Do the upper-body and lower-body circuits on different days or stack them together for a serious total-body workout.

By Mary Anderson
February 19, 2021
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Remember this number: eight reps. Why? According to a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, aiming for a weight that you can do just eight reps per set gets your strengthening and sculpting done fastest. Basically, what determines the results you get from your lifts is training volume, or the amount of weight you hoist multiplied by the number of reps and sets you do.

In the study, exercisers bench-pressed twice a week with the same training volume: four heavy reps for seven sets, eight moderate reps for four sets, or 12 lighter reps for three sets. All groups firmed their chest muscles equally, but the four- and eight- rep groups got the bigger strength gains — with the latter spending half as much time on the bench as the heavy lifters. (Related: The Major Health and Fitness Benefits of Lifting Heavy Weights)

We’ve all had to get creative since the gym has been mostly off-limits. Strength coach Dylan Schenk knows that all too well. Her weight-training boutique, Lift Society in Los Angeles, has classes that use a full complement of weights and barbells — yet Schenk has had to translate that to whatever dumbbells people have at home to follow her streaming routines.

“If you don’t have the weights available to move up the amount you lift, your goal each week is to achieve more reps during a certain time sequence,” she says. In other words, you’re pushing your training volume up a notch by adding reps instead of pounds. (Or, here's a genius way to use resistance bands to fake heavier weights at home.)

Schenk designed the latest Shape Studio workout video with the same mission in mind, so you can strengthen regardless of what weights you have handy. Her two mini circuits are divvied into upper body and lower body, done on alternate days, with modifications for making each more challenging.

“That way, you’re actually able to get more training volume,”she says. Rather than sitting out a day after a total-body workout, you can train one half hard as the other recovers. Get started with the moves below.

How it works: Do each move for the amount of time indicated. Repeat each set 3 times total before moving onto the next.

You'll need: A set of medium-weight dumbbells and a sturdy chair or bench that's about knee height.

Lower-Body Strength Circuit

Set 1: Box Squat + Foot-Elevated Glute Bridge

Box Squat

A. Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at about 45 degrees, just in front of a chair or bench. Hold a heavy dumbbell vertically in front of chest with both hands.

B. Keeping chest tall, sit hips back to lower into a squat, tapping butt to chair or bench.

C. Press into mid-foot to stand, squeezing glutes at the top. Repeat for 45 seconds.

Foot-Elevated Glute Bridge

A. Lie face-up on the floor with heels on the chair or bench hip-width apart and knees directly over hips, bent at a 90-degree angle.

B. Press into heels to lift hips off the ground, squeezing glutes.

C. Lower hips to the floor. Repeat for 45 seconds.

Repeat set 3 times total.

Set 2: Deadlift + Side-Lying Hip Raise

Tempo Deadlift

A. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of hips, palms facing thighs with feet hip-width apart.

B. Taking 4 seconds to do so, slowly hinge at the hips with knees slightly bent to lower dumbbells in front of shins.

C. Taking 1 second to do so, squeeze glutes and engage hamstrings to return to standing, keeping black flat and neck neutral throughout movement. Repeat for 10 reps.

Side-Lying Hip Raise

A. Start lying on the right hip on the floor, torso propped up on the right elbow and knees stacked and bent at 90-degrees.

B. Brace core and lift hips off the floor, raising top leg as high as possible while keeping it bent.

C. Lower hips to the floor. Repeat until failure (aka until you can't do another rep). Switch sides; repeat.

Repeat set 3 times total.

Set 3: Split Squat + Single-Leg Hip Thrust + Pulse Squat

Split Squat

A. Start with one leg extended backwards with kneed bent, foot resting flat on top of the chair or bench. Hop the other foot forward about 12 inches, holding dumbbells in each hand in front of hips.

B. Bend the standing leg to lower into a lunge, keeping knee tracked over toes.

C. Press through the standing foot to return to start. Repeat for 1 minute. Switch sides; repeat.

Single-Leg Hip Thrust

A. Place shoulders on edge of the chair or bench with feet flat on the floor bent at 90 degrees. Hold a dumbbell horizontally across hips, and lift one foot off the floor.

B. Lower hips toward the floor, keeping back flat and core engaged, then press through the working leg to raise hips and return to start.

C. Repeat for 1 minute. Switch sides; repeat.

Pulse Squat

A. Hold a dumbbell vertically in front of chest with both hands, standing with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

B. Lower into a squat until thighs are about parallel to the floor.

C. Press into feet to raise hips about 6 inches without completely standing up.

D. Lower to thighs to parallel again. Continue pulsing for 1 minute.

Repeat set 3 times total.

Set 4: Kneeling Windmill Tabata

A. Start half kneeling on the floor with a dumbbell in the hand on the same side as the front leg. Press dumbbell overhead so it's directly above the shoulder.

B. Keeping core engaged and back flat, reach the opposite hand toward the floor, bending arm to tap elbow to the floor if possible. Keep gaze locked on the dumbbell the whole time, allowing shoulder to move so that dumbbell reaches straight up toward the ceiling at all times.

C. Slowly lift torso up to return to start. Continue for 20 seconds.

Repeat 3 times total.

Upper-Body Strength Circuit

Set 1: Push-up + Lateral Raise

Push-Up

A. Start in a high plank position on the floor, lowering to knees if needed.

B. Bend elbows back at 45-degree angles to lower chest toward the floor, stopping when arms are bent at about 90 degrees.

C. Press chest away from the floor to return to start. Repeat for 45 seconds.

Lateral Raise

A. Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand by sides, feet hid-width apart and knees softly bent.

B. In a slow and controlled motion, raise dumbbells out to the sides up to shoulder level, keeping arms straight with elbows softly bent.

C. Lower dumbbells with control to return to start. Repeat for 45 seconds.

Repeat set 3 times total.

Set 2: Military Press + Seated Back Fly

Military Press

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand racked at shoulder height.

B. Taking 1 second to do so, press dumbbells overhead so they're directly above shoulders.

C. Taking 4 seconds to do so, slowly lower dumbbells to return to start. Repeat for 10 reps.

Seated Back Fly

A. Start sitting on the chair or bench with feet flat on the floor, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Hinge torso forward so it's almost parallel to the floor, keeping core engaged and back flat. Allow dumbbells to hang next to lower legs.

B. Raise straight (but not locked) arms out to the sides until they're in line with shoulders, squeezing upper back.

C. Lower dumbbells next to lower legs to return to start. Repeat until failure (aka until you can't do another rep).

Repeat set 3 times total.

Set 3: Bent-Over Row + Bradford Press + Prone Pull

Bent-Over Row

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees softly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand by sides. Hinge forward so torso is at about a 45-degree angle.

B. Row dumbbells up toward hips, squeezing upper back.

C. Lower dumbbells to return to start. Repeat for 1 minute.

Bradford Press

A. Start standing with feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand racked at shoulder height, dumbbells just in front of shoulder line.

B. Imagining that the dumbbells are connected — as if they were a barbell — raise the dumbbells up, backward, and down, as if moving a barbell from the front of the head, over, and behind the head.

C. Repeat the movement going forward to return to start. Repeat for 1 minute.

Prone Pull

A. Start standing with feet hip-width apart, knees softly bent. Hinge forward so torso is almost parallel to the floor. Extend arms forward so biceps are next to ears and palms are facing down.

B. Squeezing upper back, draw elbows back toward hips.

C. Extend arms to return to start. Repeat for 1 minute.

Repeat set 3 times total.

Set 4: Biceps Curl + Bench Dip

Biceps Curl

A. Start standing with feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand by sides, palms facing in.

B. Curl dumbbells up toward shoulders, rotating wrists so palms face the front of shoulders.

C. Slowly lower dumbbells to return to start. Repeat for 45 seconds.

Bench Dip

A. Sit on the edge of the chair or bench with palms on the edge, fingers hanging off the front and feet flat on the floor. Lift hips off the chair or bench and forward so that they're hanging off the front.

B. Bend elbows to about 90 degrees to lower hips in front of chair.

C. Squeeze triceps and press into palms to extend arms and return to start. Repeat for 45 seconds.

Repeat set 3 times total.

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