5x5 Strength Training With Dumbbells

Substitute dumbbells for barbells.
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The 5x5 training program aims to increase muscle strength and size. The original routine was designed by former champion bodybuilder Bill Starr and revolved around just five exercises: power cleans, squats, bench presses, incline bench presses and overhead presses. While the program was traditionally meant to be performed with barbells, you can still get results with dumbbells, provided you make a few small tweaks.


    The pressing variations are the easiest switch to make. Instead of doing flat, incline and overhead barbell presses, simply change to flat, incline and overhead dumbbell presses. Dumbbells may actually be more effective than barbells when it comes to building your chest, claims strength coach Jimmy Smith, author of "The Physique Formula." You can get a better stretch and range of motion with dumbbells than you can with a bar, which may lead to greater muscle growth.

Power Cleans

    Power cleans are a variation of the full clean, which is one of the Olympic lifts. It's a difficult exercise to master -- you may even need a weight-lifting coach to help you perfect your form. Performing power cleans with dumbbells is a recipe for injury, claims world-renowned trainer Charles Poliquin. They place more stress on the knees, lower back and wrists than barbell power cleans and are extremely awkward to perform. Switch to dumbbell swings, snatches or stiff-legged deadlifts instead.


    Squats might also prove a little tricky, but that shouldn't stop you from doing them. Dumbbell squats require much more stabilization than the barbell variation and if you hold them at your sides, your grip may fatigue before your legs. Barbells are far better for working your legs as you can use more weight, says Cameron McGarr, strength coach at Results Fitness in California. Rather than holding dumbbells by your sides, try goblet squats. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in both hands at chest-height. Keep your torso upright and squat down as low as you can. For an extra challenge, place your heels on a weight plate to increase your range of motion.


    The 5x5 is designed to be performed on non-consecutive days. For example, you could follow a Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule. Perform two to three light warm-up sets of each exercise before your main five sets of five. These working sets should be done with a weight that is heavy enough to be challenging but with which you can complete all the repetitions with good form. Aim to add a little weight to each exercise every session.

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