Crowded gyms are a lifter's worst nightmare, especially ill-equipped gyms with one or two power racks and a dearth of barbells. When you're in a situation with too many trainees and not enough actual training equipment, it's on you to go MacGyver and save your workout with a little creativity.
I worked at a commercial gym for many years. I witnessed peak hours stop lifters with good intentions dead in their tracks. People who beat traffic and made it to the gym first always hoarded the best equipment, leaving the stragglers to work in wherever possible. When I couldn't stand the sickening pattern any longer, I created out-of-the-box dumbbell workouts which matched the intensity of heavy barbell training.
Dumbbell training became my secret weapon to ignite serious hypertrophy in sticky situations. Follow these body part splits to get big without barbells.
The back is packed with muscles which affect posture and respond well to high-rep training methods. These muscles are geared less toward explosiveness and more toward endurance, so you can lift heavy weight for a longer period of time. These exercises will help you build a barn-door back.
Flyes and presses are the two best movement patterns for smoking your chest. The following "ladder" triset is a great method to exhaust your pectoral fibers from every angle.
Grab an adjustable bench, start with medium weights, and ramp up to a six-rep max so you lift as heavy as possible. By the end of this workout, your chest and triceps should be toast.
This is where things get really interesting. It's very important to implement exercise grouping on leg day because dumbbells usually aren't heavy enough to push the legs to max effort. Supersets and burnout sets with dumbbells are crucial to blast the legs into oblivion.
Shoulders, like chest, respond well to high volume and high intensity. The front delts take a beating on chest day, so focus your dumbbell movements on the side and rear delts to match the strength and size of your front delts.
Your first exercise, the seated dumbbell shoulder press, is an up-tempo ladder set with 10 seconds rest between sets. Grab dumbbells that represent your 10-12 rep max and repeat the entire ladder set for 5 rounds.
Don't Be Dumb
No barbells, no problem. A poorly equipped gym isn't an excuse to stand around looking at Facebook and playing the waiting game. Sometimes we get attached to barbell training, which can be too much of a good thing. As Lee Haney said, building muscle is also about stimulation and making subtle shifts, which means we must entertain unilateral training on occasion.
Why no arms workout? I don't believe in isolating the arms too often—they get plenty of stimulation as secondary movers from the lifts above. As an added fact, the arms get stability work through dumbbell training as your forearms and upper arms handle individual loads. The above program isn't just beneficial in a pinch; it's a reliable plan to implement any time to shake up the status quo, bro.