Old School Chest Workout: Barbells and Dumbbells

The late greats. I love ’em! Arnold, Frank Zane, Lee Haney, Lou Ferrigno, Vince Gironda, Frank Columbo…I could keep going.

What did these guys have in common? They trained with barbells and dumbbells. Old school weightlifting. Sure, they had some machines but nothing to the extent of what we have today.

I’m not knocking machines and certainly won’t take anything away from today’s bodybuilders and strength athletes. But I often find myself going back to the old school basics. Barbells and dumbbells. Why? Because it works!

Old School Chest Workout

I’m calling this my old school chest workout (you’ll find several ‘old school workouts’ within my blog!). It’s extremely simple and structured around 3 basic chest exercises using only barbells and dumbbells.

  • Bench Press
    • 7 sets x 5, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1, 20 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
    • 4 sets x 8 reps * drop set on final
  • Dumbbell Flyes
    • 3 sets x 12 reps

I didn’t include the 2 warm up sets I did for bench press. I typically do a set of 10-15 reps with 135 lbs., and then another warm of 10 reps with 225 lbs. I’m careful not to overdo it because I’ve learned that too much warming up can kill your strength on the heavy sets. Likewise, if you don’t warm up enough, you can certainly hurt yourself. There’s a balance.

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Barbells and Dumbbells

I don’t want to get into the war between free weights vs. machines. I’ll just say that in my personal weightlifting experience, barbells and dumbbells have always produced more mass and strength gains for me.

I look at weightlifting with barbells and dumbbells as raw power. It’s dead weight that you’re lifting. There’s no assistance or help with balance. With that said, you’re working more muscles lifting free weights than with machines.

Another way I look at this is free weights has worked for decades. And guess what? They still work just as good today. There’s just no substitute for it.

I’m going to step back and contradict that last line. There is a time and place for machines. For example, I have lower back trouble so deadlifts are out of the question for me (if you’re able to do deadlifts, I strongly encourage you to do them!).

So I’ll throw in some extra back work with Hammer Strength machines, which are free-weight loaded. And I also use cable machines for several exercises such as lat pulldowns, seated rows and for triceps. But the core of my workouts generally revolve around barbells and dumbbells.

Try this old school chest workout with barbells and dumbbells, and tell me what you think!

Train with Passion,


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About the Author Jason Stallworth