I'm male, 5'11, age 29. In 2008 I went from 260lbs to about 160lbs with very little exercise, and have hovered around that weight since then. My weight will fluctuate, with a high of around 175lbs. When I hit a number I'm uncomfortable with, I lower it by dieting, almost exclusively by eliminating carbs. This is a reliable solution to lose weight, but I have practically no muscle definition, which makes sense as I rarely work out.

I also have excess fat or skin in my gut area -- I'm not sure which it is (or even how to tell), but I'm ready to get to the next step in terms of fitness. My goal is to maintain about 160-165lbs and "replace" the fat with muscle. I'm aware that "replace" is a misnomer, but I'm worried mostly about doing the wrong thing and gaining weight.

I have access to a gym with no barbells but plenty of cardio and dumbells. I also have a 15lb and a 45lb kettlebell.

I would love suggestions on how to start building muscle through an exercise plan and an eating plan. (I think 5x5 and Starting Strength as programs have to be ruled out by virtue of no barbell.) I am currently in a no-carb cycle and at 161lbs. I feel terrible about myself when I'm over 165lbs, so I'm trying to preserve my self-esteem and stay under that number while doing what I need to do to build muscle.

Any thoughts would be most appreciated.

  • "I feel terrible about myself when I'm over 165lbs, so I'm trying to preserve my self-esteem and stay under that number while doing what I need to do to build muscle." I'm a bit confused by this statement. Assuming a program you use helps you gain muscle, how will you reconcile yourself to the increase in weight that comes with increased muscle mass?
    – rrirower
    Jan 14, 2015 at 20:24
  • Fair. That bit applies to my stagnant state of no muscle. If I'm seeing muscle definition and not gut/loose skin then that will definitely change.
    – Brian Fenn
    Jan 14, 2015 at 20:32
  • Is there any reason you can't join a gym that has barbells? Excluding great programs such as 5X5 or Starting Strength because of the lack of barbells is a shame. Performing compound exercises with barbells is just much fun. :) Jan 16, 2015 at 3:26
  • I'm guessing that if you add muscle mass, you won't feel the same about going over 165 if your body composition is different. Oct 19, 2016 at 20:42

3 Answers 3


There's no reason you can't start out with dumbbells (or kettlebells) for the Stronglifts 5x5 program, at least to start somewhere with the equipment you have available to you. Mehdi suggests it for women, but the modifications could work if you have big enough dumbbells: http://stronglifts.com/5x5/#Does_StrongLifts_52155_work_for_women. I started this way, and still modify with dumbbells sometimes if the gym is too busy.


First of all I'd like to clarify a few things:

You are not defined, not because you don't work out, but because you have a lot of fat in the sense of body building standards. It means that basically you're above 10-12% body fat.

In regards to your gut fat/skin, it might be both. But as I said, you won't have 0 tummy unless you reach a % fat WAY below 10-12%, which is already considered LOW for the random citizen standard.

Now let's talk about your objectives. If you think you're going to build muscle while you go on a no carb diet, you're completely wrong. Unless you eat 2000+cals of pure proteins every day. Yes, you will gain flexibility and definitely tone your body, but you won't build muscle as in "making muscle fiber grow".

Eitherway, you can use dumbbells, barbells, pulleys... anything that challenges your strength a little bit. Pick a beginner's program online, go slowly at first, be extremely dedicated and self disciplined, and it should be alright.

  • I appreciate the detailed reply. I'm going to try a modified 5x5 to start. Also, 10-12% bodyfat is definitely a goal of mine. I've heard this is mostly done in the kitchen...is the best way to attain that by eating high protein and low amounts of fats?
    – Brian Fenn
    Jan 16, 2015 at 19:39
  • It depends of your objective. You could reach that but just starving yourself. There are many ways to do it, just that the implication in the organism are different. This is also to be put in perspective to your workout style. Strength, elasticity, pure hypertrophy... They pull on different energetic channels, so they need a sllightly different diet. 5x5 is pretty heavy on the nervous system. You need to keep a good amount of essential oils, a good amount of proteins, and a reasonable amount of carbs for breakfast. Find your balance in terms of calories intake, substract 300 from that...
    – Sebas
    Jan 16, 2015 at 21:13
  • from the carbs, and you should be good to go for a 3-5 months efficient cut.
    – Sebas
    Jan 16, 2015 at 21:15
  • @BrianFenn I re-read my comment. In the first line, read "You could reach that BY just starving yourself"
    – Sebas
    Jan 16, 2015 at 23:51
  1. How do you know if it is loose skin or loose fat (simply more fat you have to lose?) see http://www.nowloss.com/how-to-get-rid-of-loose-skin.htm

  2. Low carb is a good strategy but all you are really doing is flushing out excess weight and eating less calories due to limited food options + a higher protein intake BUT... if you can sustain this for a long perod of time (which most people can't) then go for it.

  3. For weight maintaince (mass or weight loss) simply watch your calorie intake and avoid the fad diets.

  4. As for gaining mass I suggest you look at tips 11-thru-19 here @ http://www.nowloss.com/fast-muscle-building-tips.htm but specifically you need to make 25-to-50% of your diet protein and you need carbs to "FILL OUT" your muscles and wthout carbs your muscles will look flat and not oned

  • 1
    Downvoting for the rather spamish nature of "if you want to know the secrets of fitness, click on my website".
    – Eric
    Feb 3, 2015 at 20:38

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