What You Can Learn From Ditching The Barbell And Training With Dumbbells For A Month
Think dumbbells aren’t enough? That you couldn’t possibly achieve your fitness goals with just a pair of dumbbells?
Dumbbells aren't as “cool.”
You can’t lift as heavy with them.
Wouldn’t using just a pair of dumbbells for training get… boring?We get it. People often underestimate what a pair of dumbbells can do for their fitness and consistency. Using only a single pair of dumbbells just doesn’t seem like it would be enough for anything.
MOST SP members already know where we are going with this, but let's talk some barbell vs. dumbbell facts for anyone who thinks that dumbbells aren't enough for the kind of training YOU need.
The versatility of a pair of dumbbells is hard to surpass as a training tool. In fact, you can achieve a very high level of strength, endurance, stamina, and coordination by only ever using dumbbells.
At Street Parking we believe this wholeheartedly, which is why for the month of April, the coaches, team, and community puts our “money where our mouth is” and shows that we believe in our message and program by only using dumbbells for the ENTIRE month.
We call it “Project April,” an unofficial, yearly challenge for anyone to build confidence in believing that if all you EVER had was a pair of dumbbells, it ABSOLUTELY would be enough.
Here is what we think YOU can learn from ditching your barbell for an entire month while using only a pair of dumbbells:
1. DUMBBELLS ARE VERSATILE
Dumbbells are the most versatile piece of gym equipment that you can use.
Anything that can be done with a barbell can also be done with a pair of dumbbells. In fact, you will be able to do a wider variety of movements using ONLY dumbbells. Full body, unilateral, isolation, tempo, explosive — you name it.
You can perform full-body movements like:
- Dumbbell Swing
- Dumbbell Deadlift
- Devil Press
- Dumbbell Thruster
You can then take these same movements and turn them into unilateral (single arm/single leg) movements by doing:
- Single Arm Dumbbell Swing
- Single Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
- Single Arm Devil Press
- Single Arm Dumbbell Thruster
Do you see how the variety of movements is already expanding?
You can perform several isolation movements to build strength such as bicep curls, bent over rows, and tricep extensions. Incorporating carries like the farmers carry, shoulder rack carry, and overhead carry is a great way to build midline strength and stability.
Not only are there various TYPES of movements, but you have options to apply a different STYLE of workout from high to low intensity, from ballistic to slow and controlled.
You will never be limited by the movements you can do with dumbbells or the style of your workout. The opportunities are ENDLESS, which is why we put dumbbells at the top of our list as being one of the most IMPORTANT pieces of training equipment.
2. DUMBBELLS ARE MORE ACCESSIBLE
Compared to a barbell, dumbbells are much more accessible and easier to get your hands on.
Dumbbells don’t require a lot of space. You can find them in almost any hotel gym, throw a pair in your car for a weekend vacation, or have a pair sitting in your living room for a quick workout.
They also have a lower barrier of entry, meaning when it’s time for your training, you won’t have to spend as much time warming up and then getting your barbell out and weights loaded. We still recommend doing a warm up when using only dumbbells, but it takes far less time.
There will be seasons of life when you need fitness to be SO accessible that it seems “too easy.” We know that’s a loose term — it's not actually going to be easy, but this is how we allow our perspective and belief in fitness to change from an “all or nothing” mindset to a “more than nothing” mindset.
3. DUMBBELLS WILL GIVE YOUR A NEWFOUND STRENGTH
Dumbbells are one of the best ways to increase strength… and we aren’t necessarily talking about increasing your 1 rep maxes.
While it is true that it’s difficult to build ABSOLUTE strength with a pair of dumbbells, don't make the mistake of believing that a heavy barbell is the ONLY way to get strong.
The neuromuscular demand, coordination, and balance required when using dumbbells will have HUGE transfers to strength gains.
Here are 3 ways you can improve strength by using only dumbbells:
- Dumbbells require you to stabilize each dumbbell independently, thus increasing muscle activity. Even at lower resistance or less weight your muscles will have to work harder than if you were to use a barbell at the same weight. Many powerlifters will tell you that implementing dumbbell movements like the single leg deadlift, lunges, step ups, tricep extensions, overhead press, etc., are critical for targeting some of the weaker and smaller muscle groups that often lead to gradual and consistent strength gains.
- Unilateral movements are common with dumbbells and one of the best ways to correct any strength imbalances that you might have. Movements like the single arm press, single leg deadlift, or single side squat will help keep your body evenly balanced from right to left. Regularly implementing these movements into your training will be key to staying bulletproof and injury free, which of course allows you to stay consistent.
- Dumbbells allow you to move through greater ranges of motion. For example, doing a dumbbell deadlift will bring you closer to the floor than a barbell deadlift, doing a dumbbell bench press will bring the weight lower on your chest than it would with a barbell. The greater the range of motion that you move weight through, the greater the number of muscle fibers that get called into play — hence, the strength gains.
Fun fact: Many of our members have experienced countless PRs in major lifts by only working out with dumbbells for a few months. The strength and coordination gained by using dumbbells is FAR more than most people realize!
4. DUMBBELLS CHALLENGE YOU BOTH MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY
There is a common misconception that working out with dumbbells is “easier” than working out with a barbell.
“Dumbbells are for beginners, they're not as hard, you can’t lift as heavy with them, etc.” We’ve heard it all, and we know this is the farthest thing from being true. Not only from our personal experience — but let’s be honest, we all have movements that we would rather do with a barbell than with dumbbells.
Cough, cough… dumbbell power cleans (or insert your least favorite dumbbell movement here).
Now, it IS true that dumbbells are great for beginners and scalable to ANY fitness level, but the trick is knowing where you're at with your fitness so that you can appropriately challenge yourself with weight, bigger sets and movements.
Here are 3 really simple ways that you can challenge with dumbbells:
1. GO HEAVIER! Use weight that scares you just enough but allows you to move safely, efficiently, and keeps you finishing within the goal time/reps of any workout.
Knowing what dumbbell weights to start with will be highly dependent on your current level of fitness, but here are a few suggestions:
If you have been training for a while but don't have much experience with dumbbells, consider starting with:
- Men: 40-45# Dumbbells
- Women: 25-30# Dumbbells
If you’ve been in the fitness game for a while and are familiar with dumbbells, you might consider using:
- Men: 50# Dumbbells
- Women: 35# Dumbbells
- Men: 15-35# Dumbbells
- Women: 8-20# Dumbbells
NOTE: Our strongest Street Parking athletes (including prior Games athletes) RARELY use anything heavier than 50# Men/35# Women.
2. HOLD ON! Literally. When you're doing a workout, challenge yourself to hold onto bigger sets. For example, if the workout has 20 push presses per round and you would normally break this into 2 sets, challenge yourself and see if you can do all 20 reps in a row. Not only is this going to improve your overall fitness, but with certain movements you will find your grip strength, work capacity (stamina), and strength increasing.
3. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE! Challenge yourself with movements that are different from what you might typically do. Movements like the Turkish get-up, single arm overhead lunge, or a single arm overhead squat are going to require more focus, coordination, and balance. These movements will slow things down which can be challenging if you are used to routinely pushing the speed and pace of our movement.
Only you know your fitness level and what is going to be hard and challenging for you. Just remember the opportunities to challenge yourself both mentally and physically with a pair of dumbbells are ENDLESS!
5. DUMBBELLS ARE MORE APPLICABLE TO REAL LIFE
Learning to move two dumbbells through space at the same time is more similar to real life demand than a barbell.
The barbell is more balanced. It lays perfectly across your back or chest, whereas each dumbbell will move independently through space and require more balance and coordination.
Think of it this way. Moving two dumbbells is more similar to carrying two kids in your arms at once while one kid is trying to scramble out, or when you're determined to make only one trip with all your groceries as the bags hit the sides of your leg with each step.
Keeping your fitness applicable to real life will not only improve your daily life but will strengthen your ability to adapt to new situations, leaving you primed and ready for whatever life throws your way!
Interested in learning what will happen if you only train with dumbbells for a full month?
Join us for Project April: the month where we just use dumbbells for our daily workouts. Whether you’ve grown fondly attached to your barbell, or you haven’t taken the leap to believing that working out with just a pair of dumbbells is enough — this challenge is for you.