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Can you do Stronglifts 5x5 with Dumbbells [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Aug 22, 2018 7:39:46 AM

Can you do Stronglifts with dumbbells

Can you do Stronglifts 5x5 with dumbbells?


Stronglifts can be done with dumbbells except for the back squat. Therefore I prefer adjustable kettlebells for doing Stronglifts at home as you can replicate all movements. Ideally, you rethink why you do not want to do Stronglifts 5x5 like it was intended. This article walks you through and -you can contact me via for questions.

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Why do you want to do Stronglifts with Dumbbells?


Whenever I get questions to change a good program that works I like to get to the bottom of the change. When you want to change Stronglifts to working with dumbbells I find there are usually three main reasons 


  • Money 
  • Age 
  • Strength 


The first point relates to money and having an affordable gym in your area. If there is a gym in your area find one that has a cheap monthly rate. Some go as low as 10-20 $ a month. If you can not afford this you might be able to talk a community gym into giving you access for free until you have more money. Local sports teams are a good bet. Also look at your spending. If you do not have a tenner a Month for a gym you are either spending too much on something or have other things to worry about than the gym. Some people may live very far from the next available gym. In this case, I think kettlebells are the better purchase to do Stronglifts 5x5 than dumbbells.


Age can be another challenge. You might be too young to get access to a local gym or use the weights. Here again, you can either search for a gym which will allow you to train with free weights or accept that it is not for you now. To give you a bit of context this is not because of the gym thinking you are not capable. It has more to do with liability and that you are a minor. You have to be supervised in the gym at a certain age. If you are not and hurt yourself, the gym is liable. As the business model of a gym is tailored around self-service you do not meet the criteria. If you get your parents or coach to go with you when you train it might be different.


The last point is the strength. You might not be strong enough to move a 20kg barbell yet. To progress to be stronger dumbbells can be a route. I personally think they are not the best tools to progress to Stronglifts. Kettlebells are the better option. The five by five protocol is a good one when you want to train strength and muscle at the same time even when you use kettlebells. The best kettlebell program I know is simple and sinister from Pavel Tsatsoulin. This works with 100 swings and 10 Turkish get-ups a day. 


When I started with strength training


When I started with strength training I looked for shortcuts wherever I could. I did not like the barbell squat so I did leg presses instead. I did not like pull-ups. So I did barbell rows instead. The list goes on and on. In the end, I kept short changing myself at every opportunity. Therefore my results were not great, except for the bench press which I loved to do. 


For me, swapping the barbell for dumbbells to do Stronglifts runs along the same lines. If you want to do the program, have the strength and access to a gym, do it with a barbell. If you need proper instructions you can always reach out to the staff at the gym or to me personally. 


Avoid bastardizing good programs. If you are not ready for it yet, that is fine. There is definitely another program out there which suits your needs better. Just keep digging.


You can do Stronglifts with kettlebells 


If for some reason you can not get access to a gym or someone to accompany you to train I would recommend kettlebells over dumbbells to do Stronglifts at home. You can do the following exercises of Stronglifts with both:


  • Rows
  • Overhead press
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift


What dumbbells are not good for is squats. Just holding the weight in your hands while doing a squat is more close to a trap bar deadlift than a barbell back squat. Anything that puts the dumbbells onto or near your shoulders for a squat is potentially dangerous. Overhead squats with dumbbells are possible but very advanced. A better alternative are kettlebell front squats. They are easy to learn, give you good quad stimulus and are very close to the barbell back squat. To scale get a kettlebell set that is adjustable. I am not a huge fan of those, but I think that is a better option than dumbbells to do Stronglifts.


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Topics: Lift stronger, Stronglifts 5x5, Kettlebell, Fitness, Strength, Dumbbell