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Dumbbell Only Full Body Program
Getting The Most Out of The Least
This is the newest program of many I’m bringing to you over the next 18 months (I have 12 more programs planned, bringing you 1 every 1-2 months).
The Dumbbell Only Full Body Program is perfect for those with minimal equipment access—those who workout in a home gym, or travel frequently and use hotel gyms (a lot of you fall in this category—my average reader is in some sort of business and travels frequently).
This program is extremely simple, yet highly effective. You can expect good gains from this. Is it better than a traditional weight lifting program in a gym? Of course not, you’re only using one of many tools. Is it good enough for you to make killer progress? Yes, absolutely, you will be giving the body the stimulus it needs to grow.
Program Set Up
Like any of my other programs, we will follow progressive overload as our guiding principle. We are going to keep volume low—with this being full-body, frequency will be high—and workouts will be short, 30-45 minutes.
As with all the other programs, we are going to focus on quality over quantity. The basis is very simple: you will be given a rep range (and before I’m asked 20 times, 2 sets of 6-9, 12-15 is 2 total sets not two of each), this rep range will be your target.
We will perform our sets to failure or to the point another rep cannot be performed with good form—safety is key.
For all of your workouts, you will keep a logbook. Use a notebook, phone app (people like the Strong App), the notes app in your phone, or the Logbook coming soon to BowTiedOx.com.
Your goal of each set will be to perform your sets in the given rep range and when you reach the top of the rep range, you will simply go up in weight and start back at the bottom of the rep range.
You are doing incline dumbbell bench press and are given 6-9 for your rep range.
Week 1: You use 100 lbs and get 6 reps at the point of failure.
Week 4: You get 100 lbs for 9 reps at the point of failure, you are now at the top of the rep range.
Week 5: You would then up the weight to 105 lbs and this will put you back at the bottom around 6 reps.
You will do the same for your 12-15 rep range—as you reach the top of the rep range (15), you will increase your weight and start back at the bottom of the rep range (12) with your new weight.
If we can continue to do this over time, you will grow—it is simply improbable you can get stronger in the hypertrophy rep range (6-20 reps) and not add muscle.
These are the key principles behind all muscle growth and this program.
Form and Tempo
Form will be of top priority when performing your sets for two simple reasons:
Proper form allows us to actually work the targeted muscle optimally.
Proper form lowers the risk of injury.
Tempo will be utilized to maximize tension on the muscle during working sets. This will form a healthy and optimized mind-muscle connection, and thus ultimately decrease the risk of injury. (You will have total control of the weight through the movement and force adaptive responses to grow the muscle—as discussed in the post on progressive overload).
Tempo will be manipulated through the course of your training to create a novel stimulus, so the muscle growth does not stall.
During compound lifts, you will utilize a 3:1:2:1 seconds tempo. e.g. During an Incline Dumbbell Bench session you will spend 3 seconds pushing the dumbbells up, hold 1 second, bringing the dumbbells down slowly (2 seconds), and hold 1 second at the bottom before performing the next rep.
Isolated Movements, you will utilize a 3:1:3:1 seconds tempo. e.g. During Hammer Curls you pull the weight forward and up for 3 seconds, hold for 1 sec at the top, spend 3 seconds returning to your neutral position, and then hold before performing the next rep for 1 second.
These tempos are crucial to master before incorporating new tempos to ensure we understand the intent, control and maximum tension of the movement.
You should always tighten your core and use perfect form when utilizing tempo techniques and in general to lessen the risk of injury and properly fire the muscles.
At a minimum we need a bench, preferably an adjustable bench, and dumbbells, preferably up to 100 lbs+ but if you are limited, they need to be enough you can actually perform exercise within the given rep ranges.
Dumbbells are rather easy to acquire for a decent price; however, the investment regardless is totally worth the cost tenfold.
If you’re limited to hotel gyms and the weight is too light, simply perform higher rep ranges. Instead of 6-9, do 12-15, instead of 15-20, do 20-30.
We will focus on different functions of different muscles on the different days of the workout. We will have both lower focus and upper focus full body workouts.
The structure is very simple:
We will hit each major muscle group once a workout for 2 sets—this will give us a weekly volume of 6 sets per muscle group, which when done with max intensity is more than enough to grow.
We will set up 2 workouts: Full Body Upper Focus and Full Body Lower Focus.
The only difference between these two workouts is the order of exercise.
As long as we are hitting each bodypart for 2 sets per workout, we will accomplish our goal of muscle growth.
This is a sample plan of how I would structure the workouts:
Dumbbell Incline Bench: 2 Sets 6-9, 12-15
Dumbbell Single Arm Row: 2 Sets 6-9, 12-15
Dumbbell Split Squats: 2 Sets 6-9, 12-15
Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 2 Sets 6-9, 12-15
Dumbbell SLDL: 2 Sets 6-9
Abs: 2 Sets your favorite exercise, as many reps as possible.
Dumbbell Front Squats: 2 Sets 12-15, 15-20
Dumbbell Flat Bench: 2 Sets 12-15, 15-20
Dumbbell Hip Thrusts: 2 Sets 12-15, 15-20
Dual Arms Dumbbell Rows: 2 Sets 12-15, 15-20
Hammer Curls: 2 Sets 6-9, 12-15
Tricep Overhead Extensions: 2 Sets 8-12, 15-20
Calves Raises: 2 Sets 10-12, 12-15
Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 2 Sets 8-12, 12-15
Dumbbell Close Grip Press (Crush Press: 2 Sets 8-12, 12-15
Dumbbell Lunges: 2 Sets 8-12, 12-15
Dumbbell Pullovers: 2 Sets 8-12, 12-15
Dumbbell RDL: 2 Sets 8-12, 12-15
Dumbbell Bicep Curls: 2 Sets 8-12, 12-15
Abs: 2 Sets your favorite exercise, as many reps as possible.
Putting It All Together
As stated, this program is going to be perfect for those who only have access to dumbbells, but if you have access to more, please use more—you will make better gains using as many tools at your disposal as you can.
After running this program for 12-16 weeks, simply take 5-7 days off lifting, you will not lose your gains and this will be important for future gains.
You need to log all of your lifts—beating the numbers from the previous workout should be your main objective.
This program is safe for nearly anyone to use: teenagers, older trainers, anyone. There is not much spinal loading and dumbbells are very safe and can simply be dropped at the point of failure (obviously avoid your feet).
I would not run this program all the time—I would look to upgrade your gym situation whether that be get a gym membership or add equipment to your home gym—the dumbbells are only going to get us so far.
However, this program will absolutely get the job done if your goal is to be in better shape and/or add some muscle.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.
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