T Nation

Limited Training Equipment. No Barbell for 3 Months


I have a training issue. For the next 3 months, I will only be able to train with dumbbells going up to 100lbs each, a bench, and a pull-up/dips station. Until I join a gym, this is all I have access to. I’m just trying to find a good way to build some muscle with higher rep work with the limited equipment I have access to before having being able to use a barbell at a gym again. It’s only 3 months so instead of not working out, I figured this would be a good time to build some muscle. Any ideas of how to setup the days with exercises and some sort of progression that isn’t completely stupid? I know it’s not ideal but would love to get Jim’s take on what he would advise in this situation.


What were you doing prior to not having access to a gym?


Personally I’d just use the time to go for rep records with dumbbells and get really good at body weight stuff. I don’t know how strong you are but maybe aim for 30 reps of dumbbell rows with 100lbs or 20 dips/pullups, something like that.


Think of the 5’s pro template and change it into a 8’s pro, or 10’s pro - whatever those weights get you to.

You could do SLDL for the deadlift, and squats holding two dumbbells by your side, or do goblet squats.


Goblet squat
Db Romanian dls

3 x 20

Add 10 reps every week until you hit 3 x 50

Done this recently and had some of the most brutal workouts ever. Use this as an opportunity to explore new ways of training mate


Thanks everyone. Before this I was doing the original 5/3/1 4 days a week. Ya, I was thinking of using the time for dumbbell rep records and also doing a lot of bodyweight work. How would you guys set it up if I was sticking to a traditional 5/3/1 template? Would I just choose a total rep amount for goblet squats, sldl, bench, and press? and then fill in extra assistance work with db rows, dips, chins, etc.? The problem with choosing 10’s pro instead of 5’s pro (I assume that doing work sets for sets of 10 reps instead of 5 reps) is I will already be able to goblet squat the 100b dumbbells for at least 10 reps. Should I try a higher “PRO” rep range for main work? Something like 20’s pro or should I just choose a set amount of total reps to complete? So maybe aim for 50 total reps of goblet squats in as little sets as possible? Maybe instead of 4 days a week of each main lift, maybe just do a 3 day a week full body split? I think the full body split would be better, just don’t know how to split up the work.


Any thoughts on how to set up this type of training in a leader/anchor format?


Man without barbells there is no point in training with a 5/3/1 template. Instead do what others have mentioned. Maybe just work with a more traditional bodybuilding template? You have an opportunity to gain some muscle mass while maybe giving the joints a rest just take it in stride


Any advise on setting up a plan then? I know basic exercises to use but not how much volume to use. I know that depends on recovery but I’m just looking for a little guidance. My recovery will be pretty good. I eat a lot of food, get plenty of rest, and ride the assault bike everyday. I do want to use this time in a positive way instead of pissed I can’t use a barbell and properly train for strength. I’m not into bodybuilding so I thought Jim might have some suggestions for me. I have used 5/3/1 for a long time with great success, and instead of taking 3 months off, I thought this would be a good opportunity to build some muscle. Just need a few ideas of how to setup a template. I was thinking of a full body template 3 days a week. Something maybe like:

DB Squat
DB Bench
DB Rows
Band Pull Aparts

DB Press
DB Shrugs

DB Lunges
Band Pull Aparts

If there is a more efficient way, any advice would be appreciated. Maybe a upper/lower split instead for 4 days a week? Just not sure about volume… Should I shoot for total number or reps, like 50-100 of each exercise, or should I do 3-5 sets of 10 and just increase weight when I get 5X10? I just have never used all dumbbells and not sure how to manage volume without main barbell lifts. Thanks.


You can just follow a similar body split as one of the 5/3/1 templates, if nothing you are doing is super heavy maybe consider a full body split, focus a lot on conditioning. I wouldn’t do the 5/3/1 rep scheme though, you can just make up something similar for pressing, workup to a heavy rep max then back off sets, ignore percentages and the week to week changes. For legs this may not be best option, just do lots of reps with whatever your able to.

To keep it simple full body sounds best, the more unique days you have the more creative you have to get.


Thank you. I like the sound of working up to a heavy rep max then doing some back off sets for lots of reps. Should I just stick to a squat, push, and pull each day and then add a couple assistance exercises such as chins, dips, rows, curls, etc.?


Would like to know how Jim would approach this as a full body template…


I would do something similar to what I did a couple years ago following my back surgery - no barbells; nothing but weight vest, sleds, Prowlers and KB’s. I developed a separate training program and several different “standards” to train for. I also used the basic principles and the “20% conditioning” principle - in other words we NEVER TEST, we only train. Vast majority of programs and trendhoppers test and never train.

I dubbed this WaLRUS training, since you are the fat, disgusting cousin of the Navy SeAL. It’s meant as a joke so don’t start pulling your puds just yet.

It is very comprehensive and I don’t want to write the program now. But in general, the standard to reach for the Suburban Commando is:

50 DB squats with 100lb DB
50 Dips
25 chins

all with 85lbs vest and must be done in 30 minutes. That is one of half-dozen standards I have and what we TRAIN for (again we don’t test during training). So develop your standards and develop your training to reach those standards.


Thank you for the advice.