Replicate barbell moves with dumbbells.
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Developed by strength coach Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength is a weightlifting routine involving two workouts based around five key exercises - squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses and power cleans. While the routine is designed specifically to be performed with a barbell, if you train at home or at a gym that doesn't have barbells, you can perform an adapted version using dumbbells instead.
First, Workout A
Workout A in Starting Strength consists of three sets of five squats, three sets of five bench presses and one set of five deadlifts. Substituting barbell bench presses for dumbbell presses is relatively straightforward and involves a simple equipment change. For squats, you can either hold one dumbbell in each hand at your sides, hold them at your shoulders or switch to goblet squats holding one dumbbell in both hands in front of your chest. For deadlifts, place the weights on the floor at your sides and perform deadlifts as you would with a barbell, that is, straightening to a stand while keeping your back flat and eyes looking forward.
Then, Workout B
The second workout also starts with three sets of five squats, so either use the same dumbbell squat variation as you did in workout A or pick a different one. Overhead presses come next and as with changing from a barbell to a dumbbell bench press, this is an easy switch. Rippetoe recommends performing your overhead presses standing up. The final exercise is five sets of three on the power clean. These start in a similar way to the deadlift, but instead of stopping in a standing position, you explosively lift the weight up to your shoulders.
Look at the Advantages
The main advantage of using dumbbells, especially for beginners, is that they're easier to handle. A full-size Olympic bar weighs 45 pounds and is 7 feet in length, which can be daunting for a new lifter. Dumbbells also help to even out strength imbalances, require more stabilization and are generally safer than barbells as you can just drop the weight should you fail a lift, notes strength coach Cameron McGarr on the Men's Fitness website.
Understand the Disadvantages
When training for maximum strength, nothing can replace the barbell as the ultimate piece of workout equipment, according to trainer Andrew Read. While the increased stability needed for dumbbells can be beneficial, it also means you can't lift as much weight. Plus, when holding dumbbells for squats and deadlifts, your grip is likely to give out before your leg and back muscles are fully fatigued, making them less effective exercises than the barbell versions.