Normally, when individuals think of the weightlifting movements (Olympic-style lifts), they think of these lifts being performed with a barbell and bumper plates. However, it is also possible to perform these movements safely and effectively with dumbbells. The key to gaining strength is not the mode of training but the intensity of training, and your relative training intensity with dumbbells can be as high as any other method of training, including barbells, although your absolute intensity (i.e., the total weight lifted) will be lower as compared with performing the same movements with barbells.
There are some unique benefits to performing the weightlifting movements with dumbbells. For example, performing these exercises with dumbbells does not require any specialized equipment (e.g., high-quality weightlifting bar, bumpers, and platform), and for most people the movements are more easily learned with dumbbells than with barbells. Training with dumbbells may also promote greater shoulder stability. This greater shoulder stability may potentially provide the shoulders greater protection from injury because the lifter has to control 2 separate implements as opposed to a barbell. When lifting with dumbbells, the potential for variation in the movement pattern is greater because the dumbbells move side to side or front to back more readily than barbell training.
Furthermore, when teaching the weightlifting movements, it seems easier for many people to control the movement of their body and the movement of the dumbbells as compared with learning how to control the movement patterns of a 7-ft long barbell loaded with bumper plates.
Another benefit they provide is that dumbbells allow movements to be performed bilaterally, unilaterally, alternated, or 1 arm at a time. For some athletes, this single arm or alternating arm action more closely replicates what occurs in their sport (e.g., throwing a ball, swinging a racquet, fighting off a blocker while tackling a running back). For those not involved in athletics, performing alternating or single-arm movements increases training variation. For those training for athletic performance, the dumbbell power snatch has the benefit of developing a high level of power while being performed in a movement pattern similar to those seen in many sports. Those training for general fitness will benefit because multiple muscle groups can be trained with 1 exercise, and the caloric expenditure is high because of the multiple muscle groups being recruited to perform the exercise.
Unlike most exercises that emphasize 2–3 major muscle groups, the weightlifting movements are total-body exercises, recruiting most of the major muscle groups in the body. For example, the dumbbell power snatch primarily involves the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, gluteus, lower back and mid back, abdominals, trapezius, deltoids, triceps, chest, biceps, forearms, and latissimus dorsi.
The movement is performed with the handles of the dumbbells centered laterally on the knee joint. The feet are in a shoulder width stance, the back is arched, the head is up, and the shoulders are in front of the dumbbell (Figures 1 and 2). From this start position, the hips are extended, as in a jumping action. At the top of the jump, the shoulders are shrugged quickly and straight up (Figure 3). At the top of the shrug, the dumbbells are pulled up along the side of the rib cage to a position just under the armpits (Figure 4), past the shoulders and straight up past the ears and caught with the arms fully extended directly over the shoulders (Figures 5 and 6). The dumbbells continue to be orientated front to back (i.e., 1 end of the dumbbell is facing forward and the other end backward, rather than being held in a sideways position). In the catch position, the hips move back into a semisquat position, the heels are down, and the arms/dumbbell unit is brought up and around quickly so that the dumbbells are caught with the arms fully extended over head in 1 motion. This movement can also be performed either unilaterally or by alternating arms.