When you’re determined to make big strength gains – and improve your physique to boot – but are short of free time in which to train, it can feel like mission impossible. The truth is that you can get stronger and leaner in a relatively short amount of training time, but only if you spend those precious minutes perfectly. And that’s exactly what this dumbbell complex circuit, designed by top trainer Olli Foxley of W10 Performance, is all about, providing the maximum bang for your buck in the minimum time and space.
“Dumbbell complexes are a fantastic way to train all of the major movement patterns in a short space of time, which will really elevate your heart rate,” says Foxley. “When doing a variety of moves back to back, using dumbbells is often a better option than a barbell for strength and conditioning gains because you’re using a lighter total load so you won’t suffer from form-ruining fatigue.”
How to do it
Do five reps of each move in order without resting in as you transition between them. After the final move, rest for two minutes, then repeat the circuit following exactly the same formula. Do five rounds in total, then collapse into a satisfied and sweaty heap.
1 Dumbbell hang high pull
Stand tall with your chest up and abs braced, holding a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip. Hinge forwards from your hips, keeping your legs straight, to lower the weights to about knee height, then go into triple extension – pushing your hips forwards and going up on to tiptoes – while pulling the dumbbells up to shoulder height. Reverse the movement back to the start.
Expert tip “The dumbbell hang high pull is a great move for building explosive power because using dumbbells reduces the range of the move,” says Foxley. “This makes it technically easier to perform while still working your body through triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints.”
2 Dumbbell front squat
Stand tall, holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your chest up and your abs engaged. Bend your knees to initiate the move and squat down, keeping your chest up and the weights in position, until your hip crease is below the level of your knees. Drive back up through your heels to return to the start position.
Expert tip “Holding the weights in front of you shifts the emphasis more to the quads and forces all your stabilising muscles, including your core, to work hard to manage the weight. It’s a great move by itself, but also has tremendous cross-over benefits to how strong you are in the barbell back squat.”
3 Dumbbell push press
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height. Keep your chest upright and your core muscles braced. Lower into a quarter squat, then stand back up powerfully and press the weights directly upwards until your arms are fully straight. Then return to the start.
Expert tip “This is the toughest move in the complex, so the weight you can lift for this exercise will determine which set of dumbbells you use for the circuits. That’s why it’s a push press rather than a strict overhead press because the quarter squat will generate a bit of momentum and allow you to lift slightly heavier.”
4 Press-up renegade row
Start in a press-up position with your hands gripping the handles of the dumbbells and your abs braced. Lower your chest towards the ground by bending your elbows, then press back to the top position. Then row one dumbbell upwards and back down, and then do the same with the other dumbbell. Try to keep your body straight and don’t twist your hips as you row.
Expert tip “The press-up renegade row combination will work your chest, shoulders, triceps, back, biceps and abs – in other words, all your upper-body muscles – during a single set to end each circuit with a nice upper-body pump, with a rotational element from the rows to hit your abs hard.”