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I'm about 5'10" and weigh around 175lbs. Although I'm moderately fit in terms of aerobics and endurance, my muscle strength is poor for a man of my size. So I got a pair of dumbells and started working out.

My goal isn't to body build in the traditional sense. I don't have much time to work out, so I just want to maximise the number of muscle groups I'm working to increase my overall strength with the minimum number of exercises and reps.

I've got 8.5kg on each bell (that's all the weights they came with) and I'm currently doing:

  • Ten Squat plus press
  • Ten rows
  • Ten bicep curls
  • Ten palm-up wrist curls
  • Another ten squat plus press

I do this every weeknight and rest weekends. I've been going three weeks and it's already paying dividends: I could only do 6-8 of most of those excercises at that weight and now I can do the full ten.

So I'm wondering what the best way forward from here is. Are there other good - or better - excercises I should include in my routine for working multiple muscle groups? As the reps become easier, should I add weight or do more reps (I don't want this to take more than 10-15 minutes)? Is five nights a week and two rests a good routine? And I haven't changed my diet at all - should I?

  • 2
    If you want us to evaluate your diet as part of the plan, it might help if you outlined a typical few days. You might be eating perfectly fine, or you might be a trainwreck at the dinner table. We don't know :) – JohnP May 30 at 14:08
  • @JohnP Not so much an evaluation as just to know whether, for a low-impact workout, I ought to think about eating more protein is all. I mean I'm middle-aged and although a bit "soft", I'm not overweight, so I must be eating okay. – Matt Thrower May 30 at 14:30
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    Just want to point out: if you are short on time and middle age, chances are you are not short on cash. Consider buying more weights to put on your dumbbell. Working out with the same weight every day for a short period will only really benefit you for a month or two. That's true for any workout, doing the same stuff over and over again is inefficient and you're short on time. Weights have one major benefit: the fix is very simple, increase it – Raditz_35 May 31 at 15:34
  • Building off of Raditz_35’s comment, getting something like “Powerblocks” would minimize the space requirements of multiple dumbbells while also keeping the time it takes to switch weights to a minimum. If money IS a concern, 2nd hand gym equipment is typically just as useful as new equipment while being much cheaper. FB Marketplace, Craigslist, yardsales, or other local listings are great for building up a home gym. – JustSnilloc May 31 at 16:39
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Instead of doing the same exercises every day, you would benefit more from giving your muscles at least one day of rest before working the same muscles every day. This concept is known as a "split". You work certain muscle groups on certain days and manage your recovery accordingly. Muscles have the chance to improve during rest, exercise is the stimulus and too much stimulus can interfere with or even be detrimental to growth (the biggest sign of too much would be getting weaker).

So what sort of split should you try? I think that a "bro split" where you only work a couple muscle groups each day would work best if you only have 15 mins. One potential example of what that might look like is a Chest and Shoulders Day, a Back and Glutes Day, a Biceps and Triceps Day, a Quad and Hamstring Day, and a Calf and Forearm Day. Alternatively, a Push/Pull/Legs split might work better if you have more time. Your core (abs, obliques, etc) can be done any day, it recovers quickly and can be worked on the same day as another workout or on its own separate day(s).

When doing any kind of strength training, it's important to give yourself an appropriate challenge. This can be manipulated in a variety of ways, weight, exercise selection, speed (rep cadence), total reps, range of motion, etc. In general though, working to (or close to) failure is a good indicator that you've pushed yourself enough within an individual set. Popular set and rep counts include 3x10 and 5x5 (sets x reps), but the exact number of reps is secondary to reaching that appropriate challenge (to or close to failure). Just pick a weight that sees you reaching that challenge at whatever set/rep count you decide to go with.

However, you're really limiting what you can do with just two 8.5 kg dumbbells that I'm only assuming are adjustable. That's not to say that you can't get a good workout, simply that you should look at expanding your options in the future to better make use of your time and efforts. Most notably it's going to be hard to challenge your legs with so little weight. You'll probably want to focus on single leg variations of exercises for that reason, Single Leg Squat, Single Leg RDL, etc. For other things, just look online for dumbbell options for specific muscle groups. Here's a YouTube playlist with some options for you.

Now what is an example of what this would look like in practice?

Monday - Chest and Shoulders

  • DB Flat Bench Press - 3 sets of 10
  • UCV Raise (Example in Video) - 3 sets of 10
  • DB Shoulder Raise - 3 sets of 10
  • Rear Delt DB Row - 3 sets of 10

This should take approximately 15-21 minutes with a rep cadence of 3-5 seconds and 60 seconds of rest between each set.

  • This is a good answer, however I want to point out: learning various variations for legs, some of them quite complicated, will also require time to research, implement and so on. I don't have a good solution, but if weights and time are limited, maybe the OP has to just accept that pretty soon, they will reach their limit. There is only so much you can do – Raditz_35 May 31 at 15:49

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