Barbells and Dumbbells: Updating My Workout

A few weeks back, I provided a detailed description of my own workout and what I do Monday through Friday (Monday through Saturday, really). Then I immediately changed my workout routine. I guess I owe you an update.

barbell bench press
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Keep in mind that I’m always making minor adjustments to my routine, both to keep myself from becoming bored with doing the same thing at the gym for months on end, but also to see what exercises work better and in what order.

Here’s what I’m up to currently. I still rest about 60 seconds between sets/supersets and perform (generally) between 8 and 15 reps per set and (generally) 3 sets per exercise:

Monday is Chest Day

  • Barbell bench press
  • Reverse grip incline dumbbell press
  • Dumbbell pullover
  • Dumbbell bench flyes

I sometimes add dumbbell bench presses to the end of this sequence if I have the time.

As you can see, the major difference is the addition of the traditional barbell bench press and the reverse grip incline dumbbell press. I inserted the former in order to add more barbell work to my routine, and the latter is supposed to be superior to the standard incline press at building the upper chest.

The first time I did this routine, I put the reverse grip presses first and then did bench presses. The reverse grip press is very strenuous and I discovered just how much it took out of me when I performed the exercise after bench presses this time. I think I’ll move the reverse grip press to the front of the line again.

Tuesday is Back Day

  • Cable low row
  • Lat pulldown
  • 1-arm dumbbell rows
  • Bent over barbell rows
  • Bent leg barbell deadlifts

As much as they make me winded, I’m determined to perform dumbbell rows on each back day rather than stagger them every other week with straight-arm cable pushdowns because I feel like dumbbell rows work my back more. I also added barbell rows and bent leg deadlifts to this routine to get away from using machine weights on my back. Now all my back work is done in the free weight room.

Wednesday is Leg Day

  • Machine leg extensions
  • Machine lying leg curls
  • Plate loaded leg press
  • Plate loaded seated calf raise
  • Straight leg deadlift

I’m still relying on a couple of machines to work my quads and hamstrings at the beginning of the workout, but then I switch to plate loaded machines and barbell deadlifts for the rest of leg day. Eventually, I’ll do all of leg day in the free weight room.

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Particularly the plate loaded leg press is rather intimidating. Once you load the machine with the weight you want, you have to sit facing upward pressing your feet against the plate. You have to press against the plate, raising it away from your body to disengage the safety lock. Then you perform the exercise. When finished, you have to be able to press the weight away from your body in order to re-engage the lock and stop the weight from crashing into you. If the weight is so heavy you can’t push it with your legs, you are in big trouble.

The deadlift is the only exercise I perform using a barbell on leg day. Like the bent leg counterpart I use for back day, it’s an exhausting move, leaving me out of breath between sets. It’s not even that I use that much weight, but the exercise is so effective, it uses a lot of oxygen in my blood to get my legs and lower back to do the work.

I’m considering adding dumbbell lunges to the end of this workout, but the move is pretty awkward and I need to practice without weights at first so I don’t lose my balance.

Thursday is Delts and Traps Day

  • Dumbbell seated shrugs
  • Superset:
    • Dumbbell side lats
    • Dumbbell front raises
  • Superset:
    • Dumbbell bent over lats
    • Dumbbell standing shoulder press
  • Cable t-bar high raises
  • External rotator cuff w/cable

Note: Remember that a superset is performing a set of two different weight training exercises with no rest in between, so for example, I’d perform a set of dumbbell side lats, then immediately perform a set of front raises, rest for about a minute, and then repeat.

I started incorporating supersets into my delt and trap workout to increase the intensity and to save time. In retrospect, putting shoulder presses where I have in the routine may not be the best idea, since my deltoid muscles are so tired at this point that I have a lot of trouble lifting the weight over my head. I may incorporate shoulder presses into a superset along with seated shrugs and see how that works out.

I’ve been avoiding dumbbell high raises because my performance of that exercise has been “off” lately. When I pick it back up, I’ll probably use lighter dumbbells to see if that helps with my endurance.

concentration curls
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I also added a rotator cuff exercise and I’m glad I did, since that feels like a weaker part of my body. I’d rather strengthen it than incur an injury at some point and lose most of my ability to lift.

Friday is Triceps and Biceps Day

  • Lying barbell triceps extension (“skullcrusher”)
  • Dumbbell incline curls
  • 1-arm dumbbell seated triceps extension
  • Concentration curls
  • Triceps cable pushdown
  • Dumbbell reverse grip curls
  • Preacher curls

The only real changes from my prior workout is that I’ve replaced the lying dumbbell triceps press with skullcrushers using a standard barbell, and I’m performing the 1-arm triceps extension behind my head rather than to one side. The latter is an especially awkward move, particularly in trying to keep my elbows from flaring out to the side, but it feels more effective than the previous method.

My triceps are a very stubborn part of my body to strengthen, and they need to get stronger since they support my chest and shoulder workouts. If my triceps can become stronger, so can the other muscle groups they depend upon during weight training.

Core and Cardio

I haven’t done anything to change these routines yet. After lifting, I try to do some ab or core work, usually on the roman chair, captain’s chair, and/or an ab crunch machine. The only thing I’ve adjusted is that I sometimes hold a weighted plate in my arms while doing back extensions on the roman chair. This can be anywhere from 25 to 35 pounds depending on what’s handy.

After that, during the week, I do 25 minutes of moderate cardio on an elliptical machine. My Friday workout takes a long time, so often I miss cardio on that day and have to pick up the missed session on Saturday. I’ll probably need to add some supersets to triceps/biceps day just to make my workout go faster.

dreamWhen I go to the gym on Saturday, I perform multiple core exercises before hitting the elliptical. I’ll do something like a roman chair/captain’s chair superset, from 2 to 3 sets, then the ab crunch machine for 2 to 3 sets, then back to the roman chair for another 2 to 3 sets.

Then I’ll do about 35 minutes of cardio and call it good.


I’m definitely getting a sense of accomplishment by phasing out most of my weight machine routines. Maybe I’m just “old school,” but to me, dumbbells, barbells, and big, metal, plate loaded machines feel like “real” weight training.

That said, my son, who does mostly body weight work these days, definitely established that he’s still stronger than I am. The joys of youth.

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.

Nido Qubein


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