What Weight Dumbbells Should I Use?
Weight training is an excellent way to bulk or tone your muscles—wait, bulk or tone? Though seemingly contradictory, it’s true that similar exercises can have different results on your body, primarily based on your workout routine and the weight of the rubber coated dumbbells or neoprene dumbbells you’re using.
In fact, knowing the answer to the questions, “what are dumbbells made of?” and “What size dumbbells should I use?” is largely based on not only your workout goals but your current fitness level and how you’re using the weights. It’s also important to know what type of material you should use, rubber vs cast iron dumbbells.
While dumbbells aren’t the most complex pieces of equipment, it’s important to know how to use them properly—starting with picking up the right dumbbell set for each workout and individual exercise.
Determining the Right Dumbbell Weight For You
Choosing your correct dumbbell weight involves more than simply stepping up to the dumbbell rack like Arnold Swarzenegger.
Before your first bicep curl, you’ll want to consider the factors that will impact not only the effectiveness of your upper body workout or strength training endeavors but also your safety while in the weight room.
Consider Your Physical Fitness Level
One of the most important factors to consider when gauging your correct dumbbell weight is your current level of physical fitness. This is especially important in lifting safely as well as lifting to achieve your full potential.
If you never or hardly ever step foot into a gym, you’re most likely a beginner when it comes to lifting. That said, it’s still important to test your aerobic conditioning and muscular endurance before picking up any weight.
To gauge your fitness level, test the following:
- Strength and endurance – One of the most effective and simple ways of gauging strength and endurance is to do as many pushups as you can before tiring out. Although many factors, including age and gender, should be considered when analyzing results, in general, men in their 30s who can do 44 or more pushups are considered in “great” shape.
Conversely, men in the same age group who can only do 12 or less are considered in “poor” shape. This classification should be used only to determine your weight lifting limits, not your fitness progress or physical worth.
- Aerobics and cardio – To test your aerobics and cardio, see how far you can run in 12 minutes. A woman in her 40s who can run between 1 and 1.5 miles in 12 minutes is considered in “above average” shape, while a man in his 40s is expected to be able to run between 1.3 and 1.55 miles to earn the same classification.
- BMI – While BMI is certainly not an accurate predictor of health or physical capabilities, it can provide a very rough suggestion of where you may fall on the spectrum of body mass.
These measurements provide an approximate starting point for beginners, but the safest approach is still to start your lifting journey slowly and carefully. You can always reach for a heavier weight next time, but it’s hard to bounce back from a severe injury your first time out.
Dumbbell Size For Beginners
If you’re a beginner weightlifter, you’re probably asking yourself, what weight dumbbells should I use? or what size dumbbells do I need? The answer to these questions is, at first, very light.
It’s recommended that beginner weightlifters lift lower poundage for more reps. For instance, a good beginner workout includes lifting two- to three-pound dumbbells in each hand for 12 to 15 reps.2
If the weight feels too light, you can always increase the number of reps. Once you know your base dumbbell weight, you can begin to increase the weight incrementally to meet your strength needs.
Factor in Strength and Conditioning Goals
In addition to knowing your current physical fitness level, you should also contemplate your ideal—why you’re interested in working out and lifting in the first place. Are you looking to add muscle mass (bulk up) or reduce body fat and tighten up your muscles (tone up)? Knowing your specific objective will help you decide which size dumbbells to use.
How Heavy Should I Lift to Tone Up?
If you want to tone up without adding extra muscle mass, it’s best to perform more reps using lighter dumbbells.3 Rather than curling heavy dumbbells for five to seven reps, try curling lighter dumbbells 12 to 15 times. The key is to choose a weight that you can lift 12 to 15 times and no more. If you can lift this weight more than 15 times, it may be time to reach for a heavier set.
Your base dumbbell weight depends on several factors, but gender tends to be one of the most significant predictors:
- For beginner men – Men new to weightlifting should aim to lift dumbbells ranging between five and 25 pounds, 12 to 15 times. This is the perfect weight range for toning your body without looking like a bodybuilder.
- For beginner women – Women new to weightlifting generally need lighter weights than men (although this is certainly not universal). To get cut without bulging your biceps, aim to lift dumbbells ranging between three and 10 pounds, again 12 to 15 times.
How Heavy Should I Lift to Bulk Up?
The strategy to bulk up is exactly the opposite of that to tone up: heavier weight for fewer reps.
If bulking up is your goal, you should choose a dumbbell weight that you can lift between five and eight times before reaching muscle fatigue. If you can lift this weight more than eight times, it’s time to move up in dumbbell poundage.
Again, gender differences should be taken into account when deciding base dumbbell weight for increasing muscle mass:
- For beginner men – For men looking to pack on muscle, aim to lift dumbbells ranging from five to 50 pounds. This wide range should give you the dumbbell weight required to not only challenge your biceps curl for five to eight reps but also give you options when it comes to working out other muscle groups.
- For beginner women – Women looking to bulk up should consider lifting dumbbells weighing between three and 25 pounds. You can always go up in weight later, but this should give you the perfect starting point for most beginner lifts and gains.
No matter your objective, a good set of dumbbells is crucial. For those who push themselves day in and day out, the right dumbbells will maximize performance and increase strength.
Adjust Based on Your Area Of Focus
Just as your overall objective helps determine your dumbbell weight, so does the muscle group you’re focusing on. In general, larger muscle groups require heavier dumbbell weights, while smaller muscle groups require less weight.
Strengthening Large Muscle Groups
Large muscle groups primarily include the chest, back, and legs—both front and back. As a result of their size, these muscles can support more resistance, requiring heavier dumbbells to build strength.
The following arm exercises are the most common dumbbell exercises for the large muscle group:
- Dumbbell chest press – Similar to a barbell chest press, a dumbbell chest press involves lying on a bench, pushing dumbbells up and away from your body. To select the right dumbbells for this exercise, many weight trainers suggest starting with dumbbells that weigh 70% of the weight you’d use for a barbell press.4
- Dumbbell upright row – This exercise involves raising dumbbells vertically to your shoulders to strengthen your back, traps, and shoulders. To give this muscle group a good workout, aim to lift as much weight as you can for 10 reps.
Small Muscle Groups
The small muscle groups primarily consist of the biceps, triceps, and deltoids. These muscle groups can’t support the resistance of larger muscle groups and thus require less weight for a solid workout.
The following arm exercises are the most common dumbbell exercises for the smaller arm muscles:
- Bicep curls – Perhaps the most well-known dumbbell exercise, the bicep curl is a staple of modern weightlifting. Perform this lift by holding the dumbbell horizontally in your hand and raising it to your chest. On average, men can curl 40 pounds while women can curl 20 pounds.5
- Overhead tricep extensions – To perform this dumbbell exercise, sit on a bench and slowly lower a dumbbell behind your head, using either one arm or both, depending on your level. For beginners, trainers suggest you lift 20-pound dumbbells 12 to 15 times.6
How Do I Know If My Dumbbells Are Too Heavy?
Lifting heavier dumbbells than you’re capable of can result in serious injury. The easiest way to tell if a dumbbell is too heavy is to simply try and lift it. If you can’t even manage one curl, then it’s definitely time to downsize.
But not all warning signs are so overt.
There are some weights that may be too heavy even though you can manage a few lifts. To tell if you’re using the right size dumbbell, check the following:
- Your form – Bending your back or twisting your body is a tell-tell sign your dumbbells are too heavy. Your form depends on the exercise, but in general, you want to keep your back straight, and your core engaged to prevent injury
- Your stamina – A good workout should tire you. However, if you’re abnormally tired after one dumbbell set when lifting, it may be time to go down in weight.
- Your reps – If you can lift a weight only once or twice (and you’re not aiming for an extremely heavy personal best), it’s probably time to decrease your dumbbell size. This is especially true if you’re trying to tone, not bulk.
Tru Grit: For Those Who Refuse To Quit
Weightlifting can give us the strength and confidence to deal with whatever life throws at us. But if you’re not using the correct weight, your workout could be less than optimal; it could even result in an injury.
Fortunately, Tru Grit has a wide variety of dumbbells to meet your strength and conditioning needs. Whether you need 10-pound dumbbells for shoulder flys or 40-pound dumbbells for the chest press, Tru Grit has you covered.
For those who strive toward strength, Tru Grit can help you along the way.
CHRON. What Are Good Dumbbell Weights to Start Bench Pressing With? https://livehealthy.chron.com/good-dumbbell-weights-start-bench-pressing-with-4451.html
Fitness Baddies. Average Dumbbell Curl Weight. https://www.fitnessbaddies.com/average-dumbbell-curl-weight/
LIVESTRONG. How Much Weight Do I Need for Dumbbells? https://www.livestrong.com/article/344995-how-much-weight-do-i-need-for-dumbbells/
MyFit. Overhead Tricep Extensions. https://www.myfit.ca/exercisedatabase/viewanexercise.asp?exercise=Overhead+Tricep+Extentions&table=exercises&ID=27
NASM. Toning vs. Bulking Up: What’s The Difference? https://blog.nasm.org/toning-vs-bulking-up
VeryWellFit. Simple Tests to Measure Your Fitness Level at Home. https://www.verywellfit.com/home-fitness-tests-3120282