Most people think that you have to lift really big, heavy weights for low repetitions in order to build a lot of muscle mass. This means exercises like heavy barbell bench presses, heavy barbell squats and heavy barbell deadlifts, too.
But huge weights on big barbell exercises aren’t necessary. If you want to gain a lot of lean muscle mass, you can do so it with just dumbbells. And they don’t have to be really heavy dumbbells, either. You can do it with light to medium dumbbells.
You can even gain muscle without going to the gym or needing a lot of workout space. All you need is a couple of adjustable dumbbells (check Amazon – lots of great options) and/or a variety of free weights. This doesn’t cost much at all and will last you a lifetime.
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TIP: do get proper quality adjustable dumbbells though. Something like the Bowflex SelectTech – it takes 2 seconds to change weights and makes workouts a hell of a lot more fun than messing around unscrewing collars etc. You’ll thank me later 🙂
Alternatively, I’d recommend getting up to three sets so you can have three different dumbbell weights set up before you workout. Then you won’t have to keep stopping and changing the weights around. But quality adjustables take up less room and are just less hassle.
The only other piece of equipment you’ll need to be able to do all the exercises you’ll need for your muscle blasting dumbbell workouts is a simple bench.
You don’t need an expensive one with bench stands or anything since you are just using dumbbells, so a simple flat bench will do the trick. It doesn’t take up much space at all.
The key to triggering gains in lean muscle isn’t lifting super heavy poundages like a weightlifter or power lifter. That’s not what you’re training to be, right, so why would you train in that way?
No, it’s increasing your training density. Training density is simple doing the same amount of work in less time or more work in the same amount of time. And doing more work in less time is the ultimate goal!
And yes, this does work for slim men too – you don’t need to be ripped to get started (read how to gain muscle for skinny guys).
How Do I Get Started?
A great way to do this, and build muscle without heavy weights, is to perform eight sets of eight repetitions for an exercise and only take 15 to 30 seconds of rest between sets. Start with 30 seconds and over time, try and reduce it to 15 seconds.
You want to use the same weight for all eight sets. Only the last few sets will be taken to failure. If you can get eight repetitions on all eight sets, add a little weight for the next workout.
Most likely the last few sets will have you getting less than eight reps. In that case, keep the weight the same until you can get eight reps on all eight sets.
Perform one exercise per body part such as the dumbbell bench press for the chest. Work out three times per week and work the entire body in each work out.
Here’s a sample dumbbell workout using this exact strategy:-
- Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
- Dumbbell Alternate Reverse Lunge
- Dumbbell One Arm Row
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Standing (or Seated) Press
- Dumbbell Tricep Extensions
- Dumbbell Curls
Try and increase your repetitions and weights as often as possible and you’ll be well on your way to nice gains in lean muscle mass.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive program complete with videos etc, take a look at the Adonis Golden Ratio Program here (it really does work).
Let me know how you get on.
23 thoughts on “How To Gain Lean Muscle Mass With Dumbbell Only Workouts”
I agree on the adjustables – I have those Bowflex ones and they do save heaps on time. The alternative is a rack of all different weights already set up, like they have in gyms but who has the space (or cash) for that! Thanks for the tips.
After how many days would I increase my dumbell weights?
It depends what plan you’re following. Short answer is – as soon as you can (within reason). Longer answer is – if you’re working on 3 sets of 12 for example, and you can easily do all 3 sets, then increase. If you can only manage 12, 10 and 6 reps then keep to the same weight. But also focus on your form and pace too, doing really good clean reps is more important than hitting numbers.
What do us the skinny guys do?
Not a problem – check out this post on muscle building for skinny guys 🙂
I had rotator cuff-shoulder surgery over a year ago and I’m trying to develop lean muscles. The sugggested exercise are nice and simple; although, it appears they can introduce further rotator cuff damage. What’s the alternative soution for individuals with damaged shoulders?
I have the same issues. Try resistance bands. You don’t have to use the hard ones. The light ones higher reps. Look up roatator cuff rehab exercises with resistance bands. You’ll find YouTube videos. Helped me a lot. Facepulls are really good too. Again focus on form and not speed or weight.
These types of injuries are usually due to not warming up your rotator cuffs prior to any chest or shoulder workout plus not a proper 2 warm up sets. It’s essential and you’ll lift more weight naturally too.
Another reason can be due to incorrect form on chest or shoulder pressing exercises. It can happen instantly or gradually for people. And when consistently putting stress on it each week various times without realising, then results in this. I’m talking from experience when I first started training and I wasn’t ego lifting. A few minor tweaks to each exercise and the warming up… and I’ve never had problems since.
Shoulders injuries are the worst as you realise you use them with every exercise in the gym even with legs with the stress of the weight above you and can take months to go. Even with rest, I found after a month off I went to the gym and still had the pain, until you warm up every time etc it strengthens up all the ligaments in your shoulder. Muscles can gain strength and repair a lot quicker than ligaments and tendons that’s why even if you feel you can it’s best not to jump up in weight too much, so slowly each session week on week.
Bands are great but also light dumbbells for the next month, don’t be embarrassed lifting light, it’s for your own benefit. In that time just try a few different techniques in pressing and sus what works for your body as everyone is different.
Swimming is great to strengthen shoulders and most injuries to your body. Through my experience I wouldn’t waste your money on physio’s, never helped once I think there just a con to get loads of money off you.
I am getting obsessed with the adjustable dumbbell by Bowflex – I am going to buy a pair today. I am a fat guy, doing exercise to reduce excessive belly fat. Can I start this workout?
This training is nothing for fat guys. You need to fix your eating habbits first – high protein, low calories, medium carbs, no sweets, ever. Only drink water and tee, forever.
THEN when you start losing weight, you do walking, NO JOGGING, swimming, being somewhat active. Then you at some point start doing some weight excercises, mainly compound movements to activate a lot of muscles, but LOW WEIGHT squats and deadlifts only for the first FULL YEAR since you might have some strength, but no technique.
And THEN you can do this programm after 1-2 years and under 25% bodyfat.
Thanks for your help.
21 levels exercise how many levels per day?
Hi, I want to start gyming, but I don’t know what exercise I can do to gain muscle fast, or what medicine can I use because I am skinny?
Have a read of this guide on building muscle for skinny guys. But basically the key is good nutrition (lots of protein – you’ll need any decent protein powder supplement to make this practical, e.g. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey is good and cheap), and a solid excercise routine (such as this one).
Great article that you wrote. Short and informative. I hope you get a chance to read my question.
Instead of 8 sets for each exercise, can I do 3 to 4 sets for each exercise and 8 to 12 reps? I have dummbbells that go from 5lbs to 100lbs?
Hi. Your article is interesting. Let’s say that for a core warmup, I do a 20 minutes interval running and 4 sets of the following continuously (15 push-up, 15 ABS legs extension, 15 side to side ABS half rotation with a medicine ball and 15 body squats with medicine ball) – do I still need to perform 8 sets of 8 reps with dumbbells? Thanks.
“I’d recommend getting up to three sets…”
LOL, 3 sets of adjustable dumbbells. You must not be married!
Two words – man cave 😉
No, they said “alternatively”. As in an alternative to one set of adjustable dumbbells would be 3 sets of regular dumbbells at different weights. Who would buy 3 sets of adjustable dumbbells? Defeats the entire purpose of being adjustable.
I’m 69 years old locked out of my gym as everyone is. I have 3 sets of dumbbells (25-35-45 pounds) and an adjustable bench: workouts consist of the same amount of sets as gym workouts, however, more reps (flat bench 20 per with 45s) (incline 15 per) (flys flat incline 12 per). Shoulders: same format more reps per set and less time between sets. Really works well under the circumstances.
Can beginners do this workout or should I scale it down?
Some exercise like incline DB press, I use DB chrush press due to rotar cuff. Also I’m 65 years old. Left shoulder is weaker than right. So I do single arm DB persses. I’m going to try this 8×8 routine out. I’ll have to make a few changes though.
Hi Walt, it would be great to hear how you liked the program. I am looking to start one and this sounds pretty good. Thanks.