Dumbbell Training for Athletes: Building Strength, Muscle & Power


Dumbbell training is one of the most under utilized training tools for athletes and even bodybuilders.

I explain to athletes on the regular, if someone uses dumbbells instead of a barbell, the use of the barbell does NOT guarantee the athlete will be a better athlete. Strong is Strong. Period. End of Story.

At the time of this article, I am 3 weeks into training the high school Football Team with about 40 freshman. None of them have touched a barbell yet. It's been ALL bodyweight and dumbbells, bands and Kettlebell farmer walks.

Below is a sample training session the freshman went through this week:

First, they warmed up thoroughly with our movement prep, basic jumps and hand walking. We go through this warm up in depth at The SSPC Certification.

Then, the boys did the following:

1A) KB Farmer Walk x 100 ft

1B) Flat DB Bench x 5 reps (Would normally do more reps, but limited space, equipment require less reps to keep the athletes moving efficiently)

1C) Squat Jumps x 5

2A) 1 Arm DB Push Press x 5 / 5

2B) DB Hammer Curls x 5

2C) Band Pull Aparts x 10 / 10

This is just a sample. The weight room is EXTREMELY crowded, I am talking sometimes 80 athletes in a weight room with just me coaching.

Hence the low reps, the simple selection of exercises and also, not much variation until I see some control over the exercises with dumbbells and bodyweight.

Soon enough, their body will respond and adapt by getting stronger. From there, the added exercise variations will begin to increase.

Some favorite dumbbell exercises for athletes are listed below:

  • Benching from all angles: Incline (low, mid, high), flat and floor press
  • Clean & Press
  • Push Press
  • Row
  • Shrugs
  • Overhead Carry
  • Farmer Walk
  • Power Curls
  • Lying Triceps Extensions
  • Walking Lunges / Reverse / Forward / Lateral Lunges
  • Goblet Squat
  • Step Ups

Outdoors with LIGHT dumbbells, THROWING dumbbells for power from various angles.

When Covid hit and my high school athletes could not use the weight room, I took athletes outside. They took 1 or 2 dumbbells or kettlebells. Our training was DB or KB work, jumps, calisthenics, sprints.

We got it done.

Video footage is posted inside The Underground Strength Academy HERE.

Louie Simmons often times speaks of their regular use with dumbbells. High rep training with dumbbells is performed after ME or DE training to build muscle, tendon and ligament strength (durability).

Don't negate the dumbbell training, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced athlete / lifter, dumbbells can AND will get you better.

Basics for the WIN.

The Underground Strength & Sports Performance Manual

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