While I recover from two simultaneous tendonitis caused by improper use of the pull-down machine, I cannot help thinking and re-designing the program I am going to do when I return to training.

For practical everyday life reasons, it is going to be very difficult for me to go to a gym, and nearly impossible to go to one that has a proper squat cage and olympic barbells. Therefore SL5x5 will have to wait until my circumstances change. Nevertheless I have a door bar and a pair of adjustable dumbbells with plates I want to use at home. I have thought of a workout, and I would like to have your suggestions (or warnings) in order to improve it.

These are the circumstances and goals that must be taken into account:

  • I am 41 and pretty weak, after two decades of computer work that have rounded my shoulders (but my doctor says it is not a skeletal problem). So I have to strengthen my core and back muscles to improve posture and back protection, and I have to improve my shoulders and upper back mobility.

  • I can barely perform one or two push-ups, and zero chin-ups.

  • I have a pair of dumbbells that can be adjusted up to 7 kg each, or 12 kg in one single dumbbell. I will buy a couple of additional plates, so that the max amount in a single dumbbell will probably reach up to 22 kg, but not much more.

This is the program I have in mind, with an explanation. Please post feedback and suggestions:

Two workouts A and B, with a rest day in between. Three exercises in each: squat, a push and a pull. Day A for horizontal push/pull, day B for vertical push/pull. The bodyweight exercises are performed in 3 sets to failure. The dumbbell exercises within a 3x8 scheme. I choosed 3x8 instead of 5x5 because the dumbbells will not achieve as much weight as gym barbells, so I better work in a somewhat longer repetition range.

Workout A:

  1. Bodyweight Squat, 3xF (three sets to failure), to be replaced by Dumbbell Squat 3x8 after achieving 100 BW squats.
  2. Push-Up, 3xF, to be replaced by Hindu Push-Up after achieving 3 sets of 20 reps. I choosed push-up not only because I don't have a bench, but also because of the need to strengthen my core.
  3. One-Arm Bent-Over Row, 3x8 (after two warm-ups sets). I choosed a single-arm version, so that I can go heavier by loading a single dumbbell with all the available plates.
  4. Doorway pec stretches, neck stretches and hip flexors stretches.

Workout B:

  1. Bodyweight Squat, 3xF (three sets to failure), to be replaced by Dumbbell Squat 3x8 after achieving 100 BW squats.
  2. One-Arm Standing Shoulder Press, 3x8, I not only choose a one-arm version because of a single dumbbell being heavier, but also because of the additional core strengthening.
  3. Chin-Up, 3xF. It will be only negative chin-ups at the beguinning, but I hope I will be able to perform at least one chin-up after a certain number of workouts.
  4. Shoulder dislocations, neck stretches and hip flexors stretches.

I haven't been able to find a substitute for deadlifts.

Well, I hope for corrections and suggestions.

  • 1
    This looks solid to me. Warm up thoroughly and make sure to prioritize proper corrective movement to fix posture. Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 15:29
  • 1
    I recommend getting some TRX-type suspension trainers to make full use of your pullup bar (there are plenty of knock-offs -- you can get a pair for like $20 on amazon). You could incorporate inverted rows, assisted dips, inclined pushups, pistol squats, and so on. You could have a much wider breadth of exercises to choose from.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 17:51
  • @DaveLiepmann, thanks! +1. However, I don't know much about warming up. I just do some arm circles and reverse flies, and a couple of squats.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 21:59
  • @Doc, sounds great, +1. I want to stick to a couple of simple compound exercises to start with, but the inverted rows are a nice suggestion (the bar can easily be mounted in a lower position each time). Inclined push-up is a nice way to make push-ups harder too, and I hadn't thought about dips. Thanks.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


On review of your previous questions, I'm worried that you may be program-hopping. I understand that injuries are to be respected, but it's more important to be consistent on any one single program than to constantly switch from StrongLifts to Reg Park to a minimal bodyweight-only program to dumbbells and onward to something else. You seem to be experiencing analysis paralysis--or its cousin, hyperoptimization after excessive research.

Resolve yourself to stick to one program for three months. Mark down the dates. Keep the training volume low. Scale back your expectations for progress. If you get injured, remove or replace only affected exercises and continue doing everything else the same.

Picking a program has a lot to do with what you've been doing previously. Is what you describe a good program? Yes! Does that mean that it's better than whatever you're already doing? No! A bad program followed diligently is better than switching from program to program, even if each one is better than its predecessor.

Maybe I'm mistaken, and you haven't been program-hopping. But I strongly recommend reviewing your workout log (you do have a workout log, right?) and seeing how frequently you abandon one approach. I've done it myself for long stretches of time, and my results were always better when I stuck to one thing--any one thing--for at least three months at a time.

  • Brilliant insight, you are 100% right about the hyperoptimization after excessive research / analysis paralysis. You nailed it! The question is, that I have been training for nearly a month and a half after 2 decades of inactivity. I returned to the gym and started doing what I remembered from my young, pre-internet times, namely the old isolation crap from the confusing magazines that had already given me zero results already in my 20s. Then I learnt about Reg Park and changed to squats, BP and so on, but with improper deadlift form. Then I read about SL5x5 but not completely...
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 22:14
  • Eventually, I have been doing for nearly a month, sort of a 5x5 program consistently, but with a big mistake: I ramped up all 5 series, and all to failure. By the time I read about how to do it properly (the linear progression and so on), it was already late and I had a strange tickling in my back that has driven me crazy from doctor to doctor, an MRI and other tests, until finding the origin: nerve impingment due to multiple (but not severe) tendonitis in biceps and infraspinatus. It is a miracle I haven't damaged my body more severely.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 22:19
  • My point with "remove or replace that one exercise" was intended to mean, "only change the parts you have to, and try to keep doing the program". Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 23:27
  • I still don't agree, but I upvoted anyway, because you are very right when you say that a sub-optimal program followed diligently is better than switching constantly. That was my mistake too, when I trained years ago, motivated by reading a lot of magazine crap...
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 3:21
  • @Mephisto If you would like to discuss this further, please bring the conversation into the Physical Fitness Chat.
    – user241
    Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 3:25

I have 2 suggestions for you which I think can be useful to you. The first is regarding your chin ups. You mentioned that at this time you are not strong enough to perform chin ups and therefor want to do negative chin ups. I think you may be better off getting your self a resistance band and looping it over the bar to help you perform full range of motion chins. Perfroming full range of motion chins will certainly get you stronger faster.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMonUeS818o This video demonstrates how to use the bands for assisted chins.

The second suggestion is regarding the deadlifts. There is actually a pretty effective way to use dumbbells in order to perform deadlifts. (Now if the reason you say you haven't a substitute for deadlifts is because you cant go heavy enough using dumbbells then what I'm about to say won't help) In order to perform deadlifts with dumbbells all you have to do is turn the dumbbell on its side as if it were standing on the plates. This will give the dumbbell enough height off the ground so that when you lift it you wont have to round your back. Much like when doing a deadlift with a barbell you need to make sure to use the big 45lbs plates to give you the right height.

I hope this helps.

Happy lifting!! Dumbbell laying on its side.

  • Great idea, that bands! +1
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 22:05

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