If you want a 5-day workout routine you can use to build muscle, one that requires nothing more than a couple of adjustable dumbbells, a bench and your own bodyweight, this page will show you what to do.
This 5-day dumbbell workout plan is designed for lifters who have moved past the beginner stages of training.
Beginners don’t need as much work as intermediate and advanced lifters to stimulate muscle growth, and will often do just as well with fewer sets per muscle group.
If you are relatively new to lifting weights, you can still follow this routine. However, I’d suggest cutting the number of sets in half. That is, if the program prescribes four sets of a particular exercise, you’d do two sets instead.
5-Day Dumbbell Workout Schedule
This 5-day split involves 5 different workouts. There are 5 different exercises in each workout, and you should be able to get each training session done and dusted in around 45 minutes. Each muscle group is trained twice a week.
- Monday: Upper Body
- Tuesday: Lower Body
- Wednesday: Rest Day
- Thursday: Push
- Friday: Pull
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Rest Day
Dumbbell Workout 1: Upper Body
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Incline High Row 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Dumbbell Pullover 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Lateral Raise 4 sets x 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Workout 2: Lower Body
- Bulgarian Split Squat 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Goblet Squat or Dumbbell Hack Squat 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Sliding Leg Curl 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Weighted Crunch 3 sets x 20-25 reps
Dumbbell Workout 3: Push
- Push Ups 4 sets x As Many Good Reps As Possible
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 sets x 15-20 reps
- Shoulder Press 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Lateral Raise 3 sets x 20-25 reps
- Overhead Triceps Extension 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Dumbbell Workout 4: Pull
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Pullover 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Rear Delt Row 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curl 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Reverse Crunch 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Dumbbell Workout 5: Legs
- Dumbbell Leg Extension 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Deficit Reverse Lunge 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Leg Curl 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 3 sets x 10-15 reps
- Hip Thrust 3 sets x 8-12 reps
5-Day Dumbbell Workout PDF
You can download the routine as a PDF here.
5-Day Dumbbell Workout Split: Notes
For complete development of all the muscles in your back, you want to include both vertical and horizontal pulling exercises in your training program.
Problem is, vertical pulling exercises require either a cable machine or pull-up bar. You can’t do them using dumbbells. A dumbbell-only back workout essentially limits you to rowing movements and pullovers.
If you’ve got a home gym with a pull-up bar or cable machine, the pullovers can be replaced with pull-ups, chin-ups or pulldowns.
2. To keep the length of the workouts to around 45 minutes, isolation exercises have been kept to a minimum. If you want to focus more on your biceps, triceps, or calves, you can always add an isolation exercise or two at the end of each workout.
3. Give yourself at least a couple of minutes rest between each set. Without enough rest between sets, fatigue from the previous set reduces the number of reps you’re able to do in the next one. This in turn means a smaller muscle-building stimulus.
4. There are no direct exercises for the front delts, such as front raises, mainly because they’re worked heavily during both horizontal and overhead pressing movements.
5. The rep ranges for each exercise aren’t set in stone, and can be adjusted based on the weight of the dumbbells you have available.
Heavy weights and low reps tend to cause greater gains in strength. But most research shows similar levels of hypertrophy whether you’re training with heavy weights and lower reps, or lighter weights and higher reps.
The only caveat is that you have to push yourself hard in each set.
And by pushing yourself hard, I mean terminating each set within a rep or two of muscular failure, or the point where you’re not able to complete another rep using good technique.
Gaining muscle doesn’t require reaching the point where you’re physically incapable of doing another repetition, but you do need to get within sniffing distance.
How to Warm Up
The number of sets listed are the actual work sets only, and don’t include warm-up sets.
It’s always a good idea, especially if you’re using heavy weights, to do several progressively heavier warm-up sets. This will prepare the joints, the muscles and the nervous system that controls those muscles for the heavy work to come.
In most cases, somewhere between 1-3 warm-up sets will do the job. However, the exact number of warm-up sets you do will vary depending on a number of factors, including the temperature of the gym you’re training in, how your joints feel, the amount of weight you’re lifting, and where that exercise is placed in the workout.
There have been times when I’ve been training in a cold gym, it’s early in the morning and my joints are feeling a bit stiff, where I’ve ended up doing 7-8 warm-up sets before getting into the heavy stuff.
On the flip side, with some of the exercises that come later in the workout, the muscles being worked are already warm, so you won’t need many, if any, warm-up sets.
What about stretching?
In most cases, there’s very little benefit in stretching, be it dynamic or static, as part of a warm-up.
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While the adverse effects of stretching on strength and power have been exaggerated, most studies show that pre-exercise stretching does little for injury prevention and has no beneficial effects on lifting performance.
Can you stretch as part of your warm up? Yes. Do you have to? No. It’s certainly not mandatory, and many people will do just as well without it.
You can read more about how to warm up for weight training here.
Nutrition for Muscle Growth
When it comes to building muscle and gaining weight, what you do in the gym is only part of the story. Without the right diet, much of your hard work will go to waste.
What should your diet look like if you want to build muscle?
First, make sure you’re getting enough food. Your daily calorie intake should provide somewhere between 250-500 calories over and above your maintenance calorie requirements.
That is, if you’re maintaining your weight on 2500 calories per day, you’d aim for somewhere between 2750 and 3000 calories per day.
It is possible to gain muscle while in a calorie deficit, but it tends to happen more slowly compared to being in a calorie surplus.
That’s because one of the things that slows muscle protein synthesis – the key driving force behind muscle growth – is a restriction in the availability of energy.
Once you’ve calculated what your daily calorie intake should be, the next step is to calculate your macros, the first and most important of which is protein.
Set your daily protein intake at roughly 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. That will do the job for most people.
Someone weighing 180 pounds, for instance, would aim for a daily protein intake of around 126 grams of protein per day (180 x 0.7 = 126). If you prefer metric, multiply your bodyweight in kilograms by 1.6.
Rather than getting all your protein in one or two large meals, it should be spread out throughout the day. Aim for a minimum of 3 protein-rich meals each day, with each meal containing somewhere between 20 and 40 grams of protein.
Ideally, you’ll get some protein within the first few hours after getting out of bed, before a workout, after a workout, and before going to bed.
As far as protein supplements are concerned, they’re not strictly necessary for building muscle. They do make it a lot easier to hit your protein targets for the day which is why I use them myself. But think of them as an optional extra, rather than a strict requirement.
Your fat intake can vary from 20 to 40 percent of total calories. Some days it might be a little higher, others a little lower. But on average, your fat intake should be set at around 30% of your total calorie intake.
Once protein and fat are taken care of, the rest of your calories will come from carbohydrate.
As fat intake goes up, carbohydrate intake will go down and vice versa. Some days you might eat a little more fat and less carbohydrate. Other days you might eat more carbohydrate and less fat.
As long as total calories and protein are set at the right level, it doesn’t matter too much.
Using these numbers, here’s an example of what a daily diet might look like for a guy weighing 175 pounds (79.5kg), with a maintenance calorie intake of 2500 calories per day.
- Calories: 2800 calories
- Protein: 123 grams
- Fat: 93 grams
- Carbohydrate: 368 grams
These numbers aren’t set in stone, but they do give you some ballpark numbers to aim for. The two most important numbers are calories and protein. As long as you’re hitting those targets, the carbs and fat can vary from day to day.
The Benefits of Dumbbells
Dumbbells have a lot of things going for them. They’re relatively cheap, don’t take up a lot of space, and can be used for dozens of different exercises that work your entire body.
With nothing more than a couple of adjustable dumbbells, you get a highly effective workout for all the major muscle groups without the need for lots of expensive equipment.
The fact dumbbells don’t require a lot of space makes them ideal if there’s no room in your house for a lot of gym equipment.
Not only does training at home save you money on gym fees, it’s also very convenient.
You just pull the dumbbells out from under your bed, or wherever they’re stored, and start training.
Even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes to spare, you can do a few exercises for this or that muscle group.
Then, later in the day, when you get another 10 or 15 minutes to spare, you can focus on another muscle group.
For some people, doing a bit of weight training here and there is a more practical way to fit weight training into their day, which means the workouts are far more likely to get done.
Dumbbells can also be an effective way to work around injuries, mainly because they give you a lot more freedom of movement.
If you find that certain free weight exercises cause your joints to flare up, doing the same exercise with a dumbbell may actually feel better, allowing you to work around any dings or dents that have built up over the years.
Pressing exercises performed with a barbell, for example, put your shoulders and arms in a fixed position, which can sometimes lead to pain in your shoulders, elbows or wrists.
But doing the same exercise with dumbbells gives you a lot more flexibility about how the exercise is done.
By that, I mean you’re able to make small adjustments to the movement pattern, altering the position of your arms in such a way that any joint pain is significantly reduced, or even eliminated completely.
You’re still working the same muscles, but you’re doing so in a way that’s a lot easier on your joints.
Let’s take the overhead press as an example.
When you press a barbell over your head, your palms will naturally face forward, known as a pronated grip.
But with dumbbells, you have the option of using a neutral grip, where your palms face each other.
For many people, switching to a neutral grip, and bringing your elbows in (rather than flared out to the side) will often make the overhead press feel easier on your joints.
With a dumbbell, you can also perform the exercise one arm at a time. Doing so makes it easier to adjust the path of the dumbbell, the position of your elbows and range of motion in such a way that it doesn’t cause you any pain or discomfort.
It’s also easier on your back as well. Pressing a 40-pound dumbbell over your head will impose less compressive load on your spine than an 80-pound barbell.
Some people have one side of their body that’s weaker than the other, which dumbbells can help to correct.
A small difference in strength between your left and right side is perfectly normal, and isn’t something that most people to worry about.
But if there’s a large imbalance in strength, the stronger side tends to dominate during bilateral movements, which can set you up for injury further down the line.
Unilateral training with dumbbells can help to identify and eliminate any strength imbalances that might exist, creating a better balance of strength.
Dumbbells also offer some benefits in terms of safety, especially if you’re training alone. It’s far better to drop a couple of dumbbells and damage the floor than get crushed by a heavy barbell and damage yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can 5lb dumbbells build muscle?
Unless you’re extremely deconditioned, you’re not going to build much in the way of muscle if all you have is a couple of 5lb dumbbells.
Muscle fibers grow in response to mechanical tension, and one of the things that generates tension is the amount of weight that you lift.
For the vast majority of exercises, there’s a limit to the amount of tension you can put on a muscle (and as a result, the amount of growth you can stimulate) with a dumbbell weighing just five pounds.
Should you add cardio before or after a workout?
If building muscle is your main goal, there are no real benefits to adding cardio before or after a workout.
There are instances where you’ll benefit from including some light cardio (such as indoor cycling or rowing) as part of a warm-up. And there is a case to be made for using bike sprints to supplement a lower body workout, which I talk more about here.
But for anyone whose main goal is gaining muscle, you’re better off keeping weights and cardio separate.
Can I build muscle with dumbbells only?
You most definitely can build muscle with just dumbbells. A muscle grows when the fibers inside that muscle are exposed to a certain level of tension, irrespective of where that tension comes from.
Resistance is resistance, whether it’s provided by dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, weight machines or your own body.
There are some drawbacks to a dumbbell-only workout program, the main one being that it’s more difficult to train your legs and back effectively.
However, many people have added a significant amount of muscle mass to their frame with just a couple of adjustable dumbbells, a lot of hard work and a solid dose of persistence.
How long should a dumbbell workout be?
In general, a dumbbell workout should last somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours, with the sweet spot for most people being between 45-90 minutes.
Can I workout with dumbbells every day?
In most cases, you’re better off working out with dumbbells a maximum of 5-6 days a week, rather than every day. Training 7 days a week, every week for months on end is going to be too much for most people to recover from.
As long as the program is set up properly, individual muscles should have no problem recovering from one workout to the next.
Rather, what I’m talking about is systemic recovery.
What does that mean exactly?
Every exercise you do has an effect on the various muscles involved in that exercise. A compound exercise like the squat, for example, is going to stimulate the muscles in your thighs, hips and lower back.
This is known as a local effect.
However, training also has what’s known as a systemic effect, which is the impact a given workout has on your entire body.
When you’re deciding how to set up your training program, you need to consider the recovery requirements of your body as a whole, not just the individual muscles.
Recovery is about more than allowing enough time between training sessions for the same muscle group. Your body as a whole, from connective tissue to your central nervous system, also needs a break.
Other Dumbbell Workout Plans
- 3-Day Dumbbell Workout
- 4-Day Dumbbell Workout
- 5-Day Push/Pull/Legs Dumbbell Workout
- 6-Day Dumbbell Workout
- Upper/Lower Split: Dumbbell Workout Routine
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