What is a Dumbbell Complex?
A dumbbell complex is a type of strength circuit where you complete 2, or more exercises with a dumbbell back to back with no rest without the dumbbell touching the ground. Dumbbell complexes can be used as a workout, or within a workout. For your reference, I added a more advanced Barbell Complex workout a couple weeks ago.
Dumbbell complexes are an advanced training method that should not be attempted by beginners.
There are some excellent benefits to doing dumbbell complexes:
Dumbbell Complex Workout Example
In this Dumbbell Complex example, I included two lower body exercises and two upper body exercises that hit different movement patterns. By including both upper and lower body exercises, the complex can be very aerobic as you’ll see when you try it.
Choose a weight you can curl & press overhead 10x. Complete 6 reps of each of the following exercises with no rest between sets. Complete 6 reps each side of forward lunges and 6 reps each side of alternating dumbbell curl & press. The dumbbell should not touch the ground from the time you pick it until after the last exercise. Beware this is a more advanced workout that requires great technique as you fatigue.
Dumbell Complex Exercise #1 | DB Front Squat
The dumbbell front squat is an exceptional exercise that requires your deep core musculature to help stabilize your body. Because the dumbbells are being held in front of your chest, your lower back and abs needs to help keep your torso upright as you squat, which works you core as much, or more than any abs exercise. You also receive the benefit of stimulating your leg muscles as well, and most guys never do enough leg work.
In the video, I’m squatting deeply well below parallel, but I’m still keeping my lower back straight. In fact, I’m squatting so low that my elbows are touching my knees. If you are unable to do this without rounding your back, don’t worry about it. Squat as low as you can comfortably. If you have lower back problems, a “goblet squat” is a better option where you only hold one dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands.
Dumbbell Complex Exercise #2 | DB Forward Lunges
There are two primary ways to complete a forward lunge:
1) Stepping out as far as you can comfortably
2) Stepping right in front of you
Both methods are correct as long as you are using proper form. The former I find is more advanced, which activates the glutes and requires more flexibility. The latter method is better if you are unable to keep your torso straights lunging further forward, or are unable to step all the way back to the starting position.
The forward lunge also requires power because you must push your body back to the starting position. You get strength, cardiovascular, and power benefits from this one simple exercise.
Dumbbell Complex Exercise #3 | DB Bent Over Row
There are two primary ways to complete a dumbbell row:
1) Both legs together, bending over at the hips
2) Split stance where one leg is in front of the other
The more common way is to do the former variation, which is absolutely fine. I chose the latter method because it’s a little easier for most people and there is more room for error (not that I want you using bad form!). Keep your back straight, head up, while pulling the dumbbells vertically from the ground in a smooth motion.
Dumbbell Complex Exercise #4 | DB Curl & Press
After your shoulders and arms are nice and warm from the DB Bent Over Row exercise, you will then complete alternating DB Curl & Presses. Your arms and shoulders, especially the front of your shoulder, will get a great muscle burn. Be sure to use an athletic stance by keeping your knees slightly bent.
When should I use Dumbbell Complexes?
I think there are two main options:
1) As a workout – You can choose a dumbbell complex that has 4-5 exercises in one and complete it for 5 cycles. That can make for a very short and intense workout.
2) End of a workout – You can use complexes as a metabolic circuit at the end of your workout to make your muscles scream and get a great sweat. Be sure to choose a light enough weight so that you are using perfect form at the end of a workout when you may not have as much focus because of decreased energy.
How do I choose the correct weight for Dumbbell Complexes?
Choose the exercise that is the hardest in the sequence and then choose a weight that you can complete 10-15x for that exercise. For example, if you are doing 6 reps of each exercise and the hardest exercise is an overhead shoulder press, you can choose a weight you normally can press 10-12x. As you complete more cycles, you’ll be very happy you chose a lighter weight!
How to choose the right Dumbbell Complex exercises?
When constructing a strength circuit using Dumbbell Complexes, you want to choose exercises that flow well and where the exercises demand a similar weight. Regarding the first point, you don’t want to be switching hand grips, stances, and body positions to much as you move from exercise to exercise.
My hands are killing me after a set of Dumbbell Complexes. Is this normal?
Yes. I find the hardest part of completing a dumbbell complex is just holding on to the dumbbell for a good 1-2 minutes, which is how long each complex can take. If your hand grips is simply giving out before you can really push yourself, you can consider using wrist straps to help keep your grip. I generally do not recommend wrist straps, but you can definitely consider them for dumbbell complexes.
If you give this dumbbell workout a try, let me know what you think!