Smart Guide to Dumbbells

This quick guide to strength training will help you keep and tone your muscles.


This is not an attempt to turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger or train you to compete in an Olympic weight-lifting event.

This story is for real people who lead real lives. People who want to stand a little taller, carry luggage with ease, and look good in a sleeveless shirt.

The fact is, if you are over 45 and are not in some kind of training program, you are losing an average of 5 to 7 pounds of muscle per decade. This loss of muscle can make such daily activities as walking the dog or gardening more of a rigorous chore.

But there is a way to make life a little easier. Studies show that through a simple weight-training program, much of your muscle strength can be maintained and even increased. And, believe it or not, you are never too old to see results.

Biceps Curl

A. Let your hands fall naturally to your sides with your palms forward, a weight in each hand.

B. Keeping your elbows planted close to your body, bring the weights up to your chest, squeezing your biceps muscle. Then lower weight back to your sides. Repeat 8-12 times. (You can alternate arms instead of doing both arms at once.)

Triceps: Kickback

A. Place your right knee on a chair and then lean over and rest your right hand on the chair for balance. Keep your left leg slightly bent. Holding a dumbbell in your left hand, place your left elbow close to your side with the dumbbell pointed toward the floor.

B. Keeping your elbow in place, extend your arm backward until it is almost straight. Be careful not to lock your elbow. Lower your forearm down but keep your elbow at your hip. Repeat 8-12 times, then switch sides.

Shoulder: Forward Raise

A. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, a slight bend in both knees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing the fronts of your thighs.

B. Lift one or both arms straight in front of you until your arms are level with your shoulders. Hold for a second or two, and then return to your side. Repeat 12-15 on each arm. (If this is too difficult at first, do one arm at a time.)

Bent Row

A. Place your right knee on a chair, then lean over and place your right hand on the chair for balance. Keeping your left leg slightly bent and your back flat, let your left hand hang parallel to your knee.

B. Bring your left hand to your hip, squeezing the shoulder blade (leading with the elbow so it's close to your body). Slowly return to the starting position. Imagine that you are trying to get a mower started. After 8-12 repetitions, switch sides and repeat.

The Fly

A. Lie on your back with knees bent and a pillow under your back and shoulders. Extend both arms straight up with palms facing in.

B. Slowly lower your arms out to the side, keeping your elbows slightly bent, until your elbows are just below your shoulders. Then, bring your arms back up to the starting position. Do this exercise 15 times. Once you improve, you can add more weight.

The Squat

A. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Let your arms fall naturally to your sides with a dumbbell in each hand.

B. Keeping your back flat, lower your back end as if you were going to sit on an imaginary chair, and then return to the start position. Make sure your knees are not blocking the view of your toes -- if they are, you need to shift your weight back some. Repeat 8-12 times.

Caution: Go down only until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Beginners and individuals with knee problems should first do this exercise without any weights.

The Lunge

A. From a standing position, step about 30 inches with your left foot. Keep your left foot flat and only the toes should support your right foot.

B. Bend your left knee until it is about parallel to the floor, keeping your knee above your ankle, not out in front of it. Push up and back with your left leg until your feet are in the starting position. Repeat 8-12 times on each leg.

It is not how much weight you lift, but how you lift. Exhale as you lift and inhale as you return to the starting position. You want to control the weight, not the other way around.

When shopping for dumbbells, try exercises with varied weights. The perfect weight is when you can complete 8, but no more than 12, repetitions in good form. It is important to use a weight that is heavy enough to exhaust your muscle. Many women start with 3- to 8-pound weights, and men usually start with 15- to 20-pound weights. A full-length mirror can help you see if you are doing the exercises right. Other tips:

Warm up. To prepare your body for the workload ahead, go for a 10- or 15-minute walk. This can help you avoid injury. Also, begin your workout with the large muscle groups, such as the chest and back. This allows smaller muscle groups -- the biceps, triceps, and shoulders -- to warm up while you are working the larger muscle groups.

Give it a rest. After completing a set, or a group of consecutive repetitions, wait one minute before you do the next set. Take several deep breaths between sets. When you schedule workouts, be sure to alternate days. Give your muscles between 24 and 48 hours to recover before the next workout begins.

Stretch. When you lift weights, you are literally breaking down muscle. Then your body rebuilds that muscle, making the resulting muscle stronger -- and sometimes tight and sore. Stretch until you feel some resistance from the muscle you are stretching and hold for 10 to 30 seconds (don't bounce).

See more moves for great arms from Fitness Magazine.

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