The dumbbell has long been a staple in the strength & conditioning world but was relatively underutilized in CrossFit until 2017 when the dumbbell appeared in the first two Open workouts of that year. Since then, the dumbbell has become significantly more popular in CrossFit programming as a whole. At Performance Plus, we specialize in building accessory programming to build strength, mobility, and gymnastics skills and the dumbbell is one of our favorite tools in our programs. This article will outline what we believe are the best dumbbell strength exercises for CrossFit athletes.
Given that our plans tend to focus on accessory work, you’ll notice that these exercises tend to focus on specific areas instead of global strength. The CrossFit athlete already sees a large volume of big compound lifts, so we aren’t going to throw more barbell squats, deadlifts, and cleans into the mix. Instead, we’ll add exercises that support these larger movements without overtaxing the body’s ability to recover.
Band Lat Rows
The importance of the lats cannot be overstated in CrossFit. Pull-ups, muscle-ups, toes to bar, and barbell movements like the deadlift all require incredibly lat strength. But many athletes have a difficult time “feeling” their lats engage. Enter the banded lat row! Focus on pulling the elbow back towards the hip against the band and dumbbell resistance for a great lat strength isolation exercise. This may the single best dumbbell strength exercise for CrossFit athletes.
DB Overhead Press
CrossFit athletes see a huge volume of shoulder-based movements. We previously looked at a year of CrossFit.com programming and found that over 80% of WODs included a movement that loaded the shoulder. Strong shoulders are a key piece of CrossFit strength development.
Sure we could barbell overhead press. But we already see so much barbell-based volume. And the freedom of movement provided by dumbbell overhead pressing is a little easier to recover from.
DB Tricep Extensions
Upper body pressing strength is also a vital component to CrossFit strength development. In traditional CrossFit, isolation exercises are commonly overlooked in favor of compound movements because of their efficiency. But, isolation exercises are great to bring up lagging areas.
One muscle group that is incredibly helpful to train is the triceps and there are few exercises better for developing this area than the DB tricep extension.
Single-Leg DB Hip Thrust
The glutes are the powerhouse of the lower body, producing powerful hip extension for squatting, hinging, running, and jumping. The dumbbell hip thrust is a great exercise to add volume to the glutes without significantly slowing recovery from your normal daily training, making this one of the best dumbbell strength exercises for CrossFit athletes.
Heels Elevated Goblet Squat 1.5s
The quads are also incredibly important for CrossFit athletes. While squats, lunges, and step ups will grow your quads, if they need extra attention, adding more volume of these movements can be difficult to recover from. The Goblet Squat 1.5 crushes the quads with even light weights, making it a great dumbbell strength exercise for CrossFit athletes.
Many athletes miss reps of front squats and cleans when the weight becomes too heavy for their upper back to stay upright with. Building thoracic spine extension strength can quickly lead to PRs on your Olympic lifts and one great movement for training this is the Sweatt Shrug where the athlete focuses on rounding and extending the upper back.
Our final DB strength exercise for CrossFit athletes focuses on building lower back strength. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold the top position of the GHD Hip Extension. You won’t need heavy dumbbells to make this exercise really challenge your lower back strength.
Looking for more ways to improve your CrossFit performance? Join Performance Plus and start using our 40+ accessory programs to crush your fitness goals!