50 Ways to Lift a 50lb. Dumbbell- well, sort of

I have an old-school thick handled 50 pound iron dumbbell which was given to me by an old friend when I worked in a hospital as an exercise physiologist. In the clinic where I worked there was a fairly long corridor which made its way into the open exercise room and it was within that hallway that I saw “Frank” making his way to the telemetry station. Both his hands were firmly wrapped around the dumbbell handle and because of its weight and lopsided position it caused him to walk with a stagger; like he had one too many drinks. It was a classic moment.

Nevertheless, I use that dumbbell often and I would like to share with you some of the exercises I perform with it.

Many moons ago I would of never fathomed performing some of the movements which I am going to describe to you. For me it was lift heavy or don’t lift at all. Don’t fall into this mindset/trap. Use a plethora of exercises to hit “hard to reach muscles.” It’s also never a bad idea to flush the muscles with much needed blood. Enjoy! 

Oh! I forgot to mention. Of the dumbbell mentioned above, I only have one. Therefore all exercises mentioned below are performed mostly one-hand style.


The List

Shoulder Press

Because the dumbbell is light for me, I will perform an endless set of reps with it. When I reach a point of fatigue, I may continue with push presses. If you want to go even further, that is when you can’t push press it up anymore, you can jerk the weight overhead. One-arm lifting is a must in anyone’s lifting regimen.

Side Bends

The core musculature is worked nicely with the side bend. The erector spinae, obliques, quadratus lumborum, and the rectus abdominus are the muscles targeted with this movement. Do not exclude this movement from your training, you will be sorry if you do.

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

The stiff-leg deadlift is a great exercise to stretch and strengthen the hamstrings and glutes simultaneously. It’s also a very good lower back strengthener. Use caution however. Your response to the exercise may be different than mine. Consider yourself forewarned. If the weight is light, there should be no danger to the lumbar spine area. Also, Bengt Stefan Fernholm, “The World’s Fastest Big Man,” believes it to be the most important lift for developing speed. Now there’s something to think about.

Stiff-Leg Deadlift to Shoulder Raise Overhead

I like to think that I made this exercise up… but I’m sure I didn’t. I begin with a stiff-leg deadlift from the arm-hang position. When I arrive back to the erect/vertical position, I commence to raise the weight with a stiff arm overhead; the entire body should be rigid as well. You can return the weight the same as it was lifted overhead or you can merely drop the weight down to your shoulders then back to the arm-hang position. That was one rep.

More muscles are hit here than an Ultimate Fighting championship. The all-important posterior chain muscles are worked nicely here; as well as the abdominal muscles. Give it a try! You won’t be disappointed.

Bent-Leg Deadlift with a Twist

I can hear the screams already. Calm down. Here is where I make my stand and will boldly make myself heard.

We have an exercise cult running around that in my opinion are espousing nonsense. They have completely thrown the baby out with the bath water and veered themselves into absurdity.

Round back lifting and abdominal flexion, to name a couple, are taking a beating unlike any other movement patterns performed today.

Round back lifting has become a blasphemy in the fitness world and I do understand most people’s reservations about it. However I do believe that many lifts/movements can and should be performed with a round back. If the low back is, or has been strengthened properly, then there should be no problems doing it. Let’s take for example any strength athlete around the world “worth their salt.” Be it powerlifting, strongman completions, Highland games, etc (I do admit that you will not typically see it in Olympic weightlifting, just trying to keep the thread honest) most practitioners perform the lifts in round back style. Don’t believe me? Just go to Youtube and see for yourself. Strangely, I have witnessed many defenders and members of the anti-rounding club tucking their sacrum bone deep between their legs when performing heavy lifts. It’s almost unavoidable.

As for the anti-flexion cult, I will state my point with a true story then I will allow you to form your own opinion.  

There once was a weightlifting practitioner who gladly jumped onto the anti-flexion bandwagon. He completely eliminated all exercises which allowed for bending of the spine. Until one day after performing some bench presses he found himself unable to get up off of the bench because of “non-functional” abdominal muscles.   

Plot of the story? The physical condition of the performer dictates how safe and effective certain exercises will be.

Back to the exercise.

With soft knees bend over and bring the weight down so that it touches the floor on the opposite side of the foot. To be more clear, if you are holding a dumbbell in your right hand then you should touch the floor on the outside of your left foot. I also like to keep my feet butted together.

One-Hand Swing

This exercise is topnotch and I highly recommend you do them. The glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, abs, and anterior deltoids to name a few are worked most vigorously with this exercise. If you want whole body power or muscular endurance or cardiovascular fitness then I would seriously consider this all-around powerhouse of a movement. John Grimek stated on paper once that, “employing either of the swing lifts (one and two hand) is one sure way of avoiding back trouble before it starts, and either of the swing lifts are excellent for strengthening and conditioning the back.” Increased grip strength is another benefit of this lift.

When performing this exercise, I recommend duplicating the illustration below. The “attack the zipper” execution method proponed today may be ok for those who have weak lower backs, however when that area becomes strong, I would then follow suit a la Mark Berry style. Increased range of motion and more muscular involvement is never a bad thing, usually.


Arm Curl

I’m not a devoted practitioner of supinated curls but I have ramped up my hammer curl and pronated curl efforts in order to develop Popeye-like forearms. Grip strength has become a sought-after commodity for me thus the incorporation of said exercises above.  

Arm Extension

Nothing fancy here folks. One hand or two just grab the weight and start pumping out reps. At times, when I tire and can no longer lift the weight, I will use some leg drive, like in the push press, to impel the weight up.

One-Hand Snatch

One-arm lifts of all kinds bring into play and develop the muscles of the obliques muscles to a great extent. Most modern physical culturists are weak on the waist side of their bodies. Listen to what Louie Simmons had to say on this very topic:

“The internal and external obliques play a great role in stabilizing the hips, and they initiate straightening the legs in the deadlift. Years ago, when powerlifters could deadlift more than they squatted, the obliques were often much more developed than they are today. Lifters use to do side presses and one-armed deadlifts to develop the obliques.”

Just some food for thought.

The globe type dumbbell that I use to perform the one-hand snatch is a bit light but upon performing many repetitions, an invigorating workout is obtained. I won’t get into the mechanics of the movement just do a little research on the web for suggestions.

Straight-Leg Sit-Up

Fix the dumbbell on your chest and go to town. I love this exercise. Firstly, I love it because “you are not supposed to do it;” see rant above. Secondly, it gets the job done.  Insert Bruce Lee quote here. If this exercise irritates your back, then strengthen your abdominals with another exercise. Once they have been properly strengthened, return to the straight-leg sit-up.

Calf Leap

Like the rest of the body, the calves grow better under the stimulus of great variety. If you are an athlete, then I advise you to proceed with caution. Heed not to resorting to only bodybuilding methods when working your calves, it will have a negative effect on your play. Incorporate ballistic exercises like the one mentioned below.

Draw out or simply imagine that you are in the middle of a 3×3 grid. That is two crossing vertical and horizontal lines with the perimeter lines forming a square/box. Mark the boxes, mentally or physically, from one to nine. Now you yourself or another will call out a number and you will leap to it. Jump around in ALL DIRECTIONS until you are thoroughly worked. Single-leg or double it doesn’t matter, just mix it up.

One-Arm Dumbbell Squat to Shoulder Press

I consider this exercise more of a conditioning one. Grab a dumbbell and “affix” it to one side of your shoulder, squat down deep, then ascend up to vertical and drive the weight up overhead. Repeat. Your arm will fatigue well before your legs do; just switch the weight to the other hand and continue the movement until projectile vomiting occurs or coroners show up to your front door.

Well folks this blog entry is running longer than anticipated therefore I will end it here. Did I give you 50 dumbbell exercises? Not even close, but I did like the sound of the title. Stay tuned for more exercises in the near future.

Thanks for reading!




Works Cited

Grimek, John. “The Dumbbell Swing.” The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban, 06 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 July 2012. <http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2012/03/dumbbell-swing-john-grimek.html&gt;.

Simmons, Louie. “Overcoming Plateaus Part 2: THE DEADLIFT.” Louie Simmons. Strength Online, n.d. Web. 29 July 2012. <http://www.deepsquatter.com/strength/archives/ls22.htm&gt;.