Marietta Mehanni

Not Just a Dumbbell

Written by Marietta

November 27, 2013

How often have you been in a position where you only had enough dumbbells for one per person… or looked at a dumbbell and asked “Why do I need two”?

If you have never used one dumbbell, it will certainly make you think creatively. The best place to begin, is to use standard moves that you use regularly and then apply the single dumbbell concept. You may find out that the same exercises are more challenging or functional with only one dumbbell. Exercises like Rock n Roll (suspended move with the body flipping from a prone to supine position and back again) which can be performed with two dumbbells, noodles or aqua belt, is much more challenging with one dumbbell.

Most everyday movements are unbalanced e.g. carrying a bag, shopping or a child, getting in and out of a car, bathtub or bed, even reaching for something up high and tip toeing on one leg to extend further.

Moving a buoyant object in one hand challenges core stability and is effective in making sure that each side of the body is worked equally.

The Dumbbell

Dumbbells come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and not all exercises are appropriate for each one. The length of the “bar” between the 2 circular foam sections will determine the type of grip and exercise that can be performed. Short “bars” will limit most exercises to a ‘Hand to Hand’ pass or a ‘Foam Grip’. Dumbbells that allow both hands to fit in the centre allow for a wider range of grip options whereas dumbbells which have a much longer “bar” are best used with double hand grips – a single hand grip on these dumbbells have the potential to cause injury due to the increased force that needs to be generated to move the extended dumbbell through the water.

How to handle a single dumbbell

Double Grip

Dumbbells can be held with both hands in the centre or on the “bar” in either the vertical position or horizontal position. To be able to hold the dumbbell in either position, the “bar” needs to be long enough for both hands to fit side by side comfortably.

Foam Grip

Where both hands grip the foam parts of the dumbbell. This means that the dumbbell can only be held in a horizontal position. If the foam sections are large, it could be an issue for participants who have arthritis, wrist problems or RSI as the fingers would need to be spread wider to maintain control.

Hand to Hand Pass

This is where the dumbbell is passed from one hand to the other and the exercises can be performed with the dumbbell in either the vertical or horizontal position. This allows the fingers and the muscles in the forearms to release, which is very important when using the dumbbell throughout the class. It does require more coordination, as the legs are usually moving as well and sometimes in the opposite direction.

For this grip to have a smooth transition from one hand to the other, it is very important that both arms are moving through the same plane of movement. If arms are alternating eg: forwards and backwards with a kick to the front, it is very hard to pass the dumbbell from one hand to the other. The other alternative is to have a transitional move that allows both hands to grip the dumbbell, so that the dumbbell is passed over to the opposite hand easily.

Leg Grip

Another position that the dumbbell can be held, is in between the thighs (1/2 way up), or under the knee between the calf and hamstrings. This is effective for incorporating core stabilizers more actively and for focusing on upper body exercises that are “dumbbell free”.

Teaching Tips

Good verbal and non verbal communication is vital when incorporating single dumbbell exercises in your classes. This is especially important when performing Right and Left moves and when doing a hand to hand pass. If leg patterns are also Right or Left, further instruction is required, so the participants are not confused.


Anything goes. Upbeat tracks are great for faster cardiovascular moves and shallow water exercises. Strong slow beats are best used for suspended or deep water moves.

Single Dumbbell Positions Legs Arms

Just One Step

No Dumbbells

  1. Jogging
  2. Cossack kick
  3. Big M jacks
  4. Scissors
  5. Combo – 1x Big M jack and 4x scissors
  6. Policeman
  7. Alternating scooping
  8. Scooping in and out
  9. Alternating punching
  10. Scooping in and out and 4x alternating punches

Swanee/ After You’ve Gone / Joseph, Joseph

Double Hand Grip

1. Small quick Cossack kick

2. Double Cossack kick and single, single, double kick

3. Jogging

4. Straight leg kick in front

5. Straight leg kick behind

  1. Push down in front
  2. Push and pull over kicking leg
  1. Twisting arms
  2. Swing dumbbell across in front from side to side
  3. Scooping dumbbell sown in front, pulling up at sides with elbows

In The Mood

Double Hand Grip

Hand to Hand Pass

  1. Jogging
  1. Feet wide
  1. Single leg kick to front and back
  1. Big M jacks
  2. Both hands push dumbbell in and out in front
  3. Both hands on dumbbell, circling dumbbell in front of body
  4. Same arm as kicking leg holding onto dumbbell, move both arms in opposite directions
  5. Dumbbell passing from one hand to other. Elbow extending and flexing.

Rum And Coca Cola

Hand to Hand Pass

  1. Jacks
  1. Ariel jacks
  2. Feet apart
  3. Lateral raises, dumbbell passing from one hand to other when feet coming together
  4. As above, but with greater speed
  5. Single arm circling into water to side of body, and lateral bicep curls passing dumbbell from one hand to the other


Suspended – Dumbbell under knee

  1. Single leg kick forward and backward
  1. Single leg kick to side and back
  1. Sitting Baby Crawl kick
  2. Both arms pulling through water in opposite direction to kick
  3. Both arms reaching out to either side and pushing forward
  4. Passing dumbbell from one hand to other around body

Shoop Shoop Song

Suspended – Dumbbell between thighs

  1. Twisting both knees across body
  1. Ankles crossed, legs straight and perpendicular to torso
  1. Option 2 for twist, legs straight and pull knees in and out from chest and rolling hips
  2. Scooping arms in opposite direction to torso twist
  3. Breast stroke arms to travel forwards, reverse stroke arms to travel backwards
  1. Arms moving from side to side to assist with twisting action

Big Girls Don’t Cry

Hand to Hand Pass

  1. Stationary, feet together
  1. Lift 1x knee up
  1. Big and slow jogs, alternating legs
  2. Pass dumbbell around body from one hand to other
  3. Pass dumbbell around body and under knee
  4. Keep passing dumbbell under original knee

Boogie Shoes

Foam Grip

Double Hand Grip

Hand to Hand Pass

  1. Kicking in front
  1. Single leg kick to side, with hop on opposite leg
  2. Option 1: Double kick in front
  1. Option 2: 1x kick to front, 1x kick to side
  2. Option 3: 1x kick to front, 1x kick to side
  3. Dumbbell behind body, both hands on foam sections, pushing down into water
  4. Opposite arm to kicking leg pushing dumbbell to side
  5. Both hands on dumbbell pushing forwards
  6. Both hands on dumbbell pushing to front and to opposite side
  7. Both hands on dumbbell pushing to front and opposite hand to kick, pushing to side

Jive Talking

Double Hand Grip

Hand to Hand Pass

  1. Feet wide
  1. Scissors with knee lifts
  1. Scissors with knee lifts
  1. Side to side kick
  2. Both hands gripping dumbbell on the same side, “rowing boat action”
  3. Option 1:Both hands alternate grip, pushing and pulling dumbbell
  4. Option 2: Both hands pushing forward and tricep extension, but passing dumbbell from one hand to the other
  5. Both hands pushing dumbbell from side to side

The Best

Hand to Hand Pass

Double Hand Grip

  1. Feet wide and stationary
  1. Donkey kicks, singles, doubles and combination
  2. Single leg kick through
  3. Pull dumbbell into centre with one hand, grip with both hands and pull down to thighs, swap hands and slow bring to surface. Repeat sequence with other hand
  4. Push and pull dumbbell with both hands through the water
  5. Both hands on dumbbell and pull across towards kicking leg

She’s Got To Be Loved

Double Hand Grip

  1. Single leg cross over and kick to side
  1. Pendulum
  1. Frog jump
  2. Both hands on the dumbbell and push across body in the opposite direction to legs
  3. Both hands on dumbbell, swing across in opposite direction
  4. 2 and 1 hand on dumbbell and push down between legs

Be My Baby

Single Hand Grip

Hand to Hand Pass

Double Hand Grip

  1. Feet in wide stance
  2. Big hop from one leg to the other

3. Side to side kick

  1. Single arm grip lift and scoop back
  2. Hand to hand passing dumbbell under each knee lift
  3. Side to side push with double hand grip on dumbbell

Car Wash

Hand to Hand Pass

Double Hand Grip

Single Hand Grip

  1. Jack 2x slow, 3x fast
  1. Donkey kick
  1. Feet in wide stance
  1. Feet in wide stance
  2. Hand to hand pass on every second jack repetition
  3. Double hand grip pushing dumbbell forward
  4. Single hand grip, scoop in, down, up and out
  5. Double hand grip, circling dumbbell to right and left


Double Hand Grip

  1. Donkey kick
  1. Side to side kick with tuck lift
  1. Pendulum swing
  1. Ski jump
  2. Double hand grip holding the dumbbell in a horizontal position push forward and back
  3. Double hand grip pushing dumbbell from one side to other
  4. Double hand grip with straight arms, swing dumbbell across body
  5. Double hand grip push dumbbell to either corner in opposite direction to the legs

Love In The First Degree

Hand to Hand Pass

  1. Feet in a spilt stance

2. Propulsive knee scissors

3. Feet wide apart

  1. Single and alternating arm forward push and tricep extension
  2. Alternating arm forwards push and tricept extension
  3. Lateral raise in front of body and behind body


Hand to Hand Pass

  1. Rock n Roll forward and back
  1. Straight leg kick in prone position
  1. Roll n Roll side to side
  2. Pass dumbbell from one hand to other when in prone position
  3. Straight arms, pass dumbbell from one hand to other
  4. Pass dumbbell from one hand to other as legs swap sides

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