Substitute sessions

What do you do when the gym is packed and your usual machines are taken? Personal trainer Max Dimarco shows you how to sub in new moves so your workout doesn’t lose momentum.

A common mistake when training at peak times is waiting around for 15 minutes to use a basic strength machine. Not only does this stop the flow of the session, it also lowers your body temperature.

The perfect fix is to simply substitute these exercises using a pair of dumbbells and a bench. Studies have shown using dumbbells can create a more strenuous and efficient strength training workout ahead of using fixed machines, as it promotes core activation and works on joint stability.Using large compound movements optimises your time spent in the gym, covering a number of muscle groups with just one movement.

The main physical benefit of this program is building strength along with high calorie expenditure. Expect some challenging movements that may take you several attempts to perfect.

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1. DB single leg Romanian deadlift

Start by holding the dumbbells close to the front of your body. Stand on one leg and bend your hips while allowing the other leg to travel behind you. Allow your knee to bend slightly while lowering the dumbbells to halfway between your knee and ankle. Engage your core and brace your abdominals to ensure you keep your balance. Drive your heels through the ground and squeeze your glutes together at the top.

2. DB goblet squat with hold

Start in a standard squat position holding the dumbbell to your chest with your palms facing up. Ensure your feet are slightly wider than shoulder width apart, allowing your toes to slightly turn out. Engaging your core, squat down past 90 degrees and hold for 3 seconds. Drive your heels into the ground, keeping your chest up and squeeze your glutes together at the top.

3. DB Bulgarian split squat with twist

Stand in a lunge position with your back foot on top of a bench. Holding the dumbbell to your chest, engage your core and lower your body until the back knee is slightly off the ground. Twist your torso and the dumbbell with control to the outside of the front leg. Focus on looking straight ahead and keeping your chest up while driving your heel into the ground on the way up. If balance is an issue, start off without any weight.

4. DB single arm incline bench press

Start by lying on an incline bench with a slight arch in your back. Holding one dumbbell, lower your elbow past 90 degrees. Ensure you engage your core while pushing the dumbbell up. Focus on engaging your lats and keeping your shoulders back throughout the entire movement.

5. DB push up with renegade row

Holding the dumbbells, start in a push up position with your feet apart in a wide stance. Keeping your shoulders back, lower your chest to the ground and push your body back up, keeping the dumbbells firmly against the ground. Once at the top, pull one dumbbell towards your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades back. Lower the dumbbell and lift the other side before repeating the push up.

6. DB seated curl and press

Start in a seated position holding the dumbbells, with your hips firmly pressed against the bench. Perform a hammer curl with both dumbbells before twisting your wrists out, keeping a firm grip on the dumbbells into a shoulder press. Simply reverse the movement in its entirety back to the starting position.

Extra sets

7. DB alternating lateral lunge

Holding the dumbbells, start with your feet together before stepping out to the side with one leg, bending your knee and hips. Ensure you stay on your heels whilst keeping the opposite leg straight. You should end up with one dumbbell on either side of the bent leg. Focus on engaging your core and keeping your head up.

Reps: 20
Sets: 3
Intensity: 7-8RPE
Tempo: 3:0:1:0

8. DB Turkish Get-Up

Start by lying on your back holding one dumbbell up, keeping your arm straight. Proceed to stand up by placing the opposite hand behind you and feet firmly on the ground. Keep your abdominals engaged whilst standing up with the dumbbell, before lowering yourself back into the starting position.

Reps: 6 each side
Sets: 3
Intensity: 8-9 RPE


Max Dimarco is a Fitness First personal trainer and online coach. He owns ‘Max Dimarco Fitness’ and outdoor business ‘The Hills Fitness’. He helps people  achieve their goals through nutrition and training programs. Find him on Instagram and Facebook @maxdimarcofitness or contact him via his email, max@maxdimarcofitness.com.

Videography: Matt Grech
Photography: Lee McCluskey