Fitness Friday – #WorkoutHack: Dumbbell Doubles For A Quick Getaway

Disclaimer: I am not a certified fitness professional.  Please consult your doctor before undertaking a new exercise program.  Workouts on Iron Rogue are provided for inspiration and discussion.


You may remember from 2 weeks ago that I’ve been emphasizing strength training in the last little while.  The workout I’ve been using is based on the Muscle Primer workout from Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle by Tom Venuto.



The Muscle Primer workout is a whole body workout that Mr. Venuto prescribes for beginners to get ready for more weight-lifting.  I thought I would do it for 3 weeks then move on to workouts that were divided up into back/arms, chest/shoulders, and leg days. Unfortunately, that’s not how Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is designed, and they recommend sticking with the Muscle Primer for 3 months (up to 6!) and that’s doing it 3 times a week, when I’ve been closer to twice for the last 6-8 weeks.

I do my workouts at lunchtime at work, and lately there have been training courses, meetings, and a heavier workload getting in the way of my workouts.  One of my pet-peeves with weight lifting is how it can take longer if a particular piece of equipment (even a bench) is occupied by someone else, and how setting up weights on bars etc. takes extra time.  A few times I’ve wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is all the rage for time-efficiency and effectiveness these days, but I’ve been guilty in the past of grabbing a workout from social media (Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs), doing it once for kicks, then doing something new the next time – I often say I have fitness ADD (which is great for triathlon), and it works well for diversity of training and muscle-confusion, but not so much for seeing progress in terms of strength/power and/or technique.  So when I wanted a quick workout a few weeks ago, I decided to try and build my own, based on the muscle primer workout with the following principles in mind:



  1. Stick generally to the same strength exercises of the Muscle Primer workout; build the same whole-body strength
  2. Pair exercises in such a way that they can be done back to back; with little overlap between muscle groups, one muscle group rests while the other is working.
  3. Pair exercises in such a way that the same dumbbells can be used for both exercises without having to go back to the rack and seek out different ones.
  4. Use as little extra equipment as possible.
Here are the individual exercises:
  • Deadlift/Romanian Deadlift – These are great for posterior chain (used for going up hills).  I do Romanian Deadlifts when I’m not confident about the weight I’m lifting, and I think they’re beginner-friendly for starting to lift.
  • Bench Press – OK, you need a piece of equipment here, but luckily between flat benches and adjustable benches, you can usually find something in a gym.
These two represent the exercises that I can do with the heaviest weight.  

  • Split Squats – These are like lunges without stepping forward (or back).  I’m not comfortable elevating my rear foot very much, but sometimes I’ll place it on a step or even the foot rest of a piece of equipment (bench, rack).
  • Bent-over Rows –  These can be done single arm with a bench, but I prefer to stand bent over with weights in both hands (see pic).  They take the place of the lat-pulldown which I’ve been using for back strength when I have time for longer workouts.
Bent-over Row

  • Shoulder Press – I confess, I like doing this one on a bench with a backrest to support me and heavier weight, but when I’m doing the dumbbell doubles, I go a little lighter, more reps, and stand to engage my core for good form
  • Bicep Curls – I generally alternate arms.
These complement each other from a push vs. pull perspective.  The triceps are being used in the press, but they get to rest during the bicep curls.

Two-handed Tricep Extension

  • Two-handed Tricep Extensions – Dumbbell tricep extensions come in a dozen different flavours, but this is the one they use in the book, so I had no reason to change it.  Using both hands means I can grab a heavier weight, which can come in handy for doing the other exercise in this pair (see pic)
  • Calf Extensions with a Dumbell – I’m not in love with this one as I find most calf-exercises a little awkward.  On days where I have time, I break my own rules and use a machine (leg press).  Still, you can mount a weight on your shoulder and put your foot on any raised surface (provided you feel good about your balance).  I’m using a spin bike in the pic, but the foot of a bench or a step would be fine too.  Notice I put the weight on the opposite shoulder to the leg I’m doing the calf raise with.
Calf Raises

Now, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, so using the same dumbbells for each exercise might not make sense for everyone, however, I think I have a fairly typical build/strength profile (especially for a runner/triathlete) with more lower body strength than upper body strength, so I don’t think these pairings are too “out-there.”  Moreover, you can vary the reps you do as long as they stay between 6 and 15 (8 to 12 being even more ideal).


Here’s how the numbers shook out the last time I did this workout:

  • Deadlifts/Bench Press (two 45 lb dumbbells, 12 reps)
  • Split Squats/Bent Over Rows (two 35 lb dumbbells, 10 reps)
  • Shoulder Press/Bicep Curls (two 20 lb dumbbells, 15 and 12 reps respectively)
  • Overhead Tricep Extension/Calf Raises (one 30 lb dumbbell, 15 and 12 reps respectively)
I did two sets of each: each “double” or pair twice. I tried to not stop in the middle of a double, and also not too much between sets. I rested a little between doubles, but not too much, usually just enough to replace the weights and grab new ones. The good news is the major muscles fatigued by one exercise never stopped me from doing an exercise, the only thing holding me back was getting gassed cardiovascularly, or needing to rest my hands due to lack of grip endurance. So while I’m not going to label this a HIIT workout (I wouldn’t know the rules of what constitutes that exactly), you can see it will get your heart rate going well, while building muscle.


Official time from that “dress rehearsal”: 14 minutes 36 seconds. I did 3 minutes on an elliptical (though I prefer a rowing machine – it was occupied) as a warm-up, and a minute plank on my way to the change-room. Iron Rogue Out!

What do you think? Do you love dumbbells?

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