penny barnshaw garage fitness girl

5 Tips for Making Exercise Harder With Just a Set of Dumbbells


Many people love working out with dumbbells; they build strength but aren’t too bulky to be stored in the home, and they can make workouts much more enjoyable. But even when you have dumbbells to work with, you can still plateau in terms of your fitness goals. Luckily, there are some simple ways you can make your exercise harder – and therefore more effective – just by making some very small changes to how you use your dumbbells.

Try these 5 tips so that you can get maximum bang for your buck when working out with dumbbells.

#1 Slow down

Slow it down! Make each repetition harder by counting for 3 seconds in the descent (eccentric phase) and finishing off at normal speed. This will increase the time the muscle is under tension, and target the slow twitch muscle fibres, which will help build endurance and resilience to fatigue. It also helps ensure you’re using the correct muscles when you’re working out, as sometimes people who go too quickly can be using muscles they didn’t intend to work (e.g. in a bicep curl you could unknowingly put your back into it). Slowing down is an excellent way to really feel the burn without even increasing the weight of your dumbbells.

#2 Increase your range of motion

Maximize the growth potential of your muscles by increasing the range you take it through when performing an exercise. Anytime you have to move further away to complete a movement, the harder it is. Try propping your back foot up when doing Bulgarian lunges, propping your heels up when you’re doing a deadlift, or do your standard push-ups on dumbbells to increase range and add that extra level of difficulty.

#3 Pause

Boost your strength and power by pausing in the middle of the exercise. You might not be able to lift as heavy but you will have to use all your muscular strength to complete the lift, meaning you get more explosive and powerful. Give it a try and let me know how you go! You’ll really notice the difference.

#4 Mix up your grip

What grip you use matters more than you think. The grip you choose basically controls where you’re going to feel the exercise and what muscles you actually work. Try out an underhand vs overhand grip, neutral grip (palms facing each other), or a combination of one over and one under. This will ensure different muscles are getting worked and will make your workouts more challenging and effective.

#5 Reduce stability

When your body requires more stability, it has to work harder.  Stability training is also great for strengthening our often neglected smaller stabilizer muscles, improving joint stability and improving power output. Add a stability ball to movements like chest press or pullovers to increase core strength and glute and hamstring engagement, or try out single leg squats or deadlifts to build power and durability from the core to the legs. Please be careful though – if you’re not confident with your form or if you’re using weights that are too heavy, reducing stability can lead to injury.

Which of these tips are you going to try to make your workouts more effective? I’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like to do some follow-along workouts with me, make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel and tick the notification bell, so you never miss a new workout. You can also sign up for workout calendars that I send out for free every month, and feel free to follow me on Instagram and Facebook where I share loads of new workouts and ideas.

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