How to Determine What Weight to Start a Dumbbell Routine

How to Determine What Weight to Start a Dumbbell Routine

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The amount of weight for your dumbbell routine varies with each exercise.

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To see results in your dumbbell strength-training routine, you need to use the right amount of weight. If you use too light of a weight, you won't see the muscular toning and strengthening benefits. When you use a dumbbell that's too heavy, you risk pulling or straining a muscle, which will limit your workout. Instead of staring at the long rack of dumbbells and using the "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" system of picking a pair, spend a little time before you exercise to determine exactly what your muscles need. Also, not every exercise uses the same dumbbell, as each muscle has a different strength. For example, your legs are stronger than your biceps and require a heavier dumbbell for training.


Warm your muscles before you begin your strength-training routine, or your dumbbell weight calculating session. Perform five to 10 minutes of full-body movements such as stair climbing, marching in place or jumping rope.


Quickly determine the dumbbell amount for your workout by performing a set of eight to 12 repetitions of your selected exercise. For example, perform eight to 12 arm curls. You have the right amount of weight when the final two repetitions are challenging. Increase the amount of weight if you can easily perform 12 repetitions. Decrease the amount of weight if you cannot perform at least eight repetitions.


Take a little time to determine your one-rep maximum, or 1RM, for a more accurate calculation of dumbbell weight. The 1RM is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition, using proper form and technique.


Choose an exercise. For example, try the arm curl. Select a weight you think you can curl approximately eight times. Curl the weight. Wait three minutes. Increase the amount of weight and aim to curl the weight five to eight times. Wait three minutes and increase the dumbbell weight. Perform as many curls as possible. Wait three minutes and increase the weight again as you try to curl the weight once. This is a safe and effective way to calculate your 1RM.


Calculate your training weight by multiplying your 1RM weight by 60 and 80 percent. For example, if your arm curl 1RM is 20 pounds, the right amount of weight for your arm curl workout routine is 12 to 16 pounds.


Repeat your 1RM calculations for each exercise you use for your dumbbell training routine, such as the bench press, shoulder press, squat, lunge, back row or arm extension.


  • As your strength improves, gradually increase the weight of your dumbbells. When you are able to perform one to three sets of 12 repetitions, increase the amount of weight by approximately 20 percent.


  • Gradually increase the weight during your 1RM calculations. It also helps to have a spotter assist you during exercises such as the bench press when you risk dropping the weight onto your chest.


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