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Fundamental fitness: dumbbells

The expert: Darryl Whiting, group fitness instructor at Equinox locations and PROJECT by Equinox in New York City

The interpretation:

When Whiting, a former NFL player, was in the league, his workouts focused primarily on sagittal-plane movements such as squats and bicep curls.

Twists and lateral exercises in the transverse and frontal planes, however, were mostly neglected. In turn, muscles like the abductors and obliques went largely untrained. The resulting imbalances contributed to nagging back pain that lasted for years.

When Whiting became a group fitness instructor in 2017, he stopped powerlifting and instead focused on mobility, flexibility, and core strength. Another change he implemented: Dumbbells and kettlebells became strength session headliners over the barbell.

“These types of free weights are convenient because they don’t take up a lot of space and they allow you to move efficiently in all planes," says Whiting, who is no longer plagued by pain. 

Because of these benefits, his fundamental movements routine features dumbbells, and dumbbells only. In it, you’ll venture into the transverse, sagittal, and frontal planes.

The workout:

Perform 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps of the below moves as a circuit, resting 60 seconds between each set. Do it 2 to 3 times per week for best results, using weights that are challenging but allow you to complete every rep with proper form. (Whiting typically follows it with cardio.)

Vertical push: Windmill

Stand with feet at shoulder-width, left arm by your side, and right arm pressed overhead holding a dumbbell. Look up at the dumbbell and hinge at the hips until your left hand reaches your left foot. (You should feel rotation through your spine.) You can bend at the left knee, but keep the right leg straight throughout. Reverse the motion to return to start for one rep. Complete all reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Vertical pull: Pull-over with bridge

Lie faceup on a mat with knees bent, feet planted at hip-width, and arms extended overhead holding a dumbbell with both hands. Simultaneously lift your hips to form a straight line from shoulders to knees and bring the dumbbell above your chest, keeping a slight bend in the elbows throughout. Reverse the motion to return to start for one rep.

Horizontal push: Chest press with rotation and leg extension

Lie faceup on a mat with knees bent, shins parallel to the ground, arms bent by your sides, and a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing your feet. Simultaneously extend your legs and press the dumbbells straight up, internally rotating your arms so the palms face the opposite direction at the top of the movement. Reverse the motion to return to start for one rep.

Horizontal pull: Lateral lunge to bent-over row

Stand with feet at hip-width holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. In one fluid motion, perform a lateral lunge to the right, hinge at the hips (so your arms are on either side of your right leg), and row the dumbbells up to your chest. Reverse the motion to return to start for one rep. Complete all reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Hips: Swing to snatch

Stand with feet wider than shoulders, right arm extended by your side, and left arm pressed overhead holding a dumbbell. With a straight spine, hinge at the hips, bend the knees, and swing the dumbbell between your legs. In one fluid motion, drive through the hips and knees to stand tall, bring the dumbbell out in front of you with a slight bend in the elbow, then drive it overhead for one rep. Complete all reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Knees: Halo to curtsy lunge

Stand with feet at shoulder-width holding a dumbbell with both hands in front of you, arms extended down. Moving clockwise, circle the dumbbell up and around your head, then simultaneously lower the dumbbell to start and perform a curtsy lunge with the left leg. (During the lunge, the dumbbell will be to the left of the right leg.) Reverse the lunge to return to start for one rep. Complete all reps, then switch sides (and directions) and repeat.

Core: Teaser

Lie faceup on a mat with legs straight and arms extended overhead. Simultaneously raise your legs, torso, and arms until your body forms a V. Slowly lower back to start for one rep. For an added challenge, hold a dumbbell between your feet.

Photography by Mohamed Sadek

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