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Based on my answers to this question, I have made modifications to my workout and would like input if it is now good or if it can still be improved.

My revised routine is as follows:

  • 10 pushups.

  • 10 situp

  • Short Break

  • 3 sets of 5 reps of dumbbell bicep curls

  • 3 sets of 5 reps of dumbbell deadlifts

  • 3 sets of 5 reps of dumbbell squats

  • Short Break

  • 3 sets of 5 reps of dumbbell overhead press

  • 3 sets of 5 reps of dumbbell bench press

The problems with my previous routine that I was really only working the bicep, which was not ideal for gaining strength in general. I've addressed that by incorporating these additional exercises (I hope).

Assuming this workout is OK, is 3 sets of 5 reps with a heavy weight OK? Should it be less?

Should I strive to do this every day, or every few days?

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3 Answers 3

I support all of what's in Dave's answer, but I'll add a bit extra... maybe we can merge the two together.

Definitely an improvement over your first routine. I have some more points for improvement, but as a novice, you can do almost any routine and see strength gains. Like Dave said in his answer, as long as you're training consistently, challenging yourself, and eating right, you'll get stronger.

Here are my points for improvement, though:

Exercise choice

You probably don't need to include push-ups, since you're doing bench press.

Chin-ups would be a better exercise than bicep curls, but maybe that's not available to you. Chin-ups are a more functional exercise, and also work your back at the same time as biceps.

Scheduling

If you're lifting heavy enough such that 3 sets of 5 reps is just barely do-able (which would be a very good way to stimulate the quickest strength gains), you won't be able to do bench press and overhead press in the same workout, at least not optimally. This is because they each use a small amount of muscles and both need your triceps quite a bit. Better would be to alternate between those two. One workout, you do bench press. The next workout, you do overhead press.

You can do squats and deadlifts in the same workout, but you shouldn't put them one after the other. Put your bench press or overhead press in between squats and deadlifts.

You will need a rest-day to allow for muscle recovery, adaptation, and strength gains. Do this workout every second day, and you'll notice more reliable and steady progress than if you did this every day.

Progression

You want to find a way to progressively increase the load each workout. Dave talks a lot about this in his answer, but for example, "10 situps" will not be difficult for you after a couple of workouts. Better would be to plan to do "3 sets to failure", and you should always be doing more each workout. Your 3x5's for the weighted exercises look like a good start, but you'll need to get creative to progressively load these if you're limited to dumbbells.

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You can "merge" answers if you edit Dave's and add in your answer there and delete this one (or leave comments). –  Matt Chan May 4 '12 at 11:12
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Perspective

Workout programs can always be improved. Don't worry if this isn't perfect.

This looks like a good plan to get acquainted. A standard approach would be to pick an off-the-rack program such as Starting Strength, Building the Gymnastic Body, Power to the People or similar, but if all you have is dumbbells then this is a good start.

Three sets of five is fine if you're going heavy. If 3x5 is too easy because the dumbbells are too light, either get heavier weights (perhaps a barbell) or do more reps per set. Pavel Tsatsouline's Enter the Kettlebell has some good methods for improving strength without changing the weight: ladders.

Pick a kettlebell you can clean and press--a clean before each press, that is--roughly five to eight times. C&P it once with your weaker arm, switch hands and put it up with your stronger arm. Rest. Two reps. Another short break. Three reps. Then start over at one. Do three ladders, for a total of 18 repetitions, the first week; add a ladder the next week and a ladder the week after. Five ladders, total 30 reps.... The fourth week keep the number of ladders at five, but now try to work up to 4 reps.

This "ladder" approach may help if you have a dumbbell that is challenging but not impossible for you.

But all of this doesn't matter. Training hard, training consistently, and eating well are what matter. If your workout is a doable challenge, in the grand scheme of things you're fine.

Tweaks

Ideally you'd start with a brief whole-body workout, like a jog, dynamic stretching, or joint rotations. The pushups and situps should be easy enough to count as warm-up. Over time, try to eliminate the break after them.

Another thing to consider is tacking a quick 5- or 10-minute all-out conditioning session at the end. Or you could do sprints, either in a separate workout or interspersed with the lifting. (Dan John, Robb Wolf and Greg Glassman are big on lift-plus-sprint couplet workouts.)

Long-term issues

The primary problem with this plan is that the weight will very quickly stop being "heavy" to you. With even a couple weeks of training, most humans get very good at squatting and deadlifting much heavier weights than they can curl or press. It's likely that you'll stop challenging yourself on the lower-body exercises fairly quickly.

At that point, you'll probably want to research Pavel's material as noted above, or look into pistols (one-leg squats), jump squats, single-leg deadlifts, Romanian dumbbell deadlifts, and other ways of continuing to challenge your squat and "hinge" (deadlift) strength. Maybe you'll move to barbell, kettlebell, Olympic, or gymnastic work.

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Would you support me merging in content from my answer into this? –  user3085 May 4 '12 at 11:13
    
@Sancho Sure. Our mega-answer will form like Voltron. –  Dave Liepmann May 4 '12 at 12:26
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I would suggest picking up the book "Fit" by Jason Lasceck and Lon Kilgore.

Next, what do you consider a heavy weight? 3 sets of 5 reps is good for building strength, provided you are stressing the body and allowing time for recovery (and eating right plus getting good sleep).

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