If the thought of lifting weights freaks you out or sends you running for the hills, never fear -- it's not as bad as it might look. Strength training doesn't have to mean lifting giant barbells or doing endless reps on the bench press. If you're just getting started, you'll get plenty of benefits from a simple set of dumbbells. They're inexpensive, portable and simple to use, making them great additions to your beginner weight-training routine. For each exercise, start with a set of 10 to 12 repetitions, adding a second set after a a few weeks of lifting two to three times a week.
Start out with a low dumbbell weight and work up as you build strength. Generally, you'll know you have an appropriate amount of weight when you are able to complete a full set of 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, and feel like it's tough to finish the last one or two reps. To get started, use a set of 1- to 5-pound dumbbells, focusing on proper technique. As you get confident with the moves, increase the size of the weight.
Stand with your feet close together and grasp a dumbbell in each hand, allowing the dumbbells to rest by your sides. Ensure that your fingers are gripping the middle of each dumbbell tightly and begin a dumbbell lunge. Keep your arms at your sides as you step forward with one foot, taking a large step nearly as far forward as you can step. At the same time, bend the back knee and allow it to lower within inches of the floor. Engage your core and butt as you push off with the front leg and come back up to standing. For the next repetition, step forward with the opposite leg.
Perform squat exercises while holding dumbbells. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and grasp a dumbbell in each hand, allowing the dumbbells to hover just above your shoulders without resting on them. Lower your buttocks down until you're in a "chair" position with your upper legs parallel to the floor and your lower legs perpendicular to the floor. Keep the dumbbells in the same position as you raise and lower your body.
Keep holding a dumbbell in each hand as you prepare for the bicep curl exercise. Rest the dumbbells in front of your thighs and face your palms outward from the front of your body. Curl your arms in until the dumbbells are nearly touching your shoulders, and then slowly and carefully lower them back down. A variation of the bicep curl is the "hammer curl," in which you start with your palms facing toward the sides of your thighs, and then lift the dumbbells toward your chest, keeping the end of the dumbbell facing outward.
Position your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp each "bell" -- or end -- of the dumbbell in one hand. Lift the dumbbell over your head and bring it to rest behind your neck, so your elbows are pointed up toward the ceiling. Brace your abdominals as you press the dumbbell upward until your arms are straight and the dumbbell rests somewhere over your head. Slowly and carefully lower your arms back down behind your neck. This is called the tricep extension.
- When you're just getting started on any new fitness routine, consider working with a strength coach or personal trainer at your local gym. A trainer can provide motivation and can help you work on proper technique, so you're getting the most out of each lifting session.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.