Dumbbell Weight Selection 101: A Beginner's Guide For Success
Dumbbell weight selection for beginners - Your blueprint for success
Welcome! So you're scouring the web, looking at different blog posts and resources to determine what weight is best for you. Well, don't worry, we've got you covered. By the time you have finished this article, you will know your ideal dumbbell weight to start with.
Dumbbells and all the things that come with them can be quite a complex thing to decipher—different weights, your form, all the exercises you can do—where should you even start?
You haven't even figured out what weight your dumbbells should be yet. Take a deep breath, stop scouring the web for information, and if you really want to read an article, add it to your favourites and read it later.
Because in this guide you will learn all you need to know to get started, and then you can move on to dumbbell exercises, etc. In fact, if this article didn't help you at all by the time you have read it, we encourage you to leave a comment to let us know that it did not help.
Here's what we will cover in this guide.
- The crucial role of dumbbell weight selection
- Assessing your current fitness level
- Reps and sets explained
- Choosing the right dumbbell weight for your end goal (With some guideline weight numbers)
- Checking if you have selected the right weight
- Why starting light and focusing on form is the most important step
- Why progressive overload is key
- When can I chose a heavier weight?
- The perfect dumbbell pairs for anyone at any stage of their journey!
The crucial role of dumbbell weight selection
First off on the list is safety. Choosing the wrong weight has a domino effect on other things such as your form and motivation, and with the wrong weight, you may injure yourself.
Progression: choosing the correct weight allows you to smoothly transition to a heavier weight and allows for an easy transition to progressive overload in the form of intensity (holding the dumbbell in position at the peak of an exercise or adding more reps and sets).
Muscle activation: choosing a weight that is too light may not activate your muscles, but choosing a weight that is too heavy may force the body to use other muscles to aid you, resulting in a less effective workout.
Discipline and confidence—we get it. Starting off heavy and going straight into the world of Arnold, throwing your dumbbells around like Terminator, is a pretty awesome image to have of yourself, but it's not realistic. All things take time and need practicing. Starting light helps you build up your muscles, and you can start to see progress in a positive way, allowing you to build your confidence.
To avoid serious plateaus start light, starting off with a slightly heavier weight may make you feel the burn, and you might love that exertion feeling that comes with it, but when you've tolerated that weight and decide to go up heavier, you will find that you can no longer perform most exercises and your form is gone. This is why it's important to select the correct weight.
The Benefits of Light Weights - Using light weights helps with endurance strength training. “Light weights are beneficial for lean muscle since there is an aerobic cardio component to the exercise,” says Shultz. Light weights may also offer an advantage for beginners just learning the ropes
Assessing your current fitness level
When was the last time you worked out? Have you been doing cardio but no strength training? Do you have a history of lifting barbells, kettlebells, etc.? These are all good questions to ask yourself before deciding what dumbbell weight you should go for.
How do I assess my fitness level?
In terms of your strength training fitness level, try doing around 15-20 push-ups, planking for a minute, and doing 30 squats. If this feels like too much for you, then your current fitness level is quite low. Take this into consideration when you decide what weight is best for you.
As for other methods and various different tests, we won't go into that here as this is focused on strength training. We will leave a link at the end for a more diverse fitness level checker.
Setting fitness goals
This is important to stay disciplined; aimlessly lifting dumbbells and trying an exercise over and over again won't do you much good, and you will likely give up.
Your goals could be as simple as selecting the correct dumbbell weight. Trying three different exercises while being mindful of your form. And that's it! Setting fitness goals is important for beginners and experts alike; they give us direction.
Reps and sets explained
What reps and sets are
A rep is simply one execution of an exercise or movement.
For example, 1 dumbbell chest press would be 1 repetition of that exercise.
A set is a group of multiple repetitions for one exercise.
Say, for example, that you were doing 5 sets of the dumbbell chest press and in each set you were doing 5 reps. Once you completed 5 reps, you would also have completed 1 set, so in total it would be 25 reps spread out across 5 sets.
How they affect dumbbell weight choice
The number of repetitions you plan to perform in a set influences the weight selection.
If you're aiming for lower reps (e.g., 1-6 reps), you should choose a heavier dumbbell weight. This weight should be challenging enough that you can complete the desired number of reps with proper form, but it should also be heavy enough to make the last few reps feel difficult.
For moderate reps (e.g., 6-12 reps), select a weight that allows you to complete the full set with good form while still feeling a significant level of resistance in the later repetitions.
If you're targeting higher reps (e.g., 12-20 or more), opt for a lighter dumbbell weight that allows you to complete the set with control and without excessive strain. This is important to avoid compromising form, especially as fatigue sets in.
The number of sets you plan to complete also influences your choice of dumbbell weight.
If you're doing multiple sets of an exercise, the weight you select should be manageable for all sets. It should not be so heavy that you struggle to complete the later sets with proper form.
Conversely, the weight should not be so light that the exercise becomes too easy. You should still feel resistance and effort throughout each set.
Choosing the right dumbbell weight based on your end goal
Dumbbell weight guidelines
Always start light and err on the side of caution; if the weight is too heavy, you will find it incredibly difficult to maintain good form, which is not good in the long run. Consider your end goal, which leads us into the next part.
For hypertrophy (increasing muscle size), choose a moderate weight that allows you to perform sets of 8–12 repetitions with good form. The weight should be challenging but not so much that you can't maintain form or do a good number of reps.
Weight to try: 5 kg to 15 kg
For strength training as a beginner, pick a light weight that allows you to do around 10–15 repetitions per set. It is important to focus on your form if this is your end goal, as doing so will ensure you are making the most of the exercises you are doing and targeting the right muscles, all while preventing injury. Try compound exercises and also make use of progressive overload for this end goal.
Weight to try: 10 kg to 20kg (Don't go for the 20kg yet if you have never dabbled in strength training before)
For endurance training, start with lighter weights, ones that allow you to perform 15-20 or more repetitions before you can't do anymore reps. Again, focus on form and implement progressive overload, but with endurance training, focus more on making the exercise more intense through more reps and holding the dumbbell in position at the peak of an exercise rather than choosing a heavier weight. When the weight becomes quite easy even with some progressive overload implementation, then increase the weight.
Weight to try: 4 kg to 8 kg
Checking if you have selected the right weight
Assess your form. Is it good? Bad? If it is quite good, then that is a good sign; if not, go down a kg or two. Try around 8 reps with your chosen weight; if you can't manage it, then go down a kg or two.
Repetition range: In general, when focusing on lower reps, choose a weight that is heavier and challenging but manageable; for higher reps, choose a weight that is lighter and challenging but manageable.
Rate of perceived exertion: How hard does the set feel overall? If you feel like you could do more reps, the weight is too light; if it feels impossibly heavy, the weight is too much. In general, you should feel quite fatigued when performing your last few sets; it should be challenging but not so much that your form is gone completely.
Progression: If you've been using the same dumbbell weight for a while and find that your workouts have become relatively easy, it's a sign that you need to increase the weight to continue making progress.
Finally, don't be afraid to experiment with different weights and adjust; this is all about finding your most ideal beginning weight, and throughout your journey, many changes will come.
Why starting light and focusing on form is the most important step for beginners
Because it is safe, you might be thinking, Pftt, what could actually go wrong? But you do risk injury if you use a weight that is too heavy, bringing your progress to a complete halt, and you would have to start all over again.
You will learn proper technique when starting light; mastering your form is essential for making the most of the exercises you will be doing, and as you increase the weight, you will have already established a strong foundation in terms of your form (muscle memory), so it will be much easier for you to continue keeping good form when implementing progressive overload.
Overtraining won't really be a problem; starting light and following the steps in this guide will ensure you choose a weight that is challenging enough but manageable for you.
Confidence building: this one is a big one for beginners. Many beginners often attempt to run before walking; this can make you feel like you are not progressing at all and ultimately lead to quitting all together.
Gradual progression, implementing progressive overload, and increasing how challenging your workouts are over a period of time minimise the risk of serious plateaus and injuries.
Why progressive overload is key
- Muscle growth and strength - When you consistently challenge your muscles by gradually increasing the (weight), your body responds by building stronger and larger muscles.
- Without progressive overload, you are likely to hit a plateau, where your progress stalls. By constantly increasing the resistance, you can break through plateaus and keep making gains in strength and muscle size.
- Injury prevention - Gradual increases in resistance reduce the risk of overuse injuries that can occur when you lift excessively heavy weights too soon.
- Efficiency - Progressive overload allows you to train more efficiently. Instead of spending excessive time on the same workouts without seeing results, you can achieve your goals more efficiently by consistently challenging yourself.
- Motivation - Seeing progress and achieving new personal bests can boost your confidence and motivation. The satisfaction of lifting heavier weights or completing more repetitions can be highly motivating and keep you committed to your fitness routine.
When can I chose a heavier weight?
You can choose a heavier dumbbell weight when you have mastered your form with the current weight you are using and you no longer feel significant challenge from it.
This may come in the form of.
- Consistent good form
- Reaching rep and set goals with ease
- Steady progress
The perfect dumbbell pairs for everyone
A whooping range of 2.5kg-85kg, perfect for anyone at any stage of their fitness journey.
Thank you for reading. Let us know if this helped you at all. Be sure to leave a comment letting us know what you thought of this article. Until next time, and happy gains!