Strength Training on a Budget: The Minimalist Weight Lifter

What is this post about?

Even the practitioner of ugly running who prefers running over other modes of exercise will benefit by weight training.  In this post I am going to talk about strength training with weights.  One of the four  components of fitness is muscular strength, and no matter what your sport, or profession, you need a certain level of muscular strength in order to be fit.  Unfortunately muscular strength is also something that starts to degrade as you get older, and especially if you live a sedentary lifestyle. In this post I am going to discuss how to strength train on a budget which includes limited space, and limited time,  as well as a limited amount of equipment.  You do not need to join a gym or spend a fortune on strength training.  By the way, this is not a post for somebody who wants to be a body builder, or power lifter. I know nothing about those sports.  However, I have been weight lifting for over forty years, and it still amazes me how effective it is.


You can strengthen your muscles by making them work against resistance, hence the term “resistance training”.  Muscle has to be overloaded to be strengthened, and this can be achieved by lifting weights. Weight lifting just works.  But you need equipment.

Several years ago I had an epiphany regarding weight training equipment when I used a very petite workout room at a hotel.  It was small, but cleverly equipped.   There was the usual treadmill, bike, elliptical machine, and one adjustable bench. Oh, and of course a television or two.  But what really caught my eye was the lack of weight machines or even barbells.  Instead in the corner, taking less than two square feet of floor space, was a rack of dumbbells, in pairs,  of various weights.  At the time at home  I had a big multi-gym, and three barbells as well as lots of free weights.  It took up over fifty square feet of floor space, and I hardly ever used it. I eventually got rid of most of it, and I now work out extensively with dumbbells.  The only thing I wonder about is why it took me so long to figure this out.

For less than the price of two pairs of decent running shoes, or less, you can buy a bench, and a set of dumbbells. Arguably you could get by without the bench, but I like having

My mongrel set of dumbbell weights scrounged over the years.
My mongrel set of dumbbell weights scrounged over the years.

one.  I prefer the kind of weights where you take the plates on and off. They are economical, versatile, and wear like iron. Pun intended.  Unlike running shoes you will never wear this stuff out, and it is highly unlikely you will break it. I don’t know how you would! I have weight plates, and bars, that are over thirty years old.  There is no better fitness equipment bargain. I also buy my equipment used when I can although I had to buy what I call my multi-bench new. I just had one problem though.  I had been using machines, barbells, and pulleys for decades with only the occasional dumbbell use.  I did not know how to replicate a full body exercise routine with just dumbbells.  What to do? I did what everyone else does when faced with an insurmountable problem.  I used the internet.

Information & Instruction

The internet was useful but overwhelming.  I could find the information, sometimes, but it was scattered, often contradictory, and the sites that I visited were exceedingly thorough but intended for the younger set with an over abundance of testosterone. I tried it for a couple of weeks, printing out workouts, instructions, and all that.  But, it was piecemeal while I was looking for the big picture. A program to follow. I was looking for a progressive workout routine, scientifically devised, by somebody with credibility – preferably with credentials.   Also, I wasn’t sure how good  much of the advice was. I suspect some of it was harmful, and none of it was for a 58 year old man. So I did what I do when the internet proves to be  unsatisfactory.  I used the internet to buy a book on working out with dumbbells.

If you go to Amazon and search for “dumbbell workout” or something similar you are going to find a lot of books. I read the reviews, and downloaded ebook samples of about six of them.  One of them was reasonably priced, from the few sample pages and table of contents it seemed good enough, and the digital version was about five bucks. I purchased it. I had it on my iPad in less than ten seconds. I was disappointed in about ten minutes. It is a great book, but unfortunately the digital version was not useful to me.  A good book on weight lifting of any kind has lots of charts, lists, diagrams, and pictures.  Content within context is important, and the digital version was unusable in that respect.  So, I did what I should have done in the first place, and purchased a real book.  I got it in two days and am totally  satisfied with one exception I will discuss later.

One of the latest additions to my library.
One of the latest additions to my library.

The book that I ended up with was Ultimate Dumbbell Guide by Myatt Murphy published by Rodale Press.  Pages 3 – 29 are introductory in nature lauding the benefits of weight training, which indeed are many, and the utility of dumbbells.  The second part of the book, pages 30 – 233, are variations of different dumbbell exercises by body part.  It is very through, and user friendly. Pages  237-262 covers how to create your own workout, and a few routines.  That last section is the weakest section of the book, but is still very good.  Unfortunately it, like the other books I reviewed, did not talk about older athletes.  My goals as a 58 year old or decidedly different than they were when I was younger.  Overall the Ultimate Dumbbell Guide delivers. You might be able to do better, but you can for sure do worse.  I have to recommend it.

Training Log

I am a big believer in  using metrics to measure progress, and to  generally keep track of what you did when.  Awhile back I published a couple of weight training logs and I have had the opportunity to try them both out.  I am satisfied with them.  So, if you are working for a free workout chart for your weight routine just scroll down to Weight Lifting Charts or hit that link.


We know a lot about weight training, and there is a lot of good information out there – even on the internet.  However I found running back and forth to watch/read routines, instructions, or exercises online was unsatisfying.  The book I reviewed above works for me, but there are a lot of other good ones out there. I think that 90 percent of the population can do fine with dumbbells, and all would benefit by having the luxury, not necessity, of having a bench.  I believe dumbbells are the best strength training bargain you can find.  Although some people may disagree I also think that dumbbells are more beneficial and safer than other methods.  You will also probably not need a spotter when you do dumbbell presses on the bench whereas lifting heavy with a barbell can be dangerous especially if you do it alone.  With dumbbells there is no bar across your chest.  Several deaths occur on the barbell bench press each year.  See my good friend Scooby’s article.  It happens.  By the way Scooby has forgotten more about weight training than I have ever known, but he is definitely on the body building side of the game.

I found the following information online, which I think sums up the general consensus of how one should go about weight lifting. and I would like to share it with you:

You can strengthen your muscles by making them work against resistance, hence the term “resistance training”. A muscle has to be overloaded to be strengthened. This can be achieved by lifting weights.

Alberta Education recommends starting with a resistance of around 80 percent of the maximum weight you can lift at one time and doing 3-9 repetitions of this weight through 3-5 sets for effective muscular benefits.

If you are a runner, and I am, even if your a grandfather, which I am, and even if your not a genetically gifted natural athlete, which I am assuredly not, weight lifting is something you should consider.  Grandmothers, and younger people too.  It is an ecumenical form of essential exercise. Have fun.


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