I thought it would be cool to outline an entire workout routine and strategy I would use if I was allowed only two pieces of equipment.
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An adjustable dumbbell and an adjustable bench.
I have always wanted the ability to train at home, but never really thought it would be feasible where I live.
I rent an old house that was probably built in 1910-1920.
There is no way that the wood floors upstairs could support the weight of a home gym upstairs.
The downstairs works.
The ceiling is pretty low.
I’m tall and wouldn’t be able to do any overhead pressing with a barbell.
I do believe that I could get a decent workout if I had a high-quality adjustable bench and dumbbells that went up to at least 125 pounds.
The workout bench is pretty easy.
I have been looking at different brands.
The one I would pick up is over at Rogue Fitness.
This one goes for $545.
That sounds like a lot of money, but they have another one they sell for close to $1,000.
From what I have been told, this company makes really sturdy commercial grade stuff. This looks like an awesome bench.
The dumbbells are where things get more challenging.
There is no way I would buy an entire set going up to 125 pounds.
That would probably cost over $5,000.
Up until this point, I haven’t been a huge fan of adjustable dumbbells.
There are some decent adjustable dumbbell systems that work when going up to the 60-pound to 75-pound range.
Anything heavier and things look a bit sketchy.
That has recently changed.
A company called Ironmaster recently came out with the coolest adjustable dumbbell system I’ve seen.
These things are beautiful.
The standard system goes up to 75-pound dumbells.
It does cost about $600, but free shipping in the U.S.
The add-on kit that gets them up to 125-pound dumbbells goes for an additional $300.
Here’s a video showing how these work.
(The part of the video 2:55-3:35 reminds me of something that belongs in the movie Napolean Dynamite.)
The guy in this video also has the exact adjustable bench I want as well.
You can even get an add-on kit that makes each dumbbell go up to 165 pounds.
I never have a need for 165-pound dumbells in my life.
I’m almost 50.
I have no business playing around with that type of weight.
If Lord of the Rings was real life, I’d fit in well with the Elves (as long as I had a good blonde wig).
165-pound dumbbells were made for Orcs.
There aren’t too many people with Orc-like strength.
If you are an Orc, just know that there is an expansion kit that can potentially match your level of beast strength.
So now that I have found the proper bench and dumbbell set, let’s talk about the actual workout.
Full Body Dumbbell Workout Details
I want to outline 3 different approaches that I think will work well.
- An actual full body dumbbell workout where the entire body gets trained each and every workout.
- A 2-day split dumbbell workout, where half the body gets worked in one workout and half the body in a second workout.
- A short metabolic resistance training circuit that can maintain muscle while burning fat.
I’ll explain the details of all three workouts in this section and I’ll have a separate section with the best video demonstrations I can find for each individual exercise.
The “True” Full Body Dumbbell Workout Plan
All three dumbbell workouts I’m going to outline in this post will work the entire body.
The reason I’m calling this the “true” full body dumbbell workout is that it works all the major muscle groups in one workout.
The third workout in I outline does as well.
That workout is a metabolic circuit.
This first one is a standard resistance training routine.
People who have read my articles for a while know that I recommend training muscles frequently.
For strength, and definition I recommend working each muscle group a MINIMUM of 2 times per week.
I know the typical fitness advice is more along the lines of following a “blitz and rest” approach.
The blitz approach works well for building muscle mass and especially when someone is young.
More experienced and older people need to focus less on breakdown.
Since muscles aren’t getting destroyed, recovery happens at a faster rate. People worry about overtraining, but that typically happens when workouts involve blitzing the muscle groups.
Have you ever watched a Cirque De Soleil show?
The dancers and acrobats use their muscles 5-6 nights per week and have ridiculous strength and muscle definition.
This is because each show is training strength without breakdown.
I don’t believe you need to hit each muscle group daily (although I do have a fun program based on that concept, called Visual Impact Frequency Training).
I do think you should strive to hit each muscle group 2 times per week if possible.
If someone is only able to train 2-3 times per week, in my opinion, each workout of theirs should work the entire body.
This workout is designed for those people in mind.
If a person has the ability to train 4+ times per week, then the second dumbbell workout I cover in this article is a good option as well.
Here’s the first dumbbell workout.
The True Full Body Dumbbell Workout
Bulgarian Split Squat: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Romanian Deadlift: 10, 8, 5
One Arm Dumbbell Row: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 10, 8, 5
Alternate Seated Dumbell Curl: 10, 8, 5
Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extention: 10, 8, 5
Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise: 20, 15, 10
Lying Leg Raise: 3 sets of 15-20 reps
The rep ranges listed above are just general guidelines.
The idea is to stimulate each muscle group without breakdown.
If strength and muscle definition is the main goal, make sure you stop each set before muscular failure (and stick to around 5 reps for your main work sets).
If muscle size is the main goal?
Feel free to push to failure and aim for 6-8 reps instead of 5 reps for your work sets.
You may want to have 9 different dumbbell exercises that work your entire body for your second workout each week.
Let’s say on Monday you use the workout listed above. On Thursday you could do flat bench flyes to work the chest instead of incline dumbbell presses… or use lying dumbbell triceps extensions instead of overhead tricep extensions, etc.
You don’t have to do this, but having two workout setups could be beneficial for variety and for possibly better definition and development of your body.
If you do decide to train 2 days each week with this type of plan try to space the workout out (Mon & Thu, Sun & Fri, etc).
If you are using this setup 3 times per week, I recommend Mon, Wed, and Fri, since this will still leave your weekend free.
If you have 4 or more day available, then consider using a 2-day split, as outlined next.
The 2-Day Split Dumbbell Workout Plan
For the majority of people, I recommend that they hit each muscle group often but without breaking the muscle down too much.
Hitting each muscle often without breaking the muscle down is one of the fastest routes to increase strength and muscle definition.
One of the most popular posts on my blog is a 3-part article explaining how to build strength without size.
In that article, I discuss a good body part split for this type of training.
Mon: Chest, Back, Legs, and Calves
Tue: Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps, and Abs
Thu: Chest, Back, Legs, and Calves
Fri: Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps, and Abs
Sat & Sun: Remain active
The reason I like this setup is that there is a bit of muscle overlap between the two workouts.
- When you work chest, the shoulders and triceps get worked indirectly.
- When you work the back, the biceps and rear delts get worked indirectly.
The “big” muscles (Chest, Back, and Legs) get worked 2 times per week (Monday & Thursday).
The “small” muscles (Shoulders, Triceps, and Biceps) get worked 4 times per week (2 times directly and 2 times indirectly).
This works out well because larger muscles require a bit more time to recover compared to smaller muscles.
Now that we have outlined the split, here are the actual dumbbell exercises you will perform in each workout.
Mon & Thursday | Chest, Back, Legs, and Calves
Incline Dumbbell Press: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Flat Bench Dumbbell Fly: 5, 5, 5
One Arm Dumbbell Row: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Flat Bench Dumbbell Pullover: 5, 5, 5
Bulgarian Split Squat: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 5, 5, 5
Standing Dumbell Calf Raise: 20, 15, 10, 5, 5
This is a medium volume workout.
In another blog post, I outlined the same workout split, but with fewer exercises.
The reason for this was that the other blog post was aimed at how to fix a skinny fat body and involved a lot of cardio after the workout.
The more cardio, the less the volume the resistance training portion should be… and vice versa.
If fat loss is a goal I would recommend adding a bit of cardio to this dumbbell workout. Even walking outside or on a treadmill will work.
Alright, here are the exercise suggestions for workout 2.
Tues & Friday | Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps, and Abs
Seated Dumbbell Press: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Overhead Dumbell Triceps Extension: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Dumbbell Kickback: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Alternate Dumbbell Bicep Curl: 10, 8, 5, 5, 5
Incline Dumbell Curl: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Lying Leg Raise: 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
Planks: 1-2 sets of holding for 1-2 minutes
I have set up the rep ranges to be a bit different than Monday’s and Thursday’s workout.
The second exercise for each muscle group is a light isolation exercise that tends to work best with a slightly higher rep range.
If you want to test out 5 reps, you still can do so… just make sure that you lift slowly and deliberately to really feel each rep.
For abs, simply pick 2 exercises you like. I listed lying leg raises and planks since they don’t require equipment.
If you have an ab wheel, that is a fantastic way to work the abs.
I have a post on how to safely use an ab wheel here:
As far as cardio goes, there are a ton of options.
Walking, jump rope, jogging, stationary bike, etc.
This is a good lead-in for the final dumbbell workout routine.
The Full Body Dumbbell Metabolic Resistance Training Routine
Metabolic resistance training can be used in place of cardio or as an entire workout on its own.
Here is an approach you can use with dumbbells.
It involves only one dumbbell, but it is pretty darn intense.
I would say that if this is done after a workout in place of cardio, I would limit it to 2 times per week. If this is done as your main full body dumbbell workout routine, I’d say you could do it 3-4 times per week.
I’ll outline the exercises first, but I’ll also include a video demonstration right here in this section.
Here are the exercises which you will perform back-to-back without rest in between each exercise.
The Single Dumbbell Full Body Circuit
One Dumbbell “Goblet” Push Press: 4-6 reps
Goblet Squat: 4-6 reps
Single Vertical Dumbbell Row: 15-20+ reps
Single Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 4-6 reps
One-Dumbbell Push-Up: 15-20+ reps
Dumbbell Swing: 6-8 reps
You will perform this circuit, rest 3 minutes and repeat 3-5 times.
If you are doing this as your cardio after one of the regular dumbbell workouts listed above, you probably only want to do this 2-3 times max.
This workout was created by Nick Nilsson.
Nick has legitimate Orc-like strength.
I mean that in the best way possible 🙂
Here’s his video demonstration of the workout.
If you absolutely hate cardio, Nick has one of the best metabolic resistance training courses online called Metabolic Monsters.
That dumbbell workout he demonstrates is not easy by the way.
Work into it slowly.
Full Body Dumbbell Workout Workout Exercise Demonstrations
I tried to find some of the best video demonstrations for each exercise listed in the dumbbell workouts.
These videos will be a great start.
If you are ever crazing variety in your dumbbell workout head to Youtube for additional exercise ideas.
Bulgarian Split Squat
This is an ideal exercise for the quads when you only have a dumbbell and a bench available. When you first start out, get used to the movement with a set or two without dumbbells. My favorite part about this exercise is that it stretches the quads on the non-working leg.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
This exercise works the hamstrings and glutes. It’s a good exercise to balance out the legs since the Bulgarian split squat mainly works the quads. The only downside is that you may become too strong for your dumbbells to provide enough resistance. If that is the case, here is a link to the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift.
One Arm Dumbbell Row
The one arm dumbbell row is one exercise where heavy dumbbells may be required. As a tall long arm guy, this is the only upper body exercise I use 120+ pound dumbbells. If you want more lower back recruitment you can row both dumbbells simultaneously without using a bench.
Flat Bench Dumbbell Pullover
This exercise works both the chest and lats. In an ideal world, your home gym will have a pull-up bar. Pull-ups are a better overall back exercise, so use pull-ups in place of this exercise if you have that option available. If not, watch this video to ensure dumbbell pullovers are hitting your lats.
Incline Dumbbell Press
The upper chest is a weak point for many men and women, so I recommend you start your chest workout with incline dumbbell presses. The added benefit is that this works the shoulders more than the flat bench dumbbell press. Shoulders are also a weak point for many people.
Flat Bench Dumbbell Fly
The flat bench dumbbell fly is a good chest isolation movement. This will help build the inner chest if done properly. Some criticize the lift, saying that they can’t feel the chest working properly. This video should help, but if you absolutely dislike this lift then just do the flat bench dumbbell press instead.
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
I’ve always liked these better than any barbell shoulder exercise. When done properly these work your delts hard before your triceps give out. With a barbell, I feel reps are limited by tricep strength. This video is good but if you have shoulder issues, there is no need to pull your elbows back that far when pressing. Allow the elbows to travel forward.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
This is my all-time favorite video from Jeff Cavaliere of Athlean-X. Laterals used to irritate my shoulders until I began using this lateral raise variation. What is funny is that a young personal trainer tried to “correct” my form recently when he saw me doing dumbbell lateral raises as Jeff teaches in this video.
Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extension
This is a solid tricep exercise, just avoid hitting your head when lowering the dumbbell. This is a good video, but I prefer to do these on an incline bench set at a high incline. I feel like I’m going to fall back when doing these without something to rest my back against.
Dumbbell Tricep Kickback
I used to do these one arm at a time with one leg resting on a flat bench. This is a quick isolation exercise and you can get the workout done in half the time if you use both arms at once. Also, if you are in a busy commercial gym it is almost selfish to take up a bench with the single-arm method.
Alternate Dumbbell Bicep Curl
The alternate dumbbell curl is fun because it allows you to use heavier weights than any other dumbbell curl variation. This video demonstrates the standing version, but I prefer seated.
Incline Dumbell Curl
This is an exercise where I recommend using super light weights. I like alternate dumbbell curls for building overall strength in the biceps, but I believe this one is more of an exercise where the goal is to feel each rep.
Standing Dumbell Calf Raise
There are a bunch of ways to work calves with dumbbells. If you have a set of stairs, you can work one leg at a time by holding a dumbbell in one hand and holding onto a rail or the wall with the other. The nice thing about doing both calves simultaneously like this is that it is faster and works your balance.
Dumbbell Workout Summary
It is definitely possible to great workout with a set of dumbbells and an adjustable bench.
If I was setting up a home gym this is where I would start.
I would pick up a power rack that had a pull-up bar, an Olympic bar and a full set of Olympic plates.
The reason I train in a commercial gym is that I like the variety of equipment and the high-end cardio machines.
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I can definitely see that draw of training at home.
As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.
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