Home dumb bells. Good idea or just a silly fad?
June 1, 2008 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Dumbbells... Any good, or just a silly idea?

My other half has commented that she'd like to see some muscle definition in me. I'm happy to at least try and comply, but we don't live near a gym. I don't think she wants me to look like a body builder (and neither do I). Just to get the semblance of some definition where currently there is bone and/or flab.

I work from home and was thinking about investing in some dumbbells and maybe a bench (second-hand off eBay, of course). Is this a good idea? I can tackle the motivation issue myself -- it'll make a decent break from work -- but will it actually work? How much time should I invest each day?
posted by deeper red to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
"Definition" requires some muscle bulk AND fat loss, so think about cardio too. You don't NEED dumbbells but having them obviously won't reduce your exercise options. You can do a lot of exercises without them though, and substitute with milk-bottles full of water or dogfood cans when you need hand-holdable weight. Plenty of heavy stuff around the house to use!

Also, your own weight makes a great exercise tool; think pushups, chinups, tricep dips off the couch, squats, etc. That sort of thing gets you a long way before needing to buy stuff.

Of course, buying stuff can be excellent motivation.
posted by polyglot at 12:07 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dumbbells will work well, and in a shorter time than you might think as well. Just make sure you get the kind that are adjustable, so that you can add more weight as you go. What polyglot said about definition is true, but even with the flab you will get noticeable bulk and bulge through push-ups and lifting dumbbells.

As for time each day: I got results by just doing as much as could before my arms gave out (which wasn't much, maybe 10 lifts), gave myself a 5 minute break, and did it again, and got results that way. About 15 minutes total.

People will tell you you should skip days for best growth, and you probably should, but that doesn't work for my need to keep a routine to make sure I continue doing it (and is a large part of the reason I stopped and have flabby arms again).
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 12:15 AM on June 2, 2008

There's no reason it shouldn't work. You should try to get dumbells where you can easily adjust the weight by adding more plates. Increasing resistance is what increases strength and muscle size -- that and adding enough protein to your diet. Eventually as you progress the dumbells may not be heavy enough for you to really work your lower body, but that's not important now.

You could start by doing goblet squats, standing shoulder press, bent-over row, chest press, and bicep curl in that order. If you have a pullup-bar, do those too and when you get better you can hold a dumbell between your legs to add resistance. When you get bored with those you can throw in lunges, dumbell clean-and-jerks, etc...

There's lots of debate about the best ways to increase size vs. strength. I'm pretty sure for a beginner and for your purposes right now it doesn't matter. 5x5 is a good protocol -- this means do five reps (and choose a weight that you couldn't really lift 6 or 7 times), rest for 1-2 minutes, do it again, and after 5 sets you're done. The whole thing should take less than 40 minutes. Increase weight whenever you can. 3x8 is also popular for beginners and it'll save you some time. Do this Monday, Wednesday and Friday and rest on the days in between. Eat some protein after you work out. Alternatively you could work out everyday if you split up days into body parts like: Monday arms, Tuesday legs, Wednesday back, etc...but that's a bit extreme at this stage, I would say. If you want to really bulk up you'll have to eat massive amounts of protein.
posted by creasy boy at 12:22 AM on June 2, 2008 [9 favorites]

You should definitely skip days when it comes to weightlifting. By giving your body an opportunity to recover, you'll actually grow muscle at a faster rate.

You sound like you would benefit greatly from a self-imposed regimen. The book Body for Life has a pretty good approach towards working out that makes use of dumbbells, isn't overly demanding, is safe, and produces results. (The book includes a diet regimen, but if you're not looking to follow it by the letter, you can work around it.) You essentially learn how to maximize your workout time, and develop a regimen based on cardio and alternating upper and lower body workouts.
posted by phaedon at 12:32 AM on June 2, 2008

If you want to really bulk up you'll have to eat massive amounts of protein AND wreck your body so that there's a need for it. Otherwise you'll just absorb enough to repair the muscles you've damaged and the rest will fry your kidneys.
posted by bunnytricks at 12:33 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

As polyglot touched on, you will need to combine cardio, good diet and dumbells. There is a myriad of advice out there but done properly, of course it will work. In fact, you'll probably be surprised at how quickly you notice real changes. This is a fantastic place to start. Excellent advice and instruction.
posted by fire&wings at 1:50 AM on June 2, 2008

In a similar situation to yours, and have received a lot of advice recently.
Points made to me regarding the home gym:
1) Lift your own weight: google "bodyweight exercises" = Free if you own a floor, a wall, and two chairs.
2) get a chinup bar for the arms/shoulders = $10 (or more if you want one that doesn't mount permanently, like a DoorGym)
3) Jumprope for cardio: slightly lower impact on joints than running, more convenient if there isn't a good place to run.
10 minutes jumping rope = 1 8-minute mile or 250 calories burned. =$5. (free if you have some spare clothesline around)
4) Dumbbells (variable weight) are next, with 2 caveats; a) get someone who knows what they're doing to check your form (no, you're doing that wrong, keep your arms even) before you get bad habits and b) leave them in your way - or in your sweetie's way - so they don't end up just rusting in the garage. Spend what you like, but get comfortable grips (canvas tape goes a long way) and variable plates so you can change weight instead of owning 5 pairs of different weights.
Check garage sales, etc. - the world is full of fitness equipment that was used twice.

To build muscle, lift heavy things repeatedly until you can't lift it one more time. Lift it one more time :) Eat Protein. Take a day off. Repeat. (Lifting until failure "breaks" muscle fibers; letting them repair while feeding them protein makes them come back bigger.)
posted by penciltopper at 3:40 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

dumbells are good but require a certain balance that you might not have to worry about this much were you using a barbell. a very general rule of thumb is that heavier weights will cause you to bulk up while more repetition with smaller weights will result in more defined muscles. at least that's what my trainers always told me.

second that you will have to pair this with cardio. working out and then losing 10lbs is usually how actors get their definition for movies but for you the added difficulty is that you'd have to keep it off.

I would always, injury being the main reason, advocate getting started with a trainer. let him/her show you how to do things right until you get it. meeting perhaps four or five times in a gym should send you on your way. I understand it's inconvenient but this might make a huge difference.
posted by krautland at 4:46 AM on June 2, 2008

Here's a military strategy: The fit deck.

Do something for 5 minutes every hour. Good for you, and improves productivity.
posted by ewkpates at 5:04 AM on June 2, 2008

The site is written for women, but I maintain that Krista's advice basically applies to anyone. She specifically talks about how to get lifting at home with dumbbells.

Read through all of her site that isn't specifically about women -- the training, starting, and eating sections at least, or better yet, all of it.
posted by mendel at 5:44 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you prefer to lift without a partner, and you prefer to lift heavy weights, and you prefer to lift to failure and you prefer not choking to death on a plate loaded bar that's sitting on your throat, then dumbbells are your best friend ever.
posted by The Straightener at 6:03 AM on June 2, 2008

You sound like someone who's not very serious about weight-lifting. Me too. I got some reasonable results simply by keeping a pair of dumbbells in the kitchen and doing a few reps of various exercises while waiting for the kettle to boil or food to cook. I'm sure I could have done better with a structured program, but I'm also sure that making and sticking to a structured program would have been much more hassle.
posted by xchmp at 6:04 AM on June 2, 2008

a very general rule of thumb is that heavier weights will cause you to bulk up while more repetition with smaller weights will result in more defined muscles.

No, that is not true. There are two things your body can do, and only one of them at a time: burn fat, or build muscle. If you are in a caloric deficit you will lose weight, which is a combination of fat and lean mass (muscle and water, mainly). If you are in a caloric surplus you will gain weight, which is again a combination of muscle, water, and fat.

If you do heavy resistance exercise then your body will want to build muscle rather than fat (if you're eating more than your BMR), or burn fat rather than muscle (if you're eating less than your BMR). Whether you're looking to put on weight or lose weight, though, what you need to do is the same: lift really heavy weights. Your activity whether you're bulking or cutting should be exactly the same. The difference is how much you eat, not how much you lift.

So what then does lifting lighter weights with more repetitions do? Once you get past 12-15 reps for an exercise you're no longer working the resistance aspect. Instead you're just fatiguing your muscles, which in effect is no different than doing regular cardio like running or biking. If you want to stimulate muscle growth you have to do no more than ~12 reps per exercise. That ensures that the weight is heavy enough that you are indeed pushing your muscles to failure and not simply to fatigue.

Failure is when you simply cannot perform another rep, no matter how hard you try. Your muscles are just dead, they won't respond. That's what you want to aim for. You don't always have to get to that point, but that's the goal line. Fatigue is not quite the same. Fatigue is when you're just too tired to continue. It's not that you can't do another rep, it's more that your arms are burning and wobbly and you're out of breath and boy this is getting tiring. Not the same!

To compare, muscle failure is like hitting a brick wall, while fatigue is like running in sand. You want to aim yourself right for that brick wall!
posted by Khalad at 6:06 AM on June 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

. I don't think she wants me to look like a body builder (and neither do I).

I hate it when people say this...as if being a bodybuilder takes a couple of weights and 20 minutes a day of training...bodybuilders take year working multiple hours a day to get to the point they are at......In short you should do weights and you should do as much as you can....you will not get "too" big and is pretty easy to stop if you see yourself getting anywhere near close.
posted by The1andonly at 6:56 AM on June 2, 2008

I second The1. If people with modest fitness goals work out to look "like a bodybuilder" all they will accomplish is achieving their modest goals.

Look around. If "looking like a bodybuilder" were even remotely possible for most people, then there would be a heck of alot more bodybuilders.
posted by ewkpates at 7:17 AM on June 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seconding the variable-weight dumbbell recommendation. They require a little more initial investment than regular old dumbbells, but you're not going to be able to do every exercise with the same amount of weight, and if you work out regularly, there will come a time when the weight you start out lifting is no longer a challenge. You can buy additional weight plates at larger sporting-goods stores, which is cheaper and more convenient than having to buy two new 25-pound dumbbells because you outgrew your 20-pound ones.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:17 AM on June 2, 2008

Plan B: Get on Craigslist and buy a cheap barbell and some plates. Y/N?

Move more weight, put on muscle faster.. and then when the time comes to cut down and bring the definition out, you can use it for power cleans, 20-rep squats, and other HIIT-relevant movements.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 7:42 AM on June 2, 2008

I posted my dumbbell exercise program a while back... I think this would work well for you. I linked to videos of each exercise. This routine usually takes me an hour or two, and I try to do it twice a week. If you want to spread it out, you could probably do an arms+shoulders/back+chest/legs split, exercising alternate areas for half an hour each day. As others have mentioned, it's important to rest, so you should try not to work out the same body part two days in a row.

If you get a bench, you will probably want to get a barbell along with it. This opens up some of the most powerful compound exercises (bent-over rows, overhead press, squat, and deadlift). Plus, assuming that you buy adjustable dumbbells (which you should!), you can use the very same plates for the barbell, so the bar itself should be pretty cheap.

Craigslist and yard sales are good places to seek used weights. If you have a Play It Again Sports near you, this is also a great place to get used equipment. Don't buy new weights unless you find a crazy deal -- they don't depreciate much at all, and you can't really damage them, so new is not better than used.

At any rate, a dumbbell exercise program will definitely work for you, if you stick with it. Eat and rest well, and you'll be impressed at how much progress you'll make. New lifters usually see surprising results rather quickly!
posted by vorfeed at 9:34 AM on June 2, 2008

One more thing: if you get a set of used dumbbells and you don't like them, you'll be able to sell them again for just about what you paid for them, so don't worry too much about the "silly fad" thing. This is a perfectly safe investment, because pretty much nothing holds its value as well as free weights.
posted by vorfeed at 9:37 AM on June 2, 2008

My other half has commented that she'd like to see some muscle definition in me.

Ignore her.
posted by randomstriker at 10:49 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

This question might have some info for you
posted by tristeza at 1:56 PM on June 2, 2008

If you want to really bulk up you'll have to eat massive amounts of protein AND wreck your body so that there's a need for it. Otherwise you'll just absorb enough to repair the muscles you've damaged and the rest will fry your kidneys.

Citation, please. Also in order for me to say this statement is not completely ridiculous, please don't list a study that intravenously administered the protein or some such nonsense.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:40 PM on June 2, 2008

Oh, yeah. Go here!
posted by P.o.B. at 2:43 PM on June 2, 2008

If you want to really bulk up you'll have to eat massive amounts of protein AND wreck your body so that there's a need for it. Otherwise you'll just absorb enough to repair the muscles you've damaged and the rest will fry your kidneys.

I'll second P.o.B. I had concerns about this and found that in order to damage your kidneys you'd probably need to eat over 2 grams of protein per pound per day and even then healthy kidneys would have little issues processing the extra protein. In order to get about 180 grams of protein a day in my diet (weighing 210 pounds) I have to try HARD so I wouldn't stress over this.

Personally, I lifted weights on and off for years without almost any gains until I changed my diet. I found that significantly increasing my protein caused a huge jump in my muscle gains.
posted by Octoparrot at 8:16 PM on June 2, 2008

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