So I'm about 6 feet tall (183 cm) and weigh about 180lbs (75kgs). I'm looking to get a more toned stomach and gain more strength in my arms.

I don't want huge muscles, I just want to get to a more basic level of strength as I realized I am a lot weaker than my peers.

After asking other questions about how best to gain strength without gaining a lot of mass, I have started doing a workout each day.

In the morning I do 10 situps. This is just to try and get my stomach/abdomen in a better shape and remove the ever so slight flab I have developed.

Later on I do 3 sets of lifting a dumbbell 10 times, weighing 15lbs for each arm. I have about a 20 minute break between each set of lifting 10 times(is each set a rep?).

Is this a good starting point towards my goals? Should I be incorporating further exercises? Should I do more or less reps? Or is it OK for the moment while I am starting out?

  • 2
    I'll put together an answer, but just a couple of questions first.. why is abdomen and bicep strength what you have decided to focus on? What about back, leg, chest, shoulders?
    – user3085
    Apr 2, 2012 at 2:22
  • 3
    This is just to try and get my stomach/abdomen in a better shape and remove the ever so slight flab I have developed. There is no such thing as targeted fat removal. Doing sit ups will build a little abdomen muscle, but they will do nothing for removing that bit of fat you have. For that, you need cardio and proper dieting.
    – Moses
    Apr 2, 2012 at 16:40
  • @Sancho Because I'm not looking at gaining a lot of muscle. I just realize that ue to no exercise I am a lot weaker than average. I simply want to get my strength up to a more basic level....I want to stand a chance in an arm wrestle rather than have big muscles or have more strength overall. Apr 4, 2012 at 8:37
  • @Sancho Please keep in mind due to budget limitations I only have access to an adjustable dumbbell set. Apr 4, 2012 at 8:40

3 Answers 3


I support both of the other answers given so far, but given your clarifications, I'll add an answer of my own.

To answer the question "Is your current strength building workout good to start off with", the answer is no.

You say that your goal is strength training and to not get huge muscles. Luckily, you can do this. The rep range that you need to work out in to get strong is 3-5 reps at relatively high weight. The rep range that you need to work out in to get big muscles is in the 10-15 rep range. Your current workout plan will give you big muscles and not much strength, especially since you're only working out your biceps, a relatively unimportant muscle.

I've done a program for three months (much like the one Berin suggests) focusing on squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press. In those three months, I've gained 15-20lbs of weight, increased my strength in these lifts 25-80%, depending on the lift. And, my muscles are not noticeably larger at all. People wouldn't notice that I've been lifting. I am a lot stronger, though. You can do the same thing.

Even if all you have is dumbbells, at least focus on the lifts that matter for strength. Overhead press. Bench press. Squats (look at the goblet version). A deadlift-like thing. I'd also suggest investing in a chin-up bar. They're super cheap.

  • Overhead press will strengthen your entire shoulder musculature and triceps.
  • Bench press will strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Squats will strengthen your lower back, abs, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.
  • Deadlifts will do the same as squats, but you can do them with heavier weight, and they focus more on the back.
  • Chin-ups will strengthen your upper back and biceps.

That's what functional strength training is about. It's not about size. It's not about biceps (although they'll get stronger). It's about multi-joint, multi-muscle movements that allow you to move a lot of weight, and move more weight the next time. Doing a full body routine like this will also reduce your body fat, eventually showing off your abs.

You've mentioned arm wrestling a few times... I guarantee you if you just do your current workout, you will not be winning arm wrestles. You will need chest strength. You will need shoulder strength. You will need upper back strength. To avoid injury, you will need strong supporting musculature in the shoulders, and strong ligaments and tendons. You will need a strong lower back and abs so that your core can be a stable base for you.

This will be true for almost anything that you need strength for. It will not come down to a single muscle.


Let's start off with some basic principles regarding strength training:

  • The size you gain is a function of how you train and what you eat
  • The strength you gain is a function of how you train
  • Imbalanced training leads to imbalanced strength, which in turn leads to injury
  • Rest is as important as training.

Your title suggests you want to train for strength, and not necessarily to be big. That leads me to believe that you are less interested in bodybuilding (lifting for aesthetics) and more of a functional training.

To that end, I recommend centering your program around the big four compound lifts: squats, bench press, deadlifts, and overhead press. If you work in dips and chin/pull-ups you will have just about all your bases covered. If using barbells doesn't appeal to you, then I recommend doing body weight exercises.

  • To emphasize strength over size, keep your rep ranges low--in the 3-5 rep range.
  • To ensure you have enough volume to force adaptation, use anywhere between 3-5 sets.
  • If you don't eat big, you won't get big.

An example beginner program could be the Average F'n Program, which has the advantage of not taking a long time, and helping you get strong.

What you are currently doing is better than nothing, but it's usefulness is limited. Biceps are used when you are trying to keep your body close to an object (like rock climbing) or carrying something in front of you. However, if you never train the rest of your body even that will be limited by your posterior chain strength (back, glutes, hamstrings, calves). Same with grip strength.

If you want to get large muscles, instead of focusing on strength, you have to work very hard for those, and emphasize training till failure, and increasing your time under tension. That usually means working in the 10-15 rep range, or just going for an all out AMRAP set (As Many Reps As Possible). Along with that type of training you also have to make your diet as anabolic as possible which involves timing the carb intake to post workout, etc. The programming surrounding this is very different from what I described above.

  • Hi Berin, thanks for your answer. I'm not interested in big muscles as such, I just realized I have very little strength, much less than my peers due to never really exercising. I'm just trying to get a higher level of strength....so is what I am doing now sufficient? I lift my 15lb dumbbell 10 times in 1 set, wait a bit and do it again, then one more time, and repeat for my other arm. After a few months I should seem some progress? Apr 4, 2012 at 8:31
  • Also, I am limited in what I have access to because of my budget. I bought an adjustable dumbbell set which is all I really have at the moment. Apr 4, 2012 at 8:32
  • 4
    I'm not talking about big muscles. I'm talking about strength. You should look into body weight exercises, goblet squats, dumbbell presses, etc. Apr 4, 2012 at 12:17

It is great that you are starting with your abs, most people don't realize but working out your abs also works out your core which you must do if you want to progress on to heavier weights.

However, doing an isolation exercise for your biceps is rather pointless unless all that you are going for is vanity. I would highly recommend starting with some compound exercises with some REALLY LIGHT weights: bench-press, bent-over barbell row and squats for starters. Combine this with some dumbell exercises for your shoulders and some simple leg exercises to give your body an excellent base for stepping up and kick starting your metabolism.

Good luck!

TIP: Don't waste time doing arms. Compound exercises like pull-ups, deadlifts will give you so much more increased strength than you would ever get by isolation.

  • 2
    I disagree that pull-ups are pointless. First of all, they are not an isolated exercise and they work out slightly different muscle groups than deadlifts do. Of course, you are most likely to see the biggest gains from deadlifts because they simply use to much muscle, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a place for other exercise. (it's almost like saying "why do squats? deadlifts already work your legs quite a bit")
    – VPeric
    Apr 3, 2012 at 17:36
  • I read that as "Don't waste time doing arms. Compound exercises...". @Victor Parmar, you may want to edit your answer to make the TIP less ambiguous. Apr 3, 2012 at 18:45
  • I'm not going for vanity or even gaining big muscles, I just realize I have almost on strength due to never doing any exercise or hard work. I basically want to stand a chance in an arm wrestle against the average guy, not be super fit or jacked up. I also only have access to a dumbbell set due to budget limitations. Apr 4, 2012 at 8:36
  • @MattBronson Good! You can use the adjustable dumbbells to do the rows, squats, deadlifts, and bench that he mentions. Apr 17, 2012 at 18:55

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