dumbbells. The barbell technique differs significantly to the dumbbell version, since you push your elbows and forearms under and in front of the bar, whereas with the dumbbells they stay down and to the sides. This is so you don’t hit yourself in the face with the weights. Also, if you clean and press a barbell, you would start the move with the weight on the floor, but the bar stands much higher off the ground in the start position. Therefore, in the dumbbell version the start of the lift is when the bells are just below the knees. • Sit down in a squat – the depth is achieved by sitting rather than bowing (see exercise 22). • Hold the dumbbells end to end in front of your knees. • Initiate the movement with a swift straightening of the legs while at the same time lifting the weights up to shoulder height (the weights travel the shortest possible route, straight up vertically). At this point, if you are using heavy weights you may need to pause and regain balance. • To assist in pushing the weight up bend the legs again then, with a swift movement of the legs and the arms, push the dumbbells above your head. • To get back down for the next rep, just retrace the line the dumbbells went through on the way up. ! tricks of the trade This move is the most effective way of safely lifting a heavy weight above your head but it requires you to commit assertively to the move – even when you are learning the move with lighter weights, make sure that you attack each section. the best of the best This entire collection of moves are certainly need-to-know moves, but you want to perfect the classics in the previous section before getting carried away with these more complex moves. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the fitness industry began to realise the importance of rotation (transverse plane of motion) for the development of optimal functionality and performance, so until then most of the classic dumbbell moves worked through the straight symmetrical planes of motion, known as ‘sagittal’ and ‘frontal’. This is another of those situations where the public could be forgiven for thinking that all personal trainers had suddenly torn up the rule book because there was an immediate tendency for trainers to squeeze a bit of rotation movement into all weight lifting moves, mainly for effect. However, I like to think that it wasn’t that we were doing anything wrong, but that we were merely excited that we had just found the missing link for our strength programmes. Now the industry has embraced functional and core training you see almost the opposite situation: if an exercise isn’t classed as being functional, then it will soon fall out of favour. Some of the best of the best moves are also classics, so my apologies for mentioning them twice, but that’s the thing about classics – you never get bored of them. exercise 24 bent over one arm row stability strength integration Doing this move with one arm allows you to really rotate through the spine at the top of the movement. This means that instead of limiting the muscles used, you maximise the recruitment of core stabilisers in the torso and pelvis. • With a dumbbell in your right hand, stand in a split stance with your left foot forward. • Lower the dumbbell towards the floor, keeping your arm straight. • When you reach the bottom of the range of motion pull the weight up towards your shoulder, bending at the elbow, while at the same time turning your upper body (chest) away from the floor. • When you reach the top of the movement the dumbbell should be in line with your chest. • On the way back down don’t just let the weight drop – I cue people by saying that on the way up they should try to feel as if they are rolling the dumbbell up their body and on the way back down they should unroll the movement. ! tricks of the trade Should the spare hand be on your knee? Yes and no: neither is wrong, rather just different. However, making the move ‘hands off’ will give greater activation of the core as it tries to stabilise the torso and pelvis. exercise 25 bent over one arm raise stability strength power integration In my opinion, this is one of the superhero moves because when you do it, rather than being slow, controlled and compact, the bigger and more dramatic you make it the better it is. It may look similar to the bent over row, however, the feet are much wider apart because the dumbbell needs to come between the legs at the bottom of each repetition. • Start again with dumbbell in your right hand and left foot forward in a split stance. • The strength is coming from the deltoid, trapezius and a dozen other muscles. As you lift, a good mental cue to give yourself is that you want the raised working arm to finish shoulder width away from your ear rather than close to it. • Lowering the dumbbell under control is hard as all your instincts tell you to just let it drop, but don’t: you cannot defeat gravity, but try to stop it completely taking over. • Let the dumbbell swing back into the start position and go again. ! tricks of the trade If there is one move that people suck the life out of it is this one. There is no need to keep the rest of the body perfectly still; it took us a long time to realise that rotation was good for us, so now we do, get some from the torso at the start and finish of this move. exercise 26 bent over two arm raise stability strength power integration • Have your feet in a wide stance and turn them out so that you feel balanced. • Lean forwards by hinging at the hips rather than rounding your spine and hang the dumbbells above your feet. Hold the weights so that they touch end to end, so you have made a right angle with them. • Drive the weights through an arc so that when they reach the highest point your arms are in a ‘V’ above your head. • The weight is now a long way from the support (your feet) so lowering them under control is challenging, but try to match the up and down speed. ! tricks of the trade This move will sort the men out from the boys (and the girls from the women!). When you first try this move you may find you instinctively want to stand up. There’s nothing wrong with that, as instincts are good, but in order to direct the work into the targeted muscles you have to learn to stay down. A good way of doing this is to move the move before you load it so practise without weight, but also try it with your bottom leaning against a wall, as this will help you to condition yourself to stay down. exercise 27 tricep dip, dumbbell in lap stability strength power integration bench This move is a bit of a wild card, but if your aim is to target the triceps, then it is brilliant. It has the big bonus that it works the shoulder girdle in a very functional manner, which means that rather than isolating the arm to try and increase the intensity, we can also incorporate almost every muscle from the back of your head to the middle of the spine. The height of the bench or step needs to be enough to accommodate your range of motion – you don’t have to touch the floor with your bottom when you dip down. If you do go down excessively far, the nice ‘pulling sensation’ you feel on the front of your shoulder is the long head of your bicep tendon telling you that you have gone too far – so don’t do it: listen to your body, it knows best. • Sit on the edge of the bench, feet in front where you can see them. You now have two choices: keeping your hands close together will target predominately the triceps, or putting them wider apart will target the trapezius. • Rest the dumbbell securely on your lap, push up with your arms then drop straight down until just before the end of your range of motion and push back up again. • At the top of the move I really like to get a little extra squeeze from the muscles by ‘depressing’ my shoulders. You can only depress them a little but it works all those important muscles in the shoulders that you never hear about, like infraspinatus, teres major and teres minor.