The dumbbell is one of the most effective and versatile tools for everything fitness. You don’t need much space to get a good workout and you’re not tied down to training in any one spot either.
And that’s why core training is the perfect excuse to pull out the dumbbells because you can be mobile and still get an amazing workout.
So, Jeff Cavaliere (Athlean X) M.S.P.T, CSCS put together some really amazing exercises that you can do (as always) with a focus on Strength, Power, Hypertrophy, Metabolic, Total Body, Corrective, and Miscellaneous.
He explains that you should be using dumbbells if you want your best-looking abs possible so… here are some of the best dumbbell exercises with an explanation of each for a mean set of abs and obliques.
First off, Cavaliere explained how movements that involve raising the legs toward the body are usually more challenging than bringing your head toward your legs (e.g. leg raise compared to a crunch).
But, to increase the difficulty of the top-down movement (e.g. crunch) he offered the ‘Otis-up’ which basically involves trying to sit up from a lying down position while holding a dumbbell in the air and alternating hands each repetition.
Your legs should not be involved in the exercise which will require pure abdominal strength.
Then the next exercise is the ‘weighted dragon thruster’ to target bottom-up strength and the lower abdominals rather than the weighted leg raise which would work more of the hip flexors which is not ideal.
So, for the dragon thruster, you’ll lie down on your back and grip something behind you to anchor your body to the floor. Then, with a dumbbell between your feet, you’ll lift your pelvis off the floor and extend your legs out in front of you.
This will challenge the lower abs and help you to improve bottom-up strength.
Next up is a focus on improving your power and explosiveness rather than just performing an exercise against resistance. Cavaliere describes this as overcoming an external load with speed and explosiveness.
The exercise of choice is the ‘dumbbell twisting toe-tap’ which involves sitting on the floor and alternating touching the dumbbell to each toe by rotating your trunk to get a preload and stretch reflex of the core before lifting the dumbbell and lifting your leg for a challenging, explosive, and synchronized movement.
Cavaliere explained that we should seek to develop hypertrophy in our ab training and that it’s not something to avoid due to the common belief that these muscles will get too bulky.
So, training them with a deep eccentric (negative portion of the exercise) stretch and having to overcome this by using your core muscles in a slow and focused fashion is ideal for building up your abdominals.
But, he shows that using a physioball is the best way to accomplish this because it allows you to get a bigger stretch in the core muscles by being able to lean back farther than if you were just performing this exercise on the floor where your range of motion is limited.
The eccentric overload in combination with an intentional contraction through a full range of motion is the key to improving abdominal hypertrophy.
The metabolic component is when metabolites and lactic acid build up in the muscles and you feel like you really want to quit because of the burn in the muscles (we’ve all been there). Well, to improve metabolic conditioning we have to force through this discomfort to better extend our performance when it feels like we want to throw in the towel.
So, the chosen movement here is the ‘rock the boat’ where you get into a push-up position but you’ll grip a dumbbell with both hands and roll it side to side. This isometric exercise will not only work your core but it’ll improve anti-rotation and anti-extension.
But if you don’t want to do the ‘rock the boat,’ you can instead opt for the ‘hollow rock’ where you’ll lie on your back, hold a dumbbell overhead and rock back and forth using your core while maintaining a fixed body position.
Both options will really test your mental fortitude while improving your ability to resist giving in to the burn.
Jeff makes a good point for why he recommends the ‘dumbbell overhead walk‘ for not only the core but also for full-body stability. He says that anytime the body is elongated, you create a destabilization. But by simply walking around with two dumbbells which are a quarter of your bodyweight extended over your head, you’ll be forced to engage your core and body to maintain this posture.
So, simply hold two dumbbells over your head and walk around.
The corrective portion is intended to help stretch out the lower back which can often become tight due to overcompensation during certain movements.
Well, the ‘dumbbell ab roll-up‘ is a great option for remedying this issue because the dumbbell assists in the concentric portion, it helps to stretch the lower back and hamstrings, and you also get the eccentric challenge of having to control the weight of the dumbbell on the way down
You’ll lie on your back holding a dumbbell overhead and then you’ll sit all the way up and forward bringing the dumbbell in the same direction and in front of you to get a good back stretch. Then you’ll lie back down very slowly.
After you perform a set using a dumbbell, do a few reps without it to finish up and work on your flexibility.
One of Jeff’s personal favorites, the ‘weighted gymnast ab tuck‘ has many great factors that make it a must-have.
You get the bottom-up tuck and posterior pelvic tilt in addition to rotation for the obliques. The serratus anterior is also involved due to the upright stability of having to hold yourself into position on the Captain’s chair.
Plus, this exercise can be performed with a dumbbell between your feet for added resistance.
And that’s it! These exercises will take your core development to the next level.
Also, check out this beastly 30-day core workout routine.
Watch the full video below
And that truly is a wrap! Next time you train your core muscles, make sure to throw in a few or all of these movements and you’ll absolutely see progress not only aesthetically but functionally as well.
The use of a dumbbell is exceptional for adding resistance and the variety in these exercises will keep things interesting.