Muscle Building Workouts With Just Weight Plates

Weight Plates Workout

The tools of choice for men and women training to build muscle are dumbbells and barbells primarily, followed by machines with weight stacks, and cable-pulley systems.

Other implements that people train with are kettlebells and tension bands.

Why not also train with the actual weight plates themselves for a change?

This isn’t just a novelty. Muscle building workouts with just weight plates will provide a different pattern of neuromuscular recruitment, and the trainee will immediately feel this difference.

Furthermore, the way the plates must be held will strengthen the wrist and grip in a way that holding a dumbbell or grasping a machine’s or pulley system’s handle will not.

Another reason for plate workouts is as an alternative to waiting around for another person to finish with the dumbbells you want to use.

If you want to, for instance, perform warm-up chest presses with 25-pound dumbbells, and both of the gym’s two pairs are in use, then grab a few 25-pound metal plates and go to town.

Weight Plate Exercises That Are Already Popular

Farmer's Walk

Training with weight plates isn’t new. It’s just that the commonplace exercises using only these tools are mostly limited to the farmer’s walk, walking lunge, overhead press, standing skull crusher, deadlift (plate in each hand) and weighted decline sit-up.

Sometimes people will use two and a half and five pound plates for side and front raises, or rotator cuff exercises. It’s time to think outside the box and include more weight plate exercises as part of a mass building program.

Benefits Of Adding Plate Workouts To One’s Regimen

Tick➟ Different pattern of muscle fiber recruitment, which provides a new feel to the exercise and stimulates muscle fibers that remain dormant during the dumbbell, barbell or machine version of the exercise.

This is why, for example, a shoulder press with two 25-pound plates will be more difficult than with 25-pound dumbbells, regardless of how the plates are held.

➟ Eliminates waiting around for a desired dumbbell weight or machine that’s in use

➟ Strengthens wrist and grip

➟ Allows a longer resistance arm. What this means is that the length of the resistance can be made greater, than with dumbbells with the same routine.

The side raise is a good example. When one uses dumbbells, the length of the resistance begins from the shoulder joint and ends at the outer rim of the ends of the dumbbells.

If a weight plate is held so that it is parallel to the floor at the top movement of the side raise, the resistance length extends to the outer rim of the plate.

This will be a longer length than with a dumbbell, adding a unique spin on a common lift.

Holding the plates this way will also recruit more forearm action because the wrist will have to work harder to keep the plates in alignment with the arm.

Exercises For A Great Weight Plate Workout

1. Flat And Incline Chest Press

The plates can be held one of two ways. The first way is with that of keeping them parallel to the floor. Fingers go through the center hole, while the thumb curls around the outer edge.

Another way to hold the plate is by placing an open hand against it and then pushing up. The open-hand method ensures that the plate will stay parallel.

The second way to lift is to hold the plate vertical or almost vertical, which requires the grip with the fingers through the hole. The vertical position will lengthen the resistance arm, and the trainee will immediately feel the increased resistance.

The larger the plate, the more forearm-muscle engagement, because more gripping action is required.

2. Shoulder Press

The same principles apply as in the chest press.

3. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

The trainee will automatically want to hold the plate vertical for the lifting and lowering. However, a new spin on this classic exercise would be to hold the plate parallel to the floor, gripping it in its hole.

This forces more forearm and finger action. Most men will not be challenged with a 25-pound plate, so they should try a 35- or 45-pounder.

Women will find the 25-pounder challenging, and if not, stronger women can use the heavier plates.

4. Side And Front Raise

The limit for most people will be with a 10-pounder stacked to a 5-pounder (fingers through both holes).

Unless a trainee has large hands, handling the 25-pounders with fingers through the hole will be difficult.

Grasping them without placing fingers through the hole, and letting them flop vertical to the floor while raising them, is a viable option. This will require finger strength and will also develop it.

5. Standing And Seated Curl

Suppose you’re used to curling 25-pound dumbbells. Curling 25-pound plates will not be the same experience.

In fact, you will probably need to use two 10-pound plates, and even then, this might be too taxing to complete your normal rep range. There are several ways to hold plates during curls.

The first way is with palms facing upward, fingers through the hole. As one curls all the way up, the plates should stay in alignment with the forearm.

This means don’t let them flop to parallel with the floor. Flopping them isn’t a bad thing, but keeping them aligned with forearms means more forearm and biceps recruitment.

The second way is hammer curl style. Palms face each other, and the plates remain vertical to floor, and parallel to each other throughout the movement.

The third way is reverse curl style. Plates should stay aligned with forearms; don’t let the wrists flop.

6. Clean And Push-Press

The limitation is amount of weights, but many male trainees will be challenged with 25-pound plates in each hand, fingers through holes.

Strong women should try the 25-pounders. Not-so-strong people can work with two 10-pounders in each hand, or a 10 and a five, or just a 10-pounder.

For the clean, one can pick the plates up with palms facing front or behind. At shoulder level, one can switch palm direction if the plates were picked up with palms facing front. For the pressing phase, palms can face forward or each other.

These are just some plates exercise options to experiment with. Others will come to mind once a person gets imaginative, such as using a 45-pound plate for goblet squats (holding rim of plate).

In fact, try goblet squats this way, and then add an overhead press at the top of the squat.


DrawbackIncremental increases are bigger with plates than with conventional uses of resistance.

This initially isn’t a problem when one is using the smallest plates, because when the 5-pounders become too light, but the 10-pounders are still too heavy, the trainee can stack a two and a half pound plate to a 5-pounder and lift both plates in one hand.

However, when a 50-pound chest press becomes too light (two 25-pound plates), and the 35-pound plates are too heavy, it will be unwieldy to attempt the pressing with 5-pound plates stacked against the 25-pounders.

This problem is even more pronounced for stronger individuals who find pressing the 35-pound plates way too easy, but the 45-pounders still out of range.

Nevertheless, strength for the next increment can still be achieved over time.

Pressing the 45-pounders may seem like cake-feed since the total weight is only 90 pounds, but the biomechanics will make this a lot more challenging than a 90-pound dumbbell or barbell press!

Other Considerations

ImportantNot all weight plates are made the same. Some models have more than a center hole; they have openings between the center and the rim, making them easier to hold onto, especially for side and front raises.

For these kinds of plates, a trainee can experiment with gripping them at one of these outer openings for chest and shoulder presses, keeping the plate vertical throughout the exercise.

Though keeping the plates vertical is a unique challenge, it will subtract from maximum hypertrophy efforts, since less weight is actually being used than what one can ultimately push.

Vertical positioning is recommended only as an adjunct to a conventional regimen.

For very strong trainees, many of the exercises described in this article will serve only as a warm-up rather than a muscle-building movement.

Nevertheless, even for a warm-up, plate workouts are a unique and cool way to begin or conclude a muscle building session.

Whether you are a beginner with muscle building, or intermediate or advanced, you will want to check out No-Nonsense Muscle Building Program by Vince DelMonte.

This very helpful guide will show you how to build lean mass with a variety of programs that change every week, plus strip off body fat, when to incorporate cardio and ab exercises, and which foods to eat and avoid for the best results.

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