Basic Dumbbell Routine

I based this routine off of All Pro’s, which is a double progression program, and added a few modifications.

The primary focus is on unilateral movement with dumbbells to prevent imbalances, and because barbell work can be daunting especially if you lift alone or just starting out.

Each exercise address a certain component/plane of movement and both the posterior and anterior chain; vertical pull, vertical push, horizontal pull, horizontal push, quad dominant, hip/glute dominant.

Core work and flexibility is covered in the last section.


You will do 3 workouts per week on nonconsecutive days.

  • The first work out is your heavy workout.
  • The second workout is your medium work out, use 10% less weight for your work sets.
  • The final work out for the week is your light workout, use 20% less weight.
  • Do a light warm up with 1/4 of your work sets weight.
  • Do a medium warm up with 1/2 of your work sets weight.
  • Do 2 work sets with the same weight.
  • Choose a starting weight and start light. This is covered in the later section.

These are the exercises you will be starting with:

  • Goblet squat or Dumbbell reverse lunge
  • Dumbbell bench press or inclined if flat bench is hurting your shoulders
  • 3-point dumbbell row
  • Dumbbell  shoulder press – standing
  • Underhand grip pulldown – shoulder width
  • Glute bridge (progress to single legs once you can do 10 easily) and glute bridge marching (unweighted) or you can follow the program outlined in Bret Contreras’ 30-day glute challenge

Reference for the exercises above:


You will be running this program on a five week cycle as follows:

  • The first week do all 4 sets for 8 reps.
  • The second wees do all 4 sets for 9 reps.
  • The third week do all 4 sets for 10 reps.
  • The fourth week do all 4 sets for 11 reps.
  • The fifth week do all 4 sets for 12 reps.
Week Workout 1

(sets x reps x intensity)

Workout 2

(sets x reps x intensity)

Workout 3

(sets x reps x intensity)

1 4 x 8 x 100% 4 x 8 x 90% 4 x 8 x  80%
2 4 x 9 x 100% 4 x 9 x 90% 4 x 9 x 80%
3 4 x 10 x 100% 4 x 10 x 90% 4 x 10 x 80%
4 4 x 11 x 100% 4 x 11 x 90% 4 x 11 x 80%
5 4 x 12 x 100% 4 x 12 x 90% 4 x 12 x 80%

If you got all of the required reps on the fifth week then increase the weight by 10% and repeat the cycle.

If you didn’t get all of the reps on the fifth week then repeat the cycle with the same weight.

You shouldn’t need more than one minute rest between the warm up sets and you shouldn’t need more than 2-3 minutes between the work sets.

For your first gym session

Go to the gym and do all of the exercises in the routine (in the order they are excluding the glute bridges), using any weight that you think you can do more than 5 reps with.  Aim to do 5-15 reps with good form.

Take note of how many reps you did with what weight for each exercise, then use an online calculator to determine your 10 rep max based on those numbers

This will be your starting weight for each exercise.

Core work and flexibility

Do either one of these routines + core work 2-3 times a week for flexibility/mobility (or yoga/pilates)

Core work examples

Core work

  1. Plank
  2. In plank position alternate knees to elbow (5-10 each leg)
  3. Side plank
  4. In side plank position raise the leg that is on top (5-10 each leg)
  5. Switch sides

Check out this article for more bodyline and core work examples


Remember that for weight loss, diet trumps exercise. You can’t outrun or outlift a bad diet. Give my fitness guide a look if you need help with your diet. And most importantly don’t forget to have fun! Fitness should enhance your life not take away from it.


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