A Home Endurance Workout Series Using 5-lb Dumbbells

My 5 pound dumbbells

With Nevada’s “Pause” lockdown reducing gym capacity to 25%, going to the gym to strength train or otherwise exercise could become largely impractical. I don’t foresee the restriction being lifted anytime soon. Plus, with New Year’s having arrived, what little capacity is available is likely getting swallowed up by many poorly-planned New Year’s resolutions.

Until a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t lifted weights at all, since I hadn’t been to the gym at all. I’ve had personal dumbbell weight sets at varying points in my life, but the last few years certainly hasn’t been one of them. My only free weights are a pair of 5 pound dumbbells that I once used in a clown theatre piece years ago. I long since figured I’m probably not getting swole off such light weight.

Or so I thought.

One idea from my reverse engineered 1RM approach is that it’s possible to get a sufficiently challenging workout from very light weight… if you do enough repetitions of a given exercise.

This is one reason why people still get fitness benefits from bodyweight work like push-ups and pull-ups, even though they not only aren’t adding weight but (as they progress in fitness) their bodyweight actually gets lighter.

From personal training, the NFPT general endurance training approach asks for 4-5 sets of 20-25 reps of an exercise at 50-60% resistance intensity, with sub-1-minute rests between each set.

That’s a mouthful (or textful), but if you go back to my reverse engineered 1RM approach, this means my little 5-lb dumbbells may actually provide enough resistance for most of the exercises I could do at home for this program.

(I can probably go to a department store and find some 8-15 lb dumbbells if at any point these exercises become too easy, but I digress.)

Before the end of 2020, I took this info and tested this out with a basic home-5lb-dumbbells version of my 20 minute workout.

4 sets 25 reps (4×25) DB Chest Flies
4×25 DB Lateral Raises
4×25 DB Bent Over Rows
1×12 DB Russian Twists

First of all, the particular above workout actually took 26 minutes, in part because I took longer rest breaks (45-60 seconds instead of my usual 30), and of course because I was doing far more reps per set, which takes more time (even though I saved time between exercises not having to transition equipment).

But ultimately, I got a good workout. I was even a bit sore the next day. Sure, some of that could be from not having seriously strength trained in a month. But the exercises while suitably challenging were not unduly challenging.

I had avoided doing home workouts mostly because of two separate issues: Either 1) bodyweight work required some degree of upper body strength I didn’t yet have to avoid joint torque problems, or 2) I only had these 5lb dumbbells and didn’t think I could get a decent workout from them. I was clearly wrong about item 2.

So, now that my hypothesis about the reverse engineered 1RM data plus a high number of reps does appear for now to be true, I can program a full push-pull series of workouts against these dumbbells.

One adjustment I made, to keep these workouts at 20 minutes, is instead of doing a set number of reps each set I could go back to an old workout template and do as many proper reps as I can in 30 seconds. This puts an added focus on aerobic endurance, in the upper body where I could probably use improvement there.

I do retain 30 second rest breaks between sets, and four sets of four main exercises before a series of core work. Since the transition between exercises can now be 30 seconds instead of the 1-3 minutes I needed at the gym, this now allows time for more core work sets than the 1-2 I had the time to do with the original 20 minute in-gym workout.

4x30s DB Chest Flies 10lb
4x30s DB Shoulder Press 10lb
4x30s DB Turkish Sit Up 5lb
4x30s DB Tricep French Press 10lb
6x20s Planks

4x30s DB Bent Over Rows 10lb
4x30s DB Pull Overs 10lb
4x30s DB Front Raises 10lb
4x30s DB Hammer Curls 10lb
4x30s DB Russian Twists 5lb

A side note on the planks: The mainstream approach is to hold the isometric plank as long as you can. I find your body begins to strain and buckle after 20-30 seconds, that this is probably not an ideal way to develop core strength, and that most people just get used to holding them to failure not realizing they could better build the needed core strength by first doing multiple reps of 20 second planks before trying to hold longer planks. Planks are still challenging at 20 seconds, but you give your core a chance to relax and reset before doing 20 more seconds.

These push-pull strength training templates also invite alternatives. For example:

  • I could replace the Front Raises with Lateral Raises.
  • I could do Incline Push Ups on a suitable surface in lieu of the Chest Flies.
  • I could also do the Chest Flies either laying down, or standing up, allowing for different muscles to be worked.
  • There are various tricep exercises I could do instead of the French Press.
  • There are all sorts of bicep-curl variations I could do instead of the Hammer Curl.

I’ll talk later about some other exercise templates I could use in tandem with these workouts. But for now I at least found a useful endurance-centered template with which to continue strength training from home using just my clown dumbbells.

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