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Dumbbell-Only Mass Workouts

Q: I want to work out with dumbbells three times a week, like on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Can you show me a three-day-split routine that I can do with only dumbbells? Please include exercises for forearms, abs and calves. Thanks!

A: That’s a great question because many people who train on a regular basis perform their workouts at home, not in a gym. Some prefer it because it’s more convenient, or they may feel uncomfortable training around others. Many advanced trainees like training at home because they feel that they can concentrate better and are not as distracted as they might be in a large, commercial gym.

If you don’t have the finances and space in your home to build a full-sized gym, you will be limited to using a barbell or dumbbells and a bench. I’ve trained many of my clients with similar equipment. You, too, can get a good workout with either of them.

If you’re training the whole body in one workout, here’s an example of a good routine using only dumbbells:


Crunches on a bench 3 x 30

Seated knee raises 3 x 20

Dumbbell bench presses 3 x 8-10

One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 8-10

Seated dumbbell presses 3 x 8-10

Lying dumbbell extensions 3 x 8-10

Seated dumbbell curls 3 x 8-10

Dumbbell squats 3 x 10-12

Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 10-12

One-leg calf raises 3 x 12-15


For an advanced three-day split, you can obviously add more exercises to work each muscle group more thoroughly. That will enable you to train every area of the muscle to develop more size.

You can split the body up several ways, depending on which areas you want to work the most. For example, you can train chest and back in the same workout, but if your chest is a weak point, you would be better off training it with a smaller muscle group—like triceps—so you can focus all your energy on improving your weak point.

One good routine that you could use would have you training chest, triceps, biceps and forearms on day one; abs, calves and thighs on day two; and shoulders, back and calves on day three. Here’s an example of the exercises you could use for that workout:


Day 1: Chest, triceps, biceps, forearms

Dumbbell bench

presses 3 x 6-10

Incline dumbbell

presses 3 x 6-10

Flyes 3 x 8-10

Lying dumbbell


3 x 10-12

Seated one-arm


3 x 8-10

Bench dips

3 x 10-12

Seated alternate

dumbbell curls

3 x 8-10

One-arm preacher

curls 3 x 8-10

One-arm dumbbell wrist curls 3 x 10-12


Day 2: Abs, thighs, calves


Crunches on a bench 3 x 30

Lying leg raises 3 x 30

Dumbbell squats (dumbbells at shoulders) 3 x 10-12

Dumbbell lunges (alternating legs) 3 x 10-12

Dumbbell leg curls (dumbbell in between feet) 3 x 10-12

Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 8-10

Seated calf raises (dumbbells on knees) 3 x 15-20

Standing one-leg calf raises

(holding a dumbbell in one hand) 3 x 10-12


Day 3: Shoulders, back, calves

Seated dumbbell presses 3 x 8-10

Lateral raises 3 x 8-10

Rear-delt raises (facedown on a bench) 3 x 8-10

Dumbbell shrugs 3 x 8-10

Dumbbell pullovers 3 x 12-15

One-arm dumbbell rows 3 x 8-10

Two-arm dumbbell rows

(facedown on a bench, elbows wide) 3 x 10

Standing one-leg calf raises

(holding a dumbbell in one hand) 3 x 10-12

Dumbbell reverse wrist curls

(forearms on thighs) 3 x 10-12

You will need to purchase a full set of dumbbells in order to work out at home with these programs. What weights you purchase will depend on how strong you are. For exercises such as dumbbell bench presses and one-arm dumbbell rows, you can use heavier weights; however, you will also need lighter dumbbells for exercises such as lateral raises and wrist curls. [Note: You can also get selectorized dumbbells like the PowerBlock, available at Also available is the “The All-Dumbbell Workout,” a DVD that contains a number of unique dumbbell workout programs that build muscle.]

I  remember reading a funny story about Robby Robinson in an old Muscle Builder/Power. Robby said that the first place he ever worked out at had only two sets of dumbbells, 30-pounders and 90-pounders. Even though Robby had just started training, he was forced to use the 90-pound dumbbells for some of the basic exercises because he only had two choices. That forced him to get strong quick.

Remember to record all of your workouts, and always try to make each session progressive. Try to outdo your last workout by pumping out more reps or using a heavier weight than you did in your last workout. It’s important to push yourself when you’re training at home in order to motivate yourself to keep improving. Good Luck!

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at, or send questions or comments to or at P.O. Box 320264, Tampa, FL 33679. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at  IM


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