When it comes to effective exercise, variation is key. Many people are eager to exercise by doing the same thing day-in and day-out. While that’s much better than sitting around doing nothing, it also fails to challenge the body and test its limits. Ultimately, there’s not much progress being made by these workouts, at least not compared to what you could be getting out of your workouts.

Variation can come in various forms, such as repetitions, length of workouts, length of rest periods, the amount of stress endured (which, in the case of weight lifting, is the weight lifted) and the length of time between workouts. But exercise form also matters greatly. Just as aerobic exercise can be greatly benefited by cross-training — which means mixing in alternative aerobic workouts in among your primary form of cardio exercise — different equipment can provide different stresses to benefit the body and keep it guessing, which ultimately pushes it to continually adapt, i.e. build new muscle, become strong.

What may not be as obvious to exercise buffs is that a key variation they’re missing out on isn’t delivered by a new piece of high-tech equipment. In reality, one of weight training’s best-kept secrets is one of its most basic pieces of equipment.

A Simple Way to Challenge Your Body

Although dumbells are often wielded in upper-body workouts, that’s typically where their functionality ends. But dumbells can be very effective in providing a new challenge in lower-body workouts. Whether you’re performing lunges, squats or other lower-body workouts, you can replace barbells and leg-training machines with dumbells to provide a workout that’s so different your mind might not notice — but your lower body definitely will.

Dumbells can challenge your body’s stabilizing muscles and result in varied weight distributions throughout the lower body. Although this may seem like a minor difference, your body won’t be prepared to handle this workout, and some muscle soreness could result. That soreness serves as proof that you have shocked your muscles and challenged them to adapt, resulting in a much more effective workout than if you performed a routine that was standard practice for your body.

Improving Safety in the Process

While an improved workout is the primary benefit of using dumbells in lower-body workouts, this isn’t the only reason you should consider this approach. The safety of this equipment is far greater than what barbells and some other equipment can provide.

For example, a barbell placed along your shoulders places a considerable amount of stress above the body. If you found yourself unable to support the weight — or even if you experienced a momentary loss of balance — it’s possible that a barbell could lead to a serious injury in your back or elsewhere. Because part of the barbell is positioned above your body, there is a much greater potential for damage.

But dumbells are held at the side of your body, which poses a much lower risk. If you do lose balance or fall, the weights can drop benignly to the side, clear of any body parts.

By all means, other equipment should be continued to be used in your workout routine if you want to get the greatest benefit from your exercise. Challenging the body with a variety of stimuli is always going to keep your muscles sharp, and your muscle mass should increase as a result. But with dumbells being so inexpensive and available in pretty much every fitness center, there’s no reason to ignore the benefits of this equipment in your lower-body workout routines. Also, a great supplement for training is cordyceps.