Are you without a barbell but you don’t want to stop setting new PRs in your powerlifting workouts?
Maybe you’re getting bored and you just want to change things up with new powerlifting exercises.
Dumbbells are the ideal weightlifting equipment alternative to barbell-based powerlifting exercises.
Let’s review the best dumbbell powerlifting exercises that you can start using to complement or replace your barbell exercises. We’ll even thrown in a few powerlifting dumbbell workouts to get you started.
Benefits of Dumbbells in Powerlifting
Before we provide you with the best powerlifting dumbbell exercises, we want to talk about the benefits of dumbbells for a powerlifting workout.
Challenging in a Different Way
Look, there’s nothing like that feeling of going ass-to-grass and repping out a new personal best during a barbell back squat – we’re with you on that. But the barbell squat is a pretty cut-and-dry movement. There’s not a lot of room for variety and your body adjusts to one type of physical challenge.
Dumbbell powerlifting exercises change up your normal routine and challenge your body in new ways. For example, if you perform Bulgarian split squats using a bench with dumbbells, you can still go crazy heavy but you’re training in a unilateral (single-sided) fashion. This is going to tap into stability training while you increase muscle size and strength.
Improves Your Barbell Lifts
When you incorporate powerlifting dumbbell exercises into your routine, you’ll notice that your barbell exercises will improve.
Continuing with the example above, by training unilaterally with Bulgarian split squats, you are forcing each side to pull its own weight (pun intended). This will help to eliminate overcompensation issues during your barbell squats and you’ll immediately see an improvement when you switch back over.
More Options for Supplementary Exercises
Dumbbells offer more variety than barbells in the selection of supplementary exercises. That’s not to say that barbells are useless (because we all know they’re just as important as dumbbells), but you need to change it up and keep your body guessing.
Changing the exercises you perform is one way to do this but using different fitness tools like dumbbells is another way.
Decreased Risk of Injury
Okay, there aren’t any popular studies on the safety of dumbbells vs. barbells but we feel pretty strongly that dumbbells are going to be the safer choice overall.
It tends to be easier to course correct when you’ve chosen a weight that’s too heavy compared to a barbell. Think about the last time you put too much weight on the barbell. If (and that’s a big IF) you reduced the weight, you probably had that moment of debate with yourself.
With dumbbells, it’s as easy as switching out the pair. But with a barbell, you have to remove the clips, then the weight. You might need to switch up some plates then reclip it. And we won’t even touch the ego factor that we’ll all had with wanting the barbell to “look” heavy for a few sets.
Another reason we feel that dumbbells are safer overall is because they are easier to throw or discard should a lift go wrong. With a barbell, depending on the exercise, there’s a better chance that it’ll come down on you or take you with it.
Again, we’re not bad mouthing barbells here, but just listing some of the reasons why you should consider dumbbells for your next powerlifting workout.
Best Dumbbell Powerlifting Exercises
Since powerlifting focuses on the bench press, squat, and deadlift, we wanted to provide a collection of dumbbell exercises that complement the big three. Below, you’ll find dumbbell power lifts and movements that will directly improve one or more of the foundational powerlifting exercises.
For example, a Bulgarian split squat is fantastic for improving squat and deadlift performance while the incline dumbbell bench press will only help to improve the traditional bench press.
Powerlifting Dumbbell Exercises to Improve Your Squat
Powerlifting Dumbbell Exercises to Improve Your Deadlift
Powerlifting Dumbbell Exercises to Improve Your Bench Press
Powerlifting Dumbbell Workouts
For the following powerlifting dumbbell workouts, we’re going to provide you with two weeks of workouts. One week will focus on heavy lifting days and the other week will be lighter and focused on maintenance and recovery.
There are a few ways to use these workouts:
First, you can alternate from week to week with these workouts. Or you can perform the heavy workouts for two weeks then the maintenance workouts for two weeks. Continue alternating in this fashion.
Another option is to focus on the heavy workouts for one month then use the maintenance workout as a recovery week before jumping into another month of heavy lifting.
Finally, you can incorporate these workouts into your current powerlifting workouts. For example:
- Monday: Iron Bull workout
- Tuesday: Your powerlifting workout
- Wednesday: Iron Bull workout
- Thursday: Your powerlifting workout
- Friday: Iron Bull workout
- Saturday: Your powerlifting workout
- Sunday: REST
Plenty of options to change things up and keep it interesting.
You’ll notice that we’ve staggered the numbers when listing the days. This is done with the assumption that in between workouts you’ll rest, focus on cardio, or perform your own powerlifting workouts.
Heavy Powerlifting Dumbbell Workout
During this powerlifting workout, you want to focus on using a weight that is heavy enough so that you can ONLY get the recommended number of repetitions.
For example, if the exercise states that you should only be able to get five repetitions then make sure you select a weight that is heavy enough that you’re struggling at your third or fourth repetition.
DAY ONE: SQUATS
- Dumbbell Squats: 5 sets of 5 to 7 repetitions
- Dumbbell Lunges: 5 x 5
- Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats: 5 x 8 – 10
DAY THREE: BENCH PRESS
- Dumbbell Floor Press: 5 x 3 – 5
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 5 x 5
- One-Arm Dumbbell Press: 5 x 5 – 8
DAY FIVE: DEADLIFTS
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts: 5 x 5
- Dumbbell Reverse Lunge: 5 x 5
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts: 5 x 5 – 7
Maintenance Powerlifting Dumbbell Workout
For the maintenance powerlifting dumbbell workout, we want you to focus on perfect form and full range of motion. You don’t have to worry about throwing around boulders here.
Instead, make every single repetition count. Perfecting your form during these workouts will pay off during your heavy weeks because you’ve improved your neuromuscular and mind-to-muscle connection.
DAY ONE: SQUATS
- Dumbbell Squats: 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions
- Dumbbell Side Lunge: 3 x 8 – 12
- Dumbbell Sumo Squats: 3 x 8 – 15
DAY THREE: BENCH PRESS
- Dumbbell Flys: 4 x 8 – 12
- One-Arm Dumbbell Press: 3 x 8 – 15
- Decline Dumbbell Press: 3 x 8 – 12
DAY FIVE: DEADLIFTS
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts: 4 x 8 – 15
- Dumbbell Hamstring Curl: 3 x 8 – 12
- Dumbbell Good Mornings: 3 x 8 – 12
Dumbbell Powerlifting Exercises: A Complement to the Barbell
There’s no denying the fact that the barbell is still the king for powerlifting exercises; however, dumbbells can provide a much-needed alternative that improves performance and results. Try incorporating one or both of the powerlifting workouts above into your current routine and take note of the changes and progress you make.
No Barbell? No Problem! The Best Dumbbell Powerlifting Exercises is written by David Sautter for ironbullstrength.com