An expert trainer shares five barbell exercises she thinks most people should do to strengthen their entire body

By | March 27, 2024

Your time is valuable, and when you spend it exercising, you want to make sure the movements you choose are effective.

To help, Melissa Kendter, an ACE-certified personal trainer and UESCA running coach, has shared the five exercises she thinks almost everyone should be doing and combined them into a barbell workout for you to try.

“My brain immediately tells me to squat, hinge, push, pull—all the major movement patterns,” says Kendter.

“As long as you perform each major movement pattern effectively and the last few reps are challenging, you will have an effective workout.”

How to do Melissa Kendter’s five-move dumbbell workout

  • Goblet squat 3×8-12

  • Standard Romanian deadlift 3×8-12 on each side

  • Single-arm bent row 3×8-12 on each side

  • Neutral grip alternating shoulder presses 3×8-12 on each side

  • Side planks reach up to 3×8-12 on each side

Perform each of the above exercises for three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, resting 60-90 seconds between each repetition.

For this training you use straight sets. That means you do all sets of one exercise before moving on to the next.

1. Cup squat

Sets: 3 Representatives: 8-12 Rest: 60-90 seconds

  • Stand straight with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell tightly against your chest and grasp one end with both hands.

  • Push your hips back to start the movement, then bend your knees to lower your hips toward the floor as far as possible while keeping your back flat and your chest up.

  • Drive through the heels to return to the starting position.

Why choose this move?

The squat is the king of exercises to get stronger legs, and the goblet squat is a great variation to opt for.

“This exercise is beneficial for everyone,” says Kendter. “For beginners, a goblet squat is great because it helps them learn good form and stay upright as they fall into a squatting position instead of tumbling forward.

“As you progress, you can lift a heavier weight or perform a more difficult variation, such as a rear foot-raised split squat.”

2. Standard Romanian deadlift

Sets: 3 Representatives: 8-12 Rest: 60-90 seconds

  • Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand, then take a small step back with your left leg and plant your toes on the floor. Your legs should be almost straight, with slightly soft knees.

  • Keep your back flat and hinge at the hips to lower the dumbbells as far as possible toward the toes of your right foot.

  • Squeeze your glutes to reverse this movement and stand back up.

Why choose this move?

“This exercise is great for developing strength and stability in one leg and glutes,” explains Kendter.

‘One-sided work [on one side of your body at a time] helps strengthen the muscles around the hips, knees and ankles, so you strengthen the entire leg.

“It also improves your coordination and stability, which will support other activities such as running. Running is a single-leg plyometric sport, so if you strengthen each leg equally, you will be more powerful and balanced.”

3. One-arm bent row

Sets: 3 Representatives: 8-12 Rest: 60-90 seconds

  • Assume a staggered stance with your right foot forward and hold a dumbbell in your right hand.

  • Keeping your back flat, hinge at the hips and bend forward until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor. Let your right arm hang towards the ground.

  • Row the barbell to the bottom of your ribcage on your right side, keeping your arm and elbow close to your body, then return it to the starting position.

Why choose this move?

To strengthen your upper body, Kendter recommends multi-muscle compound exercises such as the single-arm row, which targets your back and biceps.

“It hits the lats [the large, flat muscles across your upper back]the largest muscles in the upper body,” she says.

‘Keeping this area strong is important when running as it helps you maintain an upright posture and keep your arm swing strong.

If you have access to a pull-up bar or cable machine, Kendter says she also likes her weekly workout to include a “horizontal pull and a vertical pull to even it out.”

This refers to the direction in which you move a load. Vertical pulling exercises include pull-ups and lat pull-downs, while single-arm bent-over rows and bent-over rows are examples of horizontal pulling exercises.

4. Neutral grip and alternating shoulder presses

Sets: 3 Representatives: 8-12 Rest: 60-90 seconds

  • Stand or kneel straight with a dumbbell in each hand, held at your shoulders with your palms facing you. The handles must remain parallel during this exercise.

  • Extend your right arm straight up so that your bicep reaches your right ear, then lower it back to the starting position.

  • Once the right dumbbell is back at shoulder height, perform the movement with the dumbbell in your left arm. Continue alternating your arms for the prescribed reps.

Why choose this step?

“From my experience, many people have shoulder pain when they perform this movement with both hands, so I’ll start by having them do shoulder presses with one arm,” says Kendter.

“I’ve seen myself struggle with overuse injuries as they get older, so sometimes certain exercises and the positions they put you in can aggravate things a little. But I’ve found that doing it side by side and keeping a more neutral grip eliminates pain. , which is very interesting.

“It also helps beginners focus on one side at a time, rather than trying to use the momentum of their legs to pull the dumbbells over their heads.”

5. Push through side plank

Sets: 3 Representatives: 8-12 Rest: 60-90 seconds

  • Lie on your side with your feet stacked on top of each other.

  • Support yourself on your forearm so that it is perpendicular to your body and your elbow is directly below your shoulder. You can support your body from your bottom foot, or lower your knees to the floor for an easier variation.

  • Reach your higher arm toward the ceiling, then bring it as far as possible toward the floor in front of you and beneath your body.

  • Reach back toward the ceiling to complete the reps, then repeat.

Why choose this move?

“I always include some core work in my workouts, and there’s always a side plank in some form,” says Kendter.

“The side plank works the oblique muscles, as well as the core muscles that support the spine, which is beneficial for runners, and just about anyone.

“I also like to move during my core strengthening exercises, so I’m a big fan of a side plank. Even when I do a traditional plank, I tap forward, move to the side, or do something, so I have an element of resistance to movement. “

Need help choosing your next set of weights? Our guide to the best adjustable dumbbells can help

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