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Using Dumbbells as Home Gym Starter?

I am thinking about starting weightlifting on my apartment. Public gyms are too scary and too expensive in my current city. I am considering to buy a pair of adjustable dumbbell because it is affordable and it suits my shoebox apartment. However, I have some questions:

  1. Currently I focus on upping my strength. That is why my program consists of basic lifts using barbell, i.e. squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift, power clean. Should I just change the exercises into its dumbbell variant? Or is it better for me to change the exercise altogether? Do you have any suggestion?

  2. People said it is better or beginner to focus on weight progress. But, if someday I cannot add more weight (it is a long journey, I know) because I cant afford the plate yet, what should I do?

  1. Yep switch to a dumbell version if that’s what you enjoy for the main lifts.

  2. You can Progress by adding more reps, sets, shorter rest times, holds, partials, 1 and half reps, preexhaustion, better form, slower eccentrics. So many options that limited weight shouldn’t stop you making progress.

Aside from the above a set of bands can help add resistance.

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TONS of templates and strategies to get in great shape in this thread…

Def get something to do pullups on. One or two medium-heavy kettebells can be very useful also

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I don’t get it, you plan on buying 1in hole plate? since you asked for dumbbells i would guess yes.

1in or 2in, between dumbbell and barbell the only difference is the barbell and the handles. Why not simply buy both? I’m training from home for the moment due to all gyms being close for at least another month or 2 (Quebec) and since the beginning of the covid shutdown and 1 thing that i learned during that time is “only dumbbell work is really hard on the elbows”. I never got any issue with my elbows (using barbell, dumbbell, cable, machine, etc) during the last 13 years and i was able to get issue within 3 months. It is raided a lot of time that barbell bench press may be hard on the shoulders, but now i really think that dumbbell bench press/OHP/overhead extension/etc can become hard on the elbow due to an overload of stabilisation required if it’s the only thing you do.

My friend, I’m in the same boat stuck in a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment in Manhattan (though thankfully moving to the suburbs in a couple months). Here’s my set up and program, I hope you find it helpful but of course everyone has different goals. I powerlift, but I obviously can’t fit a power rack in my apartment and deadlift haha so for now I’m focusing on maintaining muscle mass. My wife has actually told me my upper/lower body look bigger, and the way my clothes fit seems to confirm this. As you know, the 3 toggles of lifting are frequency, intensity, and volume, you can only do 2/3 at a time. Since intensity is out of the picture, I’m focusing on the other two.

Equipment:
40-120 lbs dumbbells in 10 lbs increments
All pairs of Westside bands, some smaller EliteFTS bands, too
An adjustable bench
5 really thick yoga mats so I don’t break the wood floor

Program:
Saturday:
Flat bench: 3x8
Seated overhead press: 3x15-20
Chest-supported rows (pause at top): 3x20
Decline skullcrushers: 3x20
Supinated rear delt flyes (3 second pause on top): 3x15-20
Shrugs (3 second pause at top): 3x20
Hammer Curls: 3x20
Band pull-aparts: 3x30

Sunday:
Bulgarian Split Squats: 4x3-5
Step-ups: 4x12
RDLs: 4x15
Banded Good Mornings: 4x-15-20
Weighted Sit-ups: 5x20-25

Tuesday:
Seated overhead press: 3x8-10
Incline bench: 3x15-20
Single arm bent over rows: 3x10-12
Seated overhead extensions (single DB): 3x10
Supinated rear delt flyes (3 second pause on top): 3x15-20
Shrugs (3 second pause at top): 3x10-12
Hammer Curls: 3x12
Band pull-aparts: 3x30

Wednesday:
Bulgarian Split Squats: 4x12
Step-ups: 4x12
RDLs: 4x6-8
Banded Good Mornings: 4x-15-20
Incline Sit-ups: 5x10-15

Recovery:
I miss having my masseuse come over weekly for 90 minute deep tissue, but I’ve taken more time to foam roll, lacrosse ball, gua sha (and have my wife help with hard to reach areas).

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Blockquote “only dumbbell work is really hard on the elbows”. I never got any issue with my elbows (using barbell, dumbbell, cable, machine, etc) during the last 13 years and i was able to get issue within 3 months. It is raided a lot of time that barbell bench press may be hard on the shoulders, but now i really think that dumbbell bench press/OHP/overhead extension/etc can become hard on the elbow due to an overload of stabilisation required if it’s the only thing you do.

Adark:

May I ask what else you’re doing that you consider tough on the elbows? Lots of extensions and/or skullcrushers?

Various angle bench, seated ohp, Skull crusher, ring dips (that one may actually be part of the problem), ring push up, ring tricep extension.

Yes. What i mean with adjustable dumbbells are just handles and the plates. I want to to buy the barbells too, but I think my apartment will be too crowded.

I wonder if your overloaded elbows is caused by the nature of dumbbell itself or the selection of exercise. Because I plan to do the basic lift, it should not be the problem. Perhaps I could evaluate it after a month.

Sadly pull up is out of the question. I am not allowed to install pull up bar and I cannot find a nice door here to be my pull up spot. Frankly, that is one of the reasons why I want to buy dumbbells.

It’s not out of the question to do pullups. Get a pair of Metolius Rock Rings for $30. Also get a small section of rope strong enough to hold your weight.

Tie one rock ring to the end of a rope and throw it over a tree branch/support beam/sturdy railing, etc. Tie another knot in the rope and attach the second rock ring. Now you’re doing pullups.

By the way, you can just grab over the top of these and it’s like grabbing onto a bar. You don’t need to put your hands into the smaller slats on the sides, although if you wanted a stronger grip you can do dead hangs (not pullups) on the small edges.

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Here’s my setup at a local park.

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I have never seen these before - they look cool. Thanks for sharing. My kids love this kind of stuff.

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I really hope this guy is an actual engineer, would make this situation coupled with his name a perfect story arc.

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I’m a huge believer in gua sha and voodoo flossing for joint pain - wrists, elbows, ankles, shoulders, and knees (though I can’t imagine how you could voodoo floss your shoulders lol).

My recommendation is to try voodoo flossing your elbows big time, you can do it every day it won’t hurt you. Gua sha probably a maximum 2x a week, maybe 3. For your elbows, you want to scrape your triceps, both up and down, and your forearms on all sides, again, up and down. You don’t need a ton of pressure, but you want it nice and red.

Try that out brother and let me know if it works for you.

Besides my ez curl bar I’ve used strictly dumbbells since my gym closed and have accumulated 6 sets of adjustable dumbbell handles, two fixed set of dumbbells (20’s and 40’s) and around 300 lbs of plates Two of the sets of dumbbell handles are the pro-style so I’ve got them set at 53 and 68 lbs’s (the bars weigh 3 lb’s each). I load the other one’s up so I have 28’s and 33’s and then the others I can load up to 73 lb and 83 lbs’ as needed. The only issue I have is that when using the heavier one’s for incline presses it can be difficult swinging them up into the starting position and it can be hard on my shoulders starting the press from the bottom but I have never had elbow issues using them.

It looks neat, I will search a place for it