Jen Kates by Jen Kates

You’re stuck at home without the ability to go to the gym, and all you have for equipment are a set of dumbbells. Plus, you only have 30 minutes or less to get in a workout (including a warm-up), so what can you do?

Short answer—more than you might think. In fact, the variations are endless.

The two total-body workouts below make it possible for you to target the main muscles of your body while using minimal equipment. These workouts can be done for a total of two to four times a week (two times each), but be sure to take at least one day off between workouts.

These workouts follow the Reps in Reserve (RIR) concept. With RIR, you perform a specific number of repetitions (reps) while leaving some in reserve—or “left in the tank”—before ending the set. This format helps you determine the effort you put into each exercise, which is helpful if you have just one set of fixed-weight dumbbells.

Aim for an RIR of 4 the first week you perform these workouts. This means you should use an amount of weight that allows you to finish the set feeling like you could have done 4 more repetitions. On week 2, aim for an RIR of 3; on week 3, aim for an RIR of 2; and on week 4, aim for an RIR of 1. This sequence will help you progress each week and increase the intensity of your effort.

The recommended number of repetitions is given in parentheses after each exercise. This range is the ideal number of repetitions you should aim to work within for each exercise when considering your RIR, but this is completely up to you and your ability. Be aware that the upper limit of each listed rep range (20-30 reps) is included to reduce your chances of exhaustion and overtraining.

Before you get started with either of these workouts, warm-up for at least 3-5 minutes on your favorite cardio machine (if available) or with a walk or jog outside, if possible. If you don’t have access to any cardio equipment, perform one minute of jogging in place or two to three sets of the following: five inchworms, five body-weight squats (to a depth that is comfortable to you) and five body-weight deadlifts.

“The Dirty Seven” Full-body Workout (Days 1 and 5)

In 20 minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of the following movements:

  1. Dumbbell front squats (rep range of 10-20)
  2. Diagonal raise (5-20 reps per arm)
  3. Dumbbell swing (10-20 reps; while this exercise is traditionally done with kettlebells, it can be done with a dumbbell instead)
  4. Lateral lunges with dumbbells (5-20 reps per side)
  5. Dumbbell squat to overhead press (5-20 reps)
  6. Reverse crunch (10-20 reps)
  7. Elevated glute bridge with dumbbells (10-20 reps)

Rest for 30-60 seconds before repeating the round.

Full-body Workout (Days 3 and 7)

In eight minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of the following:

Rest for 30-60 seconds before repeating the round.

At the end of the eight minutes, rest two minutes and then complete as many rounds as possible in eight minutes of the following:

Rest for 30-60 seconds before repeating the round.

When you have limited time or equipment, it’s helpful to remember that you don’t need to spend hours per week training to maintain your overall strength and fitness—all you need is some sort of tension on your muscles. Your body cannot tell the difference between the muscle tension it experiences from bands, barbells or dumbbells. The point is to keep moving and to maintain a fitness regimen, even if you only have a set of dumbbells.

Give these workouts a try this week and stay consistent with them for two to four weeks to see how your body responds. As you progress, aim for the lower RIR to really push yourself. After four weeks of following these workouts, go back to a RIR of 4 and increase the reps to help you progress further.

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