5 Dumbbell Exercises Every Tactical Athlete Should Know (and Use!)


5 Dumbbell Exercises For Tactical Athletes

By Devon Smith, O2X Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)


Why they’re important:

Tactical athletes work in an unpredictable operational environment, which creates a need for a versatile and concurrent physical training protocol. Unlike most traditional training programs for athletes, tactical athletes need to possess the ability to express a wide range of physical attributes at a moment’s notice. 

Traditional athletics provides a predictable competitive season, and athletes can tailor their training throughout the year around the needs of their specific sports, while developing aspects of strength, power, and endurance, depending on how close they are to competing. Tactical athletes don’t have the luxury of a game schedule or an annual tournament to prepare for, therefore our training must reflect this demand by focusing on all physical attributes simultaneously while we develop our training plan.

To add another layer of complexity, most tactical athletes are training with minimal access to training equipment, which is especially true during the COVID-19 situation. Fortunately, dumbbells (DB) are training tools that are easy to access and can be extremely versatile with the right training. Here five dumbbell exercises that will prepare you for varying aspects of physical performance with minimal equipment for maximum effect!


5 Go-to Dumbbell Exercises

1. Dumbbell Snatch – Power

○     The DB snatch will develop power and coordination, while strengthening the posterior chain and creating stability at the shoulder.

■     Start with feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.

■     With a single DB, push the hips backward while maintaining upper body posture.

■     In one explosive movement, drive your hips forward, “drag” the DB up the front of your body, and punch toward the ceiling.

■     Finish with your arm fully extended and hips in an athletic position.

■     Return DB to the starting position.

Train with moderate weight for 2-5 repetitions on each side over several sets for explosive power.

Point of Performance: If the DB is swinging out in front of the body, stand in front of a wall or a reluctant buddy to reinforce a vertical path for the DB.


2. Dumbbell Walking Lunge – Lower Body Strength

○     The DB walking lunge will strengthen the lower body and prepare the joints for the demands of carrying an external load through a full range of motion.

■     Standing with an upright posture, lunge forward with one leg and drop your back knee until it is almost touching the floor.

■     Driving through your lead leg, lunge forward with your back leg and repeat.

■     Ensure your lead knee stays above your shoelaces in the lunge position and does not travel so far forward that your heel rises off the floor.

■     If you are having difficulty balancing, return to standing between each repetition.

Train with lighter weight over distance for muscular endurance or moderate weights for shorter distances to improve strength.

Point of Performance: Create a “tripod” with your lead foot by driving force through the big toe, little toe, and heel simultaneously.


3. Dumbbell Renegade Row – Core Stability

○     The DB renegade row will challenge your core stability, while strengthening the mid-section and the upper back. This will prepare the body for the various demands faced by tactical athletes. The intent of this exercise is to remain rock solid in the hips, which will develop core strength and stability.

■     Begin in a push-up position with one DB in each hand and feet wider than shoulder width for stability.

■     Row one DB by driving the elbow and shoulder back toward the ceiling.

■     Return DB to the ground with control and repeat on the opposite side.

■     Ensure that the hips remain level, and imagine you’re balancing your beverage of choice on your lower back, and you don’t want to spill!

Train with light to moderate weights from 5-10 repetitions on each side, depending on your ability to control the rotation through the hips.

Point of Performance: For an additional challenge, narrow your feet or add an isometric  pause at the top of each row for a 1-3 second count.


4. Dumbbell Good Morning – Posterior Strength

○     The DB Good Morning will develop strength through the entire posterior chain, which includes the upper back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The posterior chain is critical to total body strength, power, and endurance while carrying loads or operating under various physical demands.

■     Begin by holding a single DB with both hands under the chin and against the chest with feet shoulder-width apart.

■     With shoulders “in the back pocket” (back and down) slightly bend the knees and brace your core.

■     Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back as if you are reaching for the wall behind you.

■     Push the hips back until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings or until you are past a 45° angle with the upper body.

■     Drive the hips forward and squeeze your glutes to finish the repetition in a standing position.

Train with light to moderate weight, depending on your training experience, and perform sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Point of Performance: If the knees are bending into more of a squat pattern, stand with your knees almost touching a couch, box, or bench to keep them from traveling forward. This will maintain the focus on developing the posterior chain.


5. Dumbbell Farmer’s Carry – Load Carriage, Core and Grip Strength

○     The Farmer’s Carry is a loaded carry variation that will develop your ability to carry offset loads and increase your grip strength. Grip strength is a critical, yet underutilized component when training for the demands a tactical athlete might encounter.

■     Grab a single DB with a firm grip, and be sure to wrap your thumb around the handle.

■     Elevate the DB about two inches outside your thigh and maintain an upright posture in the chest and shoulders.

■     Walk steadily for a set distance or time without losing your posture or your grip on the DB.

■     Repeat on the other side.

Train with moderate to heavy weights, and progress the duration or distance covered.

Point of Performance: Combine with short sprints, using your favorite conditioning modality (fan bike, running, rowing machine, etc.) for a killer finisher.

It’s just that easy.

There you have it! 5 dumbbell exercises to build yourself up physically to be prepared for whatever you may encounter in the field. Incorporate these exercises into your training routine, or find them in one of the hundreds of highly effective and adaptable training plans in the O2X Tactical Performance App.