Critique my weight-lifting/fitness routine!
August 11, 2019 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I would like to optimize my lifting routine to get stronger and/or bigger. I've never been a member of a gym (and I will not join a gym), so what I'm able to do is limited to the equipment I have on hand (dumbbells, an adjustable weight bench, a pull-up/dip tower), and the fact that I do not have a spotter. I've been pretty happy with my gains, but I'm seeking any advice. I'm 5'8, early 30s, male, 135 lbs.

Since the trail I was running on has been under construction and my treadmill broke down I've been lifting more seriously than ever. I've googled, but weight training advice on the internet seems to exist at the shittiest intersection of dumb marketing and toxic masculinity. Almost all literature recommended on metafilter on this topic assumes you can do squats and you use barbells, which I mostly can't. I run enough that I don't mind too much that I don't do too much leg lifting, but if you've got some lifting exercises I can do instead of lunges/deadlift/weighted step-ups, then I'd like to hear them.

Here's a typical weight session (with a hilly run that is limited to 30 minutes before, after or often not at all on weight training days). Assume 75-120 seconds between sets (I set a watch to beep every 75 seconds, but I indulge myself during later sets):

Weighted lunges, 4 sets x 10 reps
Decline or flat bench, 4 x 8-12
Wide-grip pull-ups, 4 x 8-12
Shoulder-width dips, 4 x 8-12
Standing dumbbell rows (back at 45-degree angle), 4 x 8-12 (same weight as bench usually)
Seated military press on upright bench, 3 x 8-12
Palms facing me regular pull-ups, 3 x 8-12

I've only recently introduced the leg-lifting, and frequently I've started breaking my lifting days up since this is a really long effing routine: I'll combine pushing sets/pulling sets, or leg sets/pulling sets, and the exercises I didn't do will be on the next day. I just started doing dumbbell dead lifts (4x15) on days when I don't do all legs/pull/push sets together (my forearms get tired before my hamstrings do on dead lifts, this is really annoying).

This is my equipment: a pull-up/dip tower; dumbbell bars with many weight plates going up to 25 lbs; a weight bench that goes from a slight decline, flat, slight incline, 45-degree incline, 80-degree incline, 90-degree incline; a weight belt to hang weights on for pull-ups/dips; push-up handle things that take pressure off your wrists; a folding chair; and a dumbbell bar that I never use because I don't have a spotter or squat tower thing.

I just bought a 12" step-up platform to do step up stuff with dumbbells.

Thanks for reading so far. Other stuff: If I do legs on Monday I won't do legs again until at least Thursday, or push, or pull (this will go up to as much as 7 days depending on busy-ness/laziness). I vary the individual exercises, so I'll do flat or slight-incline bench on some days, or I'll do weighted pull-ups instead of wide-grip. I read online that you should go larger muscle to smaller, hence the lunges/bench/pullups order. If I have a great deal of time, I will also do isolation exercises like dumbbell pullovers, flyes, or curls.

I read that 60-90 seconds rest is ideal for body-building, but since I've adopted a 75-second rest between sets (about a year ago) I've lost five pounds: I started doing weighted lunges around the same time--my heart rate goes close to max during these, so that might explain the weight loss. My diet is fairly healthy, with a lot peanut butter and not a whole lot of meat.

I run about 4-5 times a week, less when it's brutally hot or raining. The running has been far from ideal: I used to do robust HIIT workouts on my treadmill, but I stopped when it broke six months ago. Though I've lost a little weight my body has really changed since I started lifting seriously, so that's cool. I'd be willing to spend up to 50 bucks on more equipment. Also my ceiling is too low to do standing military press, or much anything where my hands need to go above my head while standing (I have to pay attention during pullups not to smash my head through a light fixture).

I used to do six-minute abs, but I stopped a few years ago because I hate six-minute abs (12 different ab exercises on the floor that changes every 30 seconds). I'm not sure it was doing much, if anything, to improve my abs anyway.

Besides dumbbell step-ups (which I'll start soon), is there anything I should add to these routines? Is there anything I'm missing? I mostly like what I do, but if you know anything I can add, or something I can subtract, or some weird routine change I would love to hear from you.
posted by Luminiferous Ether to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do the dumbbell plates themselves go up to 25 pounds, or does the entire dumbbell? If it's the latter, you'll probably outgrow it fairly soon and if you can get heavier plates, that could be helpful for a bunch of things, but especially the deadlifts.

You say you "mostly can't" do squats. Is it something you could do if you stretched more, or there some other reason you can't? If you are able to work at them, after doing body weight squats, doing goblet squats with a dumbbell would be a good glute and quad exercise.
posted by jonathanhughes at 1:45 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

There are about a billion squat variations that you can do as long as "can't do squats" means "cannot do barbell squats due to no squat rack and no spotter."

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats/Bulgarian Split Squats
Goblet Squats
Pistol Squats
Jump Squats
Chair Squats
Skater or "Curtsey" Squats

You get the picture. Google is your friend here. If you're doing regular old flat bench press then I assume you have a barbell and plates; you can put a light load or just the bar across your back in back squat position and do loads of weighted squats. I find dudes are a lot better able to do this than I am as an AFAB person. Or just hold dumbbells while you do almost any of the above (or other) squat variations.

You mention deadlifts but not Romanian deadlifts; that's a good one to add to your library of things to do.

If you don't mind investing a little, you could get yourself a set of kettlebells and learn kettlebell swings. These will rightly kick your ass.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:03 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]

Seconding goblet squats. Also Bulgarian split squats. Seated overhead presses. Don't assume that running is going to take care of leg mass, it definitely won't and you'll end up with the "big top" look (really well-developed upper body, skinny little legs).

At your age (unfortunately, early 30s is when lifters have to start thinking in terms of "at your age") you will get better recovery and thus more mass gains if you scale back on the running. If you must do cardio then go back to more HIIT-type stuff: hill sprints or intervals of squat thrusts, burpees, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.

Also, I'm assuming you're eating enough and getting enough protein. Don't underestimate the importance of eating more than you think you need.

It sounds like you will outgrow the amount of weights you have pretty quickly, and $50 is not going to buy you much in terms of weights. If a gym is out of the question and you can't invest more money than that, then I would actually buy a pair of gymnastics rings and start transitioning over to a gymnastics program. Drills and Skills is a great website for progressions (as well as a overall exercise reference). Look at the Gymnastics Bodies book or the bodyweightfitness subreddit.
posted by schroedinger at 2:21 PM on August 11

You are going to have a hard time building strength and putting on weight when you are running that much. Can you cut back on running for while and focus on strength?

Also, you need to find a way to lift more weight to get where you want to be-that's why all the advice says to get a barbell, it's the safest easiest way to add weight. All the stuff you are doing now with low weight and high reps is turning the lifting into even more cardio. You can get sinewy and really defined with low body fat that way (at 5'8" 135 maybe that's you already) but it's hard to add bulk. I don't have advice for you given your stated limitations, but your problem is at least in part low weight/high reps on your lifts.
posted by Kwine at 7:28 PM on August 11

I think you are doing very well with what you have. I'd add reps before I would add pounds; reps built tighter, more striated muscle, that recovers quicker, and is less likely to tear. Yes you could do some max out heavy weight sets to put the bulk/balloon factor into your build.

The ab stuff you passed on might be missed in a few decades... yes abs are boring; I mean; you're there doing this stuff; may as well be reading a book or checking stock tickers at the same time, looking around the room, watching tv, staring at the ceiling. Abs are boring; abs do wonders for your mid and lower back. Abs and male erectile function have been linked in many research articles; boring topic for you at 30 something; ymmv as to importance when you are older.

You've got a great and varied routine as it is. Time is the factor; and a good workout is a horrible schedule of at least an hour+ and yeah. It gets routine at times; the stretching that you did not mention or maybe aren't even doing just adds to the twilight zone factor of time.
Lift and bulk away; present routine is about excellent as it is.
posted by buzzman at 10:57 PM on August 11

You will be best served by learning some bodyweight routines since you're not into pursuing a system that uses a bar. (If you were, it would be either Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting Strength neither of which is toxic masculinity or bullshit marketing.) Dumbbells are good, but you will quickly hit your max no matter what you're doing with them on most things. The body is just able to get much stronger than using them allows that's why barbells are universal. With bodyweight exercises, you're able to change the angles and hold length quite a bit, your body will respond.

r/fitness is a pretty good, productive place a lot of the time. Mostly you can just read the wiki which is no bullshit, no hype. wiki it will explain a lot of what you need to consider. They have a specific bodyweight section here. Bodyweight exercises are VERY effective.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:02 AM on August 13

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