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The Ultimate Dumbbell Bulking Routine

How To Build Mass With Dumbbells

Whether you’re travelling, can’t get to the gym or don’t have enough space for a barbell and you’re only able to train with dumbbells you CAN Still build muscle mass. This dumbbbell bulking routine will have you getting strong and functional with only a few spartan pieces of equipment that can be used anywhere.

Many guys who’re in the dumbbells only boat fall victim to paralysis by analysis, and instead of working with what they do have (dumbbells and their mental intensity) they fret over what they don’t have and end up doing nothing. Don’t be one of those guys.

This dumbbell bulking routine is simple to follow, I recommend following the 4 day regime I elaborate on further in this article, however there’s also 2, 3 and 5 day regimes available to suit your schedule.

Here’s What You’ll Need…

The 2 Principles To Get Big Using The Dumbbell Bulking Routine

Progressive Overload Definition

Progressive Overload

he term progressive overload simply means to constantly ensure your muscles fibers are being subject to a larger load or an increase in tension on the muscle, essentially placing more stress on the muscle resulting in an increase in both muscular size and strength.

You should be incorporating at least one progressive overload principle for each of your exercises during your workout. The key here is to ensure you’re recording your workouts as if you’re not it’ll merely be a case of guesswork as to whether you’ve actually achieved more weight/sets/reps than your previous workout.

Go old school and dedicate a notebook to your workout regime or download a modern application for your smartphone and record it there. Keep it simple and efficient, no messing around or time wasting – I prefer the old method as there’s no chance of getting distracted with a piece of paper during your workout as opposed to your phone…

You should be applying progressive overload in every single workout you’re performing.

Increase the weight

The most basic method of applying progressive overload to your muscles for size and strength gains is to increase the weight you’re lifting. As an example, if you’re aiming for the 4- 6 rep range for 3 sets and you’ve been consistently hitting 6, 6, 5 for your last 3 sets increasing the weight, even though you’re reps will more than likely drop down to 5, 5, 4 is a sufficient form of progressive overload to keep your strength and size on the rise.

Alter your rep range

The thing I repeat the most on Ignore Limits is without a doubt the importance of training in the lower rep ranges. If you’ve been spending day after day performing 10 repetitions by default on each and all of your sets then you’re going to be doing your muscles a massive favour by decreasing your rep range down to 4 – 6. Lifting a suitable weight for 4 – 6 repetitions (which should be 80 – 85%) of your 1 rep maximum will blast your strength and size to new levels.

Alter your number of sets

Several years ago when I hit a plateau on my shoulder press I tried everything I could think of to get past it, it seemed as if I’d never get past the 55lb mark on those dumbbells.
The solution? Because I didn’t have a spotter I couldn’t lift any heavier so I opted to increase my volume my reducing the rep range slightly while increasing the number of sets (resulting in an increased number of heavy reps per workout).


3 sets of 8 reps was adjusted to 5 sets of 6 reps.

Caloric Manipulation

In order to create adequate supply based upon your goals you need to understand the following:

  • There is no such thing as a ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ food, yes, certain foods are healthier than others and will leave you feeling better however from a body composition standpoint and for the purpose of this supply and demand concept the calories and macronutrient breakdown of the food in question is all that matter, this is known as flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM).
  • Your favourite fitness model’s diet will not get you the same results it got them – a diet is like a finely tailored suit… what works and looks best for me may be acceptable for you to use however it certainly isn’t ideal… you need to have your own suit tailored if you want to get the maximum bang for your buck and create the optimal supply for your body to grow and progress.
  • Calculating your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and tailoring your caloric intake is a simple process, if you’re unfamiliar with these be sure to give it a go with my guide here.

The Dumbbell Bulking Routine Split Options (Choose Which Suits Your Schedule Best!)

 2 Day Split:

Day 1 – Chest/Shoulders
Day 2 – Back/Legs

Arm isolation optional.

3 Day Split (Push/Pull/Legs):

Day 1 – Chest/Triceps
Day 2 – Back/Biceps
Day 3 – Shoulders/Legs

4 Day Split:

Day 1 – Chest
Day 2 – Back
Day 3 – Shoulders
Day 4 – Arms/Legs

5 Day Split:

Day 1 – Chest
Day 2 – Back
Day 3 – Shoulders
Day 4 – Arms
Day 5 – Legs

The Exercises


Incline Dumbbell Press – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Flat Dumbbell Press – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Dips – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Push-up Variations – 3 sets (’till failure)


Pull-ups – 3 sets (’till failure)
Inverted row – 3 sets (10,10,10)
One Arm Dumbbell Row – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Bent Over Dumbbell Row – 3 sets (8,6,6,)


Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Arnold Press – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Dumbbell Rear Deltoid Fly – 3 sets (8,6,6,)


Dumbbell Biceps Curl Superset Dumbbell Skull crusher – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Dumbbell Hammer Curl Superset Single Arm Dumbbell French Press – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Chin-ups Superset Dips – 3 sets (10,10,10)


Goblet Squat – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Pistol Squat (Progression)
Dumbbell Walking Lunges – 3 sets (8,6,6,)
Jump Squats – 3 sets (10,10,10)

Troubleshooting The Dumbbell Bulking Routine

This dumbbell bulking routine was built for results. Provided you’re applying progressive overload consistently, consuming the correct caloric intake (a slight surplus) and performing the exercises and rep ranges I’ve elaborated on above there’s absolutely no doubt that you will get solid results. Below are the most common queries and problems I get asked when it comes to not only the dumbbell bulking routine, but any training program in general… have a read through these so if and when you run into one of the below issues it’s a quick fix and you don’t lose your momentum and fall victim to paralysis by analysis.

“SJ, I’m not gaining strength”

Strength gains come down to applying progressive overload, in order to get stronger we need to increase the weight we’re lifting.
Ensure you’re applying my approach to progressive overload by increasing the weight and making slight alterations to the rep range if necessary. If you’re attempting to apply progressive overload however can’t seem to get past a certain weight on a number of exercises re-calculate your caloric intake and ensure you’re still in a caloric surplus. You will not be able to gain mass if you’re in a caloric deficit regardless of how heavy you attempt to lift.

“SJ, I’m struggling to get in all my workouts”

If you’ve opted for the 4 or 5 day dumbbell bulking routine yet find yourself missing workouts every week or every second week I recommend re-thinking the routine you chose.
Consistency is key, not only in this dumbbell bulking routine but in business, in relationships… consistency is the key to success.
You will find it more beneficial to follow the 3 day dumbbell bulking routine consistently than to miss workouts every other week in an attempt to try and follow the 5 day workout regime.

Don’t overcommit. Follow the routine you know you’ll be able to stick to… if this is the 2 day split then so be it.

“SJ, I’m not recovering in time for my next workout”

If you’re finding yourself overly sore between workouts I recommend using a foam roller and performing some dynamic warm-up/active recovery sessions to get the blood and nutrients pumping throughout your body, aiding with the recovery progress. If you’re only a couple of weeks deep into the dumbbell bulking routine I recommend pushing through the soreness… it will take your body a few weeks to adapt.

“SJ, I’m putting on excessive amounts of fat”

If you’re gaining excessive amounts of fat you’re in too steep of a caloric surplus. If you’re eating any more than 500 calories above your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) you’ll be storing an unnecessary excess amount of fat as you’re eating too much for your body to handle. The other cause of excess fat gains (provided you’re eating the correct caloric intake) is that your training intensity is too low. Ensure you’re pushing yourself to the limit each and every workout – if you’re gliding through and finding your workouts ‘easy’ you’re not stressing your body enough to grow.

Give My Dumbbell Bulking Routine A Try And Let Me Know How You Go In The Comments Below!

Scott J.
Scott J.
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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