Dumbbell Strength Standards to Help Build Real Muscle
If muscle building is your obsession I recommend taking this article seriously. You can't pack on a quality amount of muscle mass if you don't dramatically improve your strength levels. In this article, we will focus on bringing up your dumbbell strength.
There are two problems with the concept of strength building though:
- First, many of you think you are strong enough and can't figure out where all the muscle is. You must be a hardgainer.
- Second, some of you desperately want to believe you can pack on a lot of muscle mass without getting stronger. So you wait and grind and tinker and remain small.
If you believe that it's possible to get big without getting strong, I can't help you. I'm not Harry Potter and this isn't Hogwarts. Seriously though, is that plan really working for you?
I didn't think so.
Let's return to point numero uno. (That's "number one" for those of you keeping score at home.) This might trigger a few of you, but you're not as strong as you think.
The muscle building process requires the creation of a solid strength base. What follows are some recommendations for the average lifter. Obviously, we aren't all cut from the same cloth. Some of you might need to get a little stronger to build a reasonable amount of muscle mass, and some of you might not need to get this strong.
You get the picture. These are reasonable guidelines and not carved-in-stone rules.
Aim for These Strength Standards
#1 - Dumbbell Rows: 150 pounds x 12-20 reps
Before we dive in, know that I advocate the use of Versa Gripps or lifting straps. There is a substantial degree of hesitancy in the lifting community to rely on straps. The fear is that it will make your grip weak.
Obviously, this fear is overblown. But if you do want insane grip strength, then work your grip after back training.
Also, know that the intense amount of grip work you do during back training contributes to elbow tendinitis. This injury/condition is extremely common in the lifting community and it's freaking painful. The use of straps will help fight off the likelihood of elbow tendinitis.
OK, back to the program...
You need to increase your back strength standards. It's an insanely powerful group of muscles. Reaching the 120-pounders is a respectable level, but don't get complacent. Aim for more; a lot more.
At one point I thought 120x3x12 was a solid strength level. I got complacent. Guess what? When I really started to push myself I ended up hitting 265x8. See the video below.
You are capable of a lot more. get to work.
- Barbell Standard - Try to get your barbell row or Pendlay row to 275x10. This additional back strength will really help your deadlift power.
#2 - Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press: 80 pounds x 10 reps
The dumbbell overhead press is an often-ignored exercise. It's a solid compliment to the barbell overhead press, and I strongly advise using both during any given week.
During my lifting career, I managed to reach 120 pounds for multiple sets of 10 reps. A reasonable goal for most men is 80 for 10 reps, or better yet for multiple sets of 10.
If you can get to this level you're well ahead of the pack.
To get here you also need to focus upon building up your triceps strength. Make sure to get strong on exercises like the close grip bench press, cable triceps extensions, dips, and even skullcrushers.
- Barbell Standard - Try to get your seated/standing barbell presses to 165x10. This is a good baseline standard. 185x10 is even better.
#3 - Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 100 pounds x 10 reps
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift is one of my favorite movements. It's also a lift that is rarely used.
I am often asked how it differs from conventional barbell Romanian deadlifts, and why bother using this variation. The answer is simple for me.
I've worked my way up to very heavy barbell RDLs. You can check out my 635-pound Romanian deadlift below. By grabbing dumbbells instead I find there to be a slightly better feel.
With a barbell, your hands must remain parallel to the body. With dumbbells, you are able to get a slight amount of grip rotation. Basically, your hands are allowed to rotate naturally. This just feels better to me.
It also tends to feel better on my lower back. If you think about it, the position of each dumbbell is closer to mid-thigh at the top of a dumbbell Romanian deadlift. This can only help put a smaller overall degree of stress and strain on the lower back.
There might be a trivial difference, but I'll take it.
I think there is good value in getting your dumbbell Romanian deadlifts up to 100s for multiple sets of 10. This will not only strengthen your hamstrings and lower back but also your deadlift power.
- Barbell Standard - If you want to be a mini-beast (yes, I know that term is overused) try getting your barbell Romanian deadlift to at least 315x10. That's a good baseline for building a maximum amount of muscle mess.
#4 - Dumbbell Bench Press: 100 pounds x 10 reps
If the bench press is one of your obsessions, it's a good idea to back it up with weekly sets of dumbbell bench presses. I personally prefer to go hard and heavy on barbell benches and then to do volume with dumbbells.
While I see a lot of men performing this movement, I don't find many taking it seriously. Don't be the type of lifter that picks and chooses which exercise to get strong on; make every exercise as strong as possible.
Look, 40s and 60s aren't going to cut it. I don't care how much volume you are tossing around. At some point, you need to start working up to the big boys.
I guarantee that if you can crush multiple sets with the 100s that you'll forge out spectacular pecs.
Grind up one rep at a time, but just get there.
- Barbell Standard - Hitting 225 feels good. Hitting 315 would feel even better. If it's muscle that you're after aim for multiple sets of 225x10. This amount of volume will treat your upper body well.