How to Choose the Right Dumbbell Weight

Two Parts:Evaluating Your StrengthPutting Your New Dumbbells to Use

Lifting weights builds muscle and burns calories. But choosing the right weight is as important as using the right technique. Lift a weight that's too light and you waste your time, getting relatively little result for your effort. Lift a weight that's too heavy and you could get hurt. Find a dumbbell which is commensurate with your strength, goals, and the exercise you want to perform. Once you choose the right dumbbell, you can finally start getting the body you want.

Part 1
Evaluating Your Strength

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    Set up a session with a personal trainer or join a workout program.[1] Get a qualified professional to evaluate your strength and advise you as to which dumbbell weight is right for you. Many gyms and workout programs have such professionals on hand in order to provide you with guidance and show you how to perform certain exercises properly. Don’t be shy -- just let the trainer know directly that you’re new to the world of dumbbells and are interested in their thoughts regarding which would be best for you.
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    Select a gender-appropriate dumbbell. Men typically (though not always) have more upper-body strength than women, and can usually start with dumbbells between 10-20 pounds. Women should start with 5-10 pound weights. Add weight progressively as you build strength.[2]
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    Do a simple bicep curl. A simple bicep curl is an effective gauge for your strength, and knowing your strength will help you decide what dumbbell weight is right for you. Hold the dumbbell in your hand near your hips. Lean against a wall with your shoulders and elbows touching the wall. Curl the weights up toward your shoulders.
    • You should be able to perform 14 to 22 reps of this simple curl before you feel significant strain or fatigue.[3]
    • If you cannot perform 14 to 22 reps before fatigue sets in, select a set of dumbbells at least five pounds lighter. For instance, if you struggled with the 15 pound dumbbells, switch them out for 10 pound dumbbells.
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    Choose the weight based on your strength level. Practice working out with very light dumbbells until you've mastered proper form for each exercise you're doing. Start out slowly with five-pound weight at first, then add five pounds progressively as you build strength.
    • For instance, you might start out with weights at five pounds, then find that they are not providing you with enough of a challenge. Add five pounds and level up to ten pound weights.
    • Keep a journal recording how many reps of each exercise you did, the weight you chose for that exercise, and your feelings about whether it was too light, too heavy, or just right.
    • Always choose the weight that’s right for you. Listen to your body to decide what’s right for you. Do not select a weight based on what others of your age or gender are lifting. The only person you should be trying to beat in a dumbbell-lifting competition is you.[4]
    • If you cannot achieve at least 14 reps per exercise, your weight might be too heavy. Similarly, if you cannot maintain the right form for your dumbbell exercise of choice, you might be using the wrong weight.
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    Know when to add weight to your dumbbell workout. Finding the right dumbbell weight for a given exercise is simple enough, but your needs will shift over time as you grow stronger. If you aren’t feeling a moderate to intense muscle strain after performing 14 to 22 reps of a given exercise, it’s time to add some weight or procure heavier dumbbells.[5] Carefully monitor how many sets and reps you can do continuously and, if you find that you can do more than your target number of repetitions, increase the amount of weight you're lifting by 5 to 10 pounds.
    • Unless you’re challenging yourself by lifting weights commensurate with your strength level, you will not gain anything from the dumbbell exercises.
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    Recognize when you’re trying to lift too much. Normally, this shouldn’t be a problem, since as a smart and safe weightlifter you’ve started out at the low end of your dumbbell weight-lifting range and worked your way up. Never start out with a heavy weight and work your way down to the weight you need to be at.
    • If you cannot do more than seven reps of a given exercise, it is too heavy for you.[6] Set the weight which is too heavy aside and select one at least ten pounds lighter.
    • Picking a weight that is too heavy can cause you to develop a bad form and, more seriously, injure yourself.

Part 2
Putting Your New Dumbbells to Use

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    Decide what your weight lifting goals are. Are you trying to develop a single muscle group? Gain stamina? Perform a better curl? Setting your goals will guide your dumbbell selection process. Heavier dumbbells are good for building muscle, while lighter ones are better for stabilizing muscle to support tendons and joints.[7] In general, the larger the muscle group, the more weight it can lift. Use small to medium dumbbells for your biceps, triceps and deltoids, and medium to large weights for working your chest and back muscles.
    • Write your goals down before and during your dumbbells training. This way, you can stay focused and modify or adjust your intentions if a goal has been met. For instance, you might write, “I want to improve my bicep strength.”
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    Choose the dumbbell weight which corresponds to the exercise you’re doing. Depending on the exercise, you might want dumbbells of different weights. For instance, if you’re doing a basic curl, you might be able to curl 15 pounds. If you’re doing a squat with your dumbbells, however, you might choose a 20 or 25 pound dumbbell set. Don’t settle for just one set of dumbbells. Ensure you have a range of different weights to accommodate the various exercises you want to perform.[8]
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    Learn to squat. A dumbbell squat involves holding the barbell in your hand at head level. Hold the dumbbell with your palms facing your head and knuckles out. Grip the dumbbells in both hands while leaning back on your heels and lowering yourself down as if you’re sitting. Bend at your knees until they bend just past a ninety degree angle, then return to a standing position.[9]
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    Perform a glute bridge chest press. A chest press can help you build stronger chest muscles.[10] Lie on your back with your knees in the air. Straighten your back and keep your torso and legs aligned. With your dumbbells in hand, put your hands straight out in front of you from the shoulder. Bring one arm down laterally so your elbow makes a ninety-degree angle, but keep your forearm in a vertical position. Your arm should come down and towards you as if you are opening a cabinet door. Re-extend your hand and arm to its starting position and perform the same movement with your opposite arm.
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    Try a dumbbell tricep extension.[11] Sit on a flat bench or box. Hold your dumbbells a few inches apart in a vertical orientation behind your head. (To accomplish this pose, imagine you had your fingers interlocked behind your head and have just started to unbind them and turn each hand into a fist.) Bending your elbows, lift the dumbbells up and over your head until your arms are fully extended above your head. Keep your back straight and your head facing forward throughout.


  • You may need several different dumbbells to get an effective workout, as different muscle groups are capable of lifting different amounts of weight.

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Categories: Personal Fitness