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15 Underused Dumbbell Exercises every CrossFit Athlete should Add into their Training (Suitable for Home WODs)

These Underused Dumbbell Exercises are perfect for CrossFit and functional athletes that want to build their body and performance in new ways

These underused Dumbbell Exercises are a great way to build strength, mobility, muscle and skill for CrossFit. 

Stuck at home with no chance of getting near a CrossFit box for some time? Don’t worry! It doesn’t mean the end of your workouts.

In fact, think of it as a way of spicing up your current training regime. Incorporate some new movements and refine exercises that you’re already familiar with. All you need is a dumbbell (no barbells needed) to create a WOD to be proud of. Let’s take a look at some home CrossFit dumbbell movements you can do in your own living room, hotel gym, or backyard with just a single dumbbell.

Lift with your weakest movement and see what your limit is. Let’s say single-arm dumbbell snatch is one of your weaker exercises. Whatever weight you can manage 10-12 reps with should be the dumbbells category you buy, borrow, or make.

Browse through the following underused dumbbell exercises and find the ones that will help you achieve your goals. 

Underused Dumbbell Exercises

1. Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch High Pull

This is a unilateral loading approach to training speed through hip extension as well as incorporating some upper back and rotator cuff work in one movement. This can be an effective drill for athletes who are trying to learn the mechanics of the Snatch and need practice with timing of hip extension and upper body pulling engagement. The dominant movement here is an aggressive hip extension followed by the upper pull.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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2. Single Arm Dumbbell Deadlifts

Taking conventional patterns like the deadlift and performing them with only one side of your body loaded is a quick and easy way to add in rotational strength work. The concept here is ANTI-rotation. With one side only loaded the body will have a tendency to want to rotate. By executing quality reps that are balanced and symmetrical you are in essence training your rotational muscles by NOT rotating.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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3. Trap Three Raise

The trapezius muscle has multiple different actions. One of which is to depress the shoulder blade through the contraction of the lower 1/3 of the muscle. This is what we are aiming to train in this particular exercise. The goal is to keep the shoulder blade down while taking the arm through the demonstrated range of motion. Do not elevate the shoulder blade by contracting the upper trap.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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4. Standing Filly Press

The Filly Press comes in many forms. This version is performed standing. The same rules apply. Load the off arm with a KB in a proper rack position as demonstrated here. The opposite arm is performing a single arm DB Arnold press and must fully supinated and pronate on every rep. The KB that is in the non working arm is designed to help build great rack strength and scapular endurance. The two loads don’t have to be the same.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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5. Mixed Front Rack Suitcase DB Carry

One of the best ways to build a strong upper back and shoulders is using carries. Grab 2 moderately heavy to heavy weights and start walking.

One advantage to using dumbbells instead of kettlebells is that there is a slight grip advantage due to the grip pattern of the dumbbell and skinnier handle.

Try 50/35 lbs per hand and go for 20m on each position. 3 sets at the beginning of your session will light up your core and get your blood flowing.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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6. Dumbbell Kang Squat

Squat days sometimes require some added mobility drills to create smoother reps and prevent injury to the hips, knees, and lumbar spine. So grab a dumbbell 10-30 lbs will do the trick (depending on your ability) and perform these in your warm up during squat days:

Warm Up:

5/side Quadrupedal Hip CAR’s
10/side Single Leg Glute Bridge
6-8 Dumbbell Kang Squats 3131
3 Burpee High Jump
x 3 sets

 

 
 
 
 
 
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7. CrossBody DB Jefferson Curl

This is simply an active mobility movement. The goal is not to develop high levels of strength or necessarily build in load over time with the exercise. The twisting and rounding of the spine under load can present plenty of injury risk and should most always be avoided.

However, I always say that if you are going to ever experience something in life, like a loaded flexed and twisted spine (which we all will), then you better practice it in a controlled environment first.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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8. Dumbbell Front Squats

One of my favorite ways to test rack stability for the Front Squat is this challenging variation with dual dumbbells. You’ll see pretty quickly that you won’t be moving the same load as you have the potential to with a traditional Barbell Front Squat, due to the added stability requirement of individual weights.

Maintaining a good rack position for the dumbbells with be the limiting factor for most individuals, rather than lower body strength. With this in mind, it can be beneficial to pair this movement with leg pump exercise (like split squats for example)

✅ Try this as a more advanced training method:

A1 Dumbbell Front Squats 32X1; 6-8 Reps; rest 60sec x 3
A2 RNT Suitcase Split Squat 21X1; 10-12 Reps; rest 60sec x 3

 

 
 
 
 
 
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9. Underused Dumbbell Exercises – Side Lying Dumbbell External Rotation

Finding more ways to prioritize external rotation of the shoulder in training is something we work on a lot here at FBB. There is an overwhelming amount of internal rotation in training and life as it is, so getting clients to balance this with exercises like this is key.

As a training suggestion, 3 days a week work in some small muscle scapular external rotation to help counteract over development of internal rotation.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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10. Underused Dumbbell Exercises – Single Arm Dumbbell Split Jerk

While most athletes have a dominant foot that they split forward with when they jerk, the SA DB Split Jerk is a great way to work on your side to side coordination and balance since you should be switching the lead leg depending on which arm is loaded.

One side will likely feel more awkward than the other and that is OK. Use this as a brain drill more so than a big strength drill. Pair with your favorite upper body pulling exercise.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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11. Single-Arm DB Suitcase Reverse Lunges

Unilateral loading? Why? As a simple progression from bilateral loading, single-arm loading will allow us to build in some coordinated rotational strength with our desire movement pattern strengthening.

The unilateral suitcase loaded lunge will yield a powerful rotational strength component. Give it a shot for sets of 10-12/side on a squat day as supplemental work!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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12. Underused Dumbbell Exercises – DB Floor Press

No bench, no problem. Use this move to overcome bench plateau’s by building strength in the top 3rd of the range of motion.

Try a pausing tempo that forces a full stop/start. Notice how difficult this makes the lift! For a linear ? progression, shorten the tempo by removing the isometric pause at the bottom (4″1″X1 -> 40X1) and then speeding up the eccentric phase (40X1 ->30X1 -> 20X1).

This will allow you to build to heavier loads toward the end of the cycle!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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13. Dumbbell Elbowing Row

This DB row variation specifically has the elbow pull out to the side at a 90 degree angle to the torso.

In doing so it targets more the scapula and rear deltoid. Isolate in order to become a more complete functional lifter.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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14. Alternating Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

The alternating dumbbell chest press is something we have been incorporating into programs for years now. The value of working both sides of the body in slightly different cadences and patterns is teaching the brain to smooth the transition and maintain a high level of coordination under load and stress.

From a body standpoint, the benefits and value come in the way of increased time under tension of each side as we alternate. The “non-working” arm that is isometrically contracted is still under tension and working.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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15. Underused Dumbbell Exercises – Renegade Row

This push and pull combination exercise is also a fantastic core movement as it demands a lot of your anterior core muscle to avoid extension in the low back. There is also a rotational core element too that occurs each time the Dumbbell is lifted off the floor. Perform this alone as a strength movement or in combination with a breathing tool like the Bike for a conditioning workout.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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