T Nation

Gaining Size with Limited Equipment

Hey Coach,

Longtime reader and follower of your stuff here on T-Nation.

Due to current living circumstances, I only have access to an adjustable bench, dumbbells going up to 90 lbs each, a pull up bar, and stability ball. My current stats are 5’11", 159lbs, 30 years old.

I’m currently trying to lean bulk and figure out a workout program to do at home for the foreseeable future.

I enjoy weightlifting and want to get bigger but also keep my overall athleticism that I need for martial arts.

Can you recommend or publish an article on the main site for gaining mass with limited equipment?

I love to train, and ideally would like to be lifting at least 4 days a week. Is there some kind of Upper/Lower split you’d recommend or something along those lines?

Thanks in advance coach!

Without knowing anything else about you other than body weight I’m assuming you’ll be able to make acceptable advances in upper body strength/hypertrophy using DB variations of any exercise given the weight you have access to–keeping the meat and potatoes of it benching and pressing. The tough part here is obviously making progress on leg strength.

I’m interested to see what CT suggests but if 180lb deadlifts and squats aren’t very taxing then you either need to do them for crazy reps or move to single leg lifts. 90lb goblet split squats would wreck me–although I’m not sure this would align with your goals.

Some other things to look into would be one arm snatches/cleans.

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I had a similar situation when abroad and think it can be a very productive environment IF you invest in a weight/dipping belt (fairly inexpensive)

Weighted chins and dips (if you can do them, or pushups with belt on mid back) with DB will produce lots of gains. With select DB work (shoulder presses, lateral) you got your upper body covered.

Lower body do bulgarian squats (play around with elevation, depth, quad/glute emphasis). If you can handle 90s in each hand on one leg for many reps that will be quite sufficent for lower body…

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Dont think he has a dumbell only workout. Anyway this will work a treat…

Thanks for the idea!

Still hoping to see what Coach Thib’s recommends as far as a program with possible substitutions.

Well my power look and 915 programs only require a barbell and dumbbells

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Thanks for the response coach.

I checked out the Power Look Program and it seems really intriguing. However, I only have dumbbells, pull up bar, and adjustable bench.

What should I substitute in place of the barbell moves like Deadlift?

Is there a dumbbells only option you can recommend?


I will be honest with you, I’ve never been a big dumbbell guy. I thought you had a barbell. Most of my programs are based around the barbell. I have not written a program based only on dumbbells and will not do so since it is not something I do.

All the presses for the upper body can be done with dumbbells but for the lower body the squat and deadlift cannot really be done with DBs, unless you have 200lbs DBs.

For the lower body look into:

Bulgarian split squats
Backward lunges
DB romanian deadliftt
DB “front” squats (dumbbells held on your shoulders)
Single leg deadlifts
DB high pulls
DB power snatch
DB power clean

I would do mostly sets of 6-8 reps. If the dumbbells are too light to make the movement challenging slow down the eccentric tempo

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Thanks Coach!

I’ll make due with what I have until I can afford my own power rack.

Do you have any recommendations on good quality, yet affordable power racks for the house?

I don’t have a power rack for my garage. Its two adjustable squat posts that I can also use for the bench.

If you do to the elitefts website and search for adjustable squat stand you can have them for about 300$… of course it’s not as good as a power rack. But it will allow you to do squats, front squats, push press, bench press, incline bench.

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Thanks for all of your help coach!