I apologize for the general title question. I hope my question is specific enough to be useful.

I am a 6ft tall male, weighing 200lbs. About 4 months ago I weighed 180lbs.

The last 4 months I have been trying to build some muscle, doing workouts with protein shakes, etc.

My workout, that I have been doing for 4 days a week for most of the last 4 months was:

Overhead press, 3 sets of 15 Tricep curls, 3 sets of 15 Bicep curls, 3 sets of 15

With dumbbells that weigh 25lbs.

As this became easy for me, I recently changed to 35lbs dumbbells, and now do 3 sets of 10.

My diet tends to be:

about 8 slices of whole wheat bread an avocado a can of tuna bacon eggs a banana 3 protein shakes with whole milk cheese then for dinner pasta or a wrap or a burger or something along these lines. a creatine drink

In the last 4 months I seem to have put on some muscle mass, but I also seem to have put on some stomach fat.

My goals are to get a little bit stronger/well defined in the upper body, and to minimize my body fat.

What changes could I make that would be most conducive to these goals?

Also, I sometimes get some slight lower back pain when doing overhead presses. Is this an indication that I should switch to a lighter weight?

  • How many calories per day do you intake?
    – user4644
    Oct 3, 2013 at 23:20
  • @Kate at least 2500 every day...never more than 3000....
    – Josh
    Oct 4, 2013 at 1:08

2 Answers 2


Lower back pain during overhead press

Two possible reasons (there may be more):

  • poor form (you should upload a video and have your form checked)
  • poor core stability/strength (if you add squats and deadlifts to your program, your back/abs/torso will become capable of much better stability during the overhead press)

Fat gain

The reason you are gaining fat is that you are eating too much for the amount of work you are doing. Yes, eating a calorie surplus is helpful for strength gains, but that surplus can easily get out of hand if you are only working out small muscle groups (shoulders, triceps, biceps). You've chosen probably the smallest muscle groups possible.

20lbs is a huge amount of weight to gain for such relatively small increase in strength.

You are doing zero work with the largest muscles in your body. That is, the muscles of the posterior chain: hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors.

If you added bench press, deadlifts, squats, and chin-ups/pull-ups to your program, you'll be making much better use of those calories.

General program improvements

Your program is not good. It might have worked to some extent for the first few months because any program will work for a beginner trainee. I doubt that you'll see continued success on this program.

Why? I've already mentioned lack of leg work, but I'll give one other reason, as an example, and there are more.

I doubt the optimal weight for your overhead press, tricep extensions, and bicep curls are all exactly the same amount. If possible, use equipment that allows you to choose the weight you're using in much smaller increments. If you overhead press 25lbs one day, you should be overhead pressing slightly more next time.

Since your goal is strength: check out this answer

However, you also want to lose body fat, so combine that answer above with this one:

You should be doing a general strength program, with a carefully tailored diet.

  • Hi Kate, thanks for your answer...I have a lot to read now. Just some quick questions...is 20lbs gained over 4 months (very little of it seems to be fat and my upper body has gotten noticeably bigger) bad?
    – Josh
    Oct 4, 2013 at 1:10
  • I'm only looking for exercises that can be done at home with dumbells. If I add chinups with a chin up bar and incorporate squats, bench press and deadlifts with my dumbbells, that will be a big improvement?
    – Josh
    Oct 4, 2013 at 1:11
  • @Josh I really encourage you to read about program design. Yes, those additions (even if they're done with dumbbells) would be a huge improvement. One problem with dumbbells, though, is that you might quickly run out of weight to use on squats and deadlifts (your heaviest dumbbells might become too easy).
    – user4644
    Oct 4, 2013 at 1:39
  • Thanks, I still need to read a lot. I just started doing this a few months ago to get up to a basic level, and I have seen improvements as I was essentially a skinny couch/desk potato for many years. Now I need to work out a proper program. What would you say about my diet?
    – Josh
    Oct 4, 2013 at 1:45
  • @Josh Nutrition isn't my specialty, but on first impression, you're lacking fruits and vegetables and you're likely getting enough protein.
    – user4644
    Oct 4, 2013 at 5:45

If you want upper body muscle and less body fat, you need to do (1) upper body strength work and (2) whole-body conditioning work. Right now your program has some of the first and none of the second. Here's what I would add, in order of likely usefulness:

  • running, particularly sprints, for whole-body conditioning
  • pull-ups, for shoulder, arm, and back muscle
  • dips, for shoulder, arm, and back muscle
  • conditioning work like burpees, air squats, dumbbell complexes and circuits (swings, cleans, snatches, push presses) for whole-body conditioning
  • push-ups, for shoulder, arm, and back muscle

The amount of work you're doing right now is pretty small. Add some more heavy lifting and hard conditioning and you'll be more in line with your goals.

  • Hi Dave, I've revised my workout to include pullups, dumbbell squats, dumbbell benchpress, and pushups as well as overhead press, tricep and bicep curls. Is this a good general program for improving size and strength in a general sense?
    – Josh
    Oct 8, 2013 at 21:17
  • @Josh Sure. Make sure you eat enough, and if general size and strength is your goal, see this answer for the broad strokes of what seems to be most effective. Oct 9, 2013 at 5:34

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