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The Full-Body Dumbbell Workout Program

By Andrew Coates May 13th, 2020 | Image Source : T- Nation

Build Muscle With Limited Equipment

Keeping a set of dumbbells at home is the perfect insurance policy against missed workouts. They’ll support maintenance and even progression when you can’t make it to the gym.

But they aren’t without flaws for progressive strength training. Fixed dumbbells are pricey, so you probably don’t have a full set. And adjustable dumbbells usually top out at 50-90 pounds. This limits loading as the primary source of overload.

The only solution is to emphasize other strategies. Shift your focus to other forms of progressive overload, like these:

1. Higher Reps

Create more total volume. Getting to near-failure is critical for hypertrophy. Your heavy dumbbells may take around 10 reps to reach failure, while lighter ones could take 20. So you can still gain the benefits of near-failure training for muscle growth by just upping the reps. It will be grueling but it’ll separate contenders from pretenders.


2. More Sets

Adding sets is the best strategy to increase total workload, as long as they’re tough and not junk volume. Greater volume of tough sets is one of the best metrics for effective training. In a suboptimal training environment, you’ll find it difficult to perform enough weekly tough sets to overtrain, so you’ll have a built-in safeguard.

3. Slower Tempo

Add time under tension and difficulty by slowing down each rep. Take 3-5 seconds for the positive and/or negative portion of your reps. Even if you have access to a gym, it’s still a great way to challenge your muscles with a new stimulus.

4. Greater Density

Take shorter rest periods. This adds difficulty and metabolic stress. It tends to enhance conditioning and work capacity, versus pure strength or muscle growth.

5. Improved Form, Control, and Range of Motion

These are all connected. Improved execution of an exercise is an underrated part of progression. It’ll lead to more strength and the ability to perform greater volume over time. Increased skill and strength often allows the use of greater range of motion, which in turn improves growth and strength.

Use one or more of these strategies to offset loading limitations so your workouts don’t suffer.

The Full-Body Workouts

This is a complete dumbbell workout program. You’ll see two exercises per body part. Alternate between workout A exercises, rest day, workout B exercises, rest day, and repeat.

Workout A

  • Floor Dumbbell Press
  • 3-Point Dumbbell Row
  • Military Dumbbell Press
  • Goblet Squat
  • Dumbbell RDL
  • Dumbbell Curl

Workout B

  • Bridge Dumbbell Press
  • Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
  • Arnold Press
  • Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat
  • Sumo Dumbbell RDL
  • Dumbbell Skull Crusher

For Chest: Floor Press

You may not have access to a bench, but the floor press takes care of chest training. It may prove challenging to load heavier dumbbells into position on the floor, and risk breaking your adjustable dumbbells by dropping them, so use moderate weight for higher reps to create tension and get a pump.

Workout A. Floor Dumbbell Press

  • Lay on the floor with bent knees and feet on the ground.
  • Load dumbbells into position with your upper arm between neutral to 60 degrees from your torso.
  • Press the weight up, then draw it back down by retracting the shoulder blades.
  • Pause your elbows on the ground for 1-2 seconds then repeat. The floor shortens range of motion so use a controlled pause at the bottom.

If you have adjustable dumbbells or loading choices, do 3 ramping sets of 15-20 reps ascending-pyramid style. Go from lighter weight to heavier weight and back down. If you can’t adjust the load, slow the rep tempo as needed to bring the set to near-failure.

Workout B. Bridge Dumbbell Press

  • Hold a glute bridge for the duration of your set. By elevating your hips and having your knees bent at 90 degrees, you create a decline pressing angle.
  • Fully extend your hips while keeping the abs engaged and your lumbar spine neutral. The added glute training is secondary to creating a different angle for your chest training. Otherwise, do your bridge press like your floor press.

Do 3 ramping sets of 15-20 reps ascending-pyramid style. Go from lighter weight to heavier weight and back down. If you can’t adjust the weight, slow the rep tempo as needed to bring the set to near-failure.

For Back: Dumbbell Row

Assuming you don’t have a bench at home, you have two options. For both, make sure you maintain a neutral spine through the movement while allowing your shoulder blades to fully protract and retract through each rep.

Workout A. 3-Point Dumbbell Row

  • Find something to brace yourself against: a sturdy chair, table, or counter, etc.
  • Setup with your torso parallel to the floor or slightly upright from parallel and your arm braced.
  • Flex your abs to keep a neutral lower back.
  • Maintain a slight knee bend to keep tension in your hamstrings and glutes and away from your lower back.
  • As you row, avoid rotating at your spine or drawing your elbow above your torso to where the ball of your shoulder socket glides forward.

Do 4 sets of 15-20.

Workout B. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

  • Find the right grip. Though underhand works, this may feel more natural with an overhand grip and dumbbells rotated about 45-degrees at the sides of your body. The weight sits closer to your center of gravity and you feel less lower back stress.
  • Stand in the bottom position of a Romanian deadlift with a slight knee bend and tension in your hamstrings and glutes.
  • Flex your abs and maintain a straight lower back. Allow the weight to descend close to your knees, then row up and in toward your navel.

Do 4 sets of 10-15.

For Shoulders: Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Do these standing, kneeling (if your ceiling is too low), or grab a chair. Allow your scapula to upwardly rotate with the movement. Keep abs tight and avoid excessive lumbar arching.

Workout A. Military Dumbbell Press

  • Choose the best arm angle and decide between a wide to neutral grip.
  • Keep the dumbbell, your wrist, and your elbow stacked.

Do 4 sets of 12-20.

Workout B. Arnold Press

  • Begin with palms facing you and elbows tucked forward.
  • Rotate your elbows outward and press up until your palms face forward at the top. Make the upward movement coincide with the rotation.

Do 4 sets of 10-15 per side.

For Legs and Glutes: Squat

Dumbbells limit the load, but can still provide training stimulus for growth. It’s an opportunity to give your joints and spine a break while pushing your muscles hard.

Workout A. Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Goblet squats will fry your quads, work your abs and upper back, and enhance your training capacity.

  • Hold a dumbbell at your sternum, brace your abs, and retract your shoulder blades.
  • Descend into a squat. Go as deep as you can while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Keep your knees in line with your toes. Keep pressure through your entire foot.

Do 4-5 sets of 15-25 ascending-pyramid style. If you can’t adjust the load, slow the rep tempo as needed to bring the set to near-failure.

Workout B. Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat

Even more than goblet squats, these will limit spinal loading and torch your quads. They also create a loaded stretch for the glutes, producing intense soreness.

  • Elevate your back foot with laces down onto a chair, couch, or any object that’s roughly knee height.
  • Begin with your front foot far enough forward to allow you to maintain weight in your front heel.
  • Keep your spine neutral while allowing your torso to pivot forward as you descend. This keeps your shin vertical and prevents your knee from driving forward past your toe.

Note: A forward knee is fine if you have the ankle mobility to do it without your center of gravity shifting to the ball of your foot. Most people feel less knee stress with a vertical shin.

With dumbbells in each hand or one held in goblet position, do 8-12 reps per side before switching. Rest between sides if needed.

For Legs and Glutes: Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

It’s easy to prioritize chest, arms, and even quads, but wise lifters maintain strong hips and glutes in their programs. This shouldn’t change when you train with limited equipment.

Workout A. Dumbbell RDL

  • Turn the dumbbells 45 degrees to shift more of the weight toward your center of gravity. This reduces tension on your lower back without compromising the training effect for your hams and glutes.
  • Start with a soft knee bend and hinge forward at your hips while keeping a neutral spine.
  • Descend with control until you reach your hip flexion end range.
  • Reverse direction and lock out at your hips, not your lower back.

Do 4 sets of 10-15.

Workout B. Sumo RDL

This variation hits your hamstrings from a different angle.

  • Setup in a wide foot stance and hold the dumbbells close together with a neutral grip.
  • Start with a soft knee bend and hinge forward at your hips while keeping a neutral spine.
  • Descend with control until you reach your hip-flexion end range. Reverse direction and lock out at your hips, not your lower back.

Do 4 sets of 10-15.

For Arms: Curl and Skull Crusher

Dumbbells provide unlimited direct arm training options. Many lifters use sloppy form and load too heavily to control. Take this opportunity to break bad habits and use strict form.

Workout A. Dumbbell Curl

  • Start each curl with your palm facing forward with your elbow fully extended.
  • Ditch the half hammer curl and stretch both bicep heads under load through full range of motion.
  • Flex your elbow and curl the weight with minimal shoulder movement.
  • Emphasize the negative by slowing it down for added mechanical tension.
  • Pause on each side as you alternate arms.

Do 4 sets of 12-25.

Workout B. Dumbbell Skull Crusher

  • Lay on the floor and hold the dumbbells with neutral grip.
  • Begin with arms extended to the ceiling.
  • Choose a humerus angle close to 90 degrees from your body.
  • Hinge at the elbows and lower the weights to the sides of your head while keeping your shoulders stable.

Individual dumbbells will be less stable than using a bar, necessitating lighter load. Do 4 sets of 10-20.

The Good News

It doesn’t take much training volume to maintain muscle mass. You may even find yourself making modest gains.

When faced with limited tools, you retain choice of attitude. You can fixate on what’s missing, or you can be grateful for the tools you have and take the opportunity to refine your technique and immerse yourself in a different style of training.

Author: Andrew Coates

Source: T- Nation: The Full-Body Dumbbell Workout Program

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