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May 30, 2021 9 min read

Remember the first day you walked into the gym and how you felt intimidated by the rack of dumbbells in front of you?  What exercises to do, how to do them properly, and especially how much weight to lift are just a few of the questions that you probably asked yourself.

Or, maybe you are that beginner right now and you’re trying to avoid those feelings of intimidation altogether.  To give you a hand, we’re breaking down how much dumbbell weight you should lift as a beginner.  Regardless of your current fitness level, you’ll be able to walk right into the gym and pick up the right dumbbell weights as a beginner.

Young man beginner exercising with dumbbell

Why You As a Beginner Should Use Dumbbells

There’s a reason why dumbbells are the star piece of equipment in the gym.  They’re extremely versatile and can help you accomplish almost all of your fitness goals no matter what they are.  Here are the top benefits of having a set of dumbbells at your disposal as a beginner.

1. Dumbbells are extremely versatile: If you’re looking for a piece of equipment that you’ll never get bored with, then dumbbells are it.  They’re versatile in several ways including:

  • Their difficulty level
  • The types of exercises you can do with them
  • They’re great for both beginners and gym experts alike

First off, if you’re at the gym, you probably have a plethora of different weights and machines to choose from.  And, that probably includes a full rack of dumbbells that come in multiple heavy and lightweight sets.  Therefore, all you need to do to make your workout either easier or harder is to pick up a heavier or lighter dumbbell.

And, if you have a home gym without a full rack of dumbbells available, you can try getting adjustable dumbbells or purchase an affordable set of dumbbells off Amazon such as  the Neoprene set.

Second, you can get a full-body workout done with dumbbells alone.  Everything from your back and chest to your quads and glutes can all be targeted with dumbbells. 

All you need to know is the right weight to use and what good form looks like to strengthen your whole body. Third, because you can easily adjust the difficulty of dumbbells and use them to work your whole body, they’re great for everyone regardless of their fitness level or goals.  Is your focus on building muscles?  Then lift heavier weights while targeting one muscle group at a time. 

If you want to lengthen and tone your body, create a personalized resistance training routine with lighter weights.  And of course, if your goal is weight loss, you should know that building muscle with dumbbells will help fire up your metabolism so you burn extra body fat.

2. Dumbbells are an essential hypertrophy tool: Hypertrophy refers to the enlargement of tissues due to an increase in the size of the tissue’s cells.  In less complicated terms, hypertrophy pretty much means building muscle mass

And, probably the best way to build mass is to lift heavy weights including dumbbells.

Lifting heavy-weight dumbbells is essential if you want to build muscle and muscular power.  That’s because most dumbbell exercises allow you to isolate single muscle groups at a time so you can work them hard and enlarge their cells. 

At the same time, dumbbell exercises usually require stability from your stabilizing muscles.  Therefore, you get the double benefit of building gains in single muscle groups at a time while strengthening your stabilizing muscles.

3. They’re easy to get down as a beginner: Once you get the basics down such as how much weight you should be lifting, what the right form looks like, and what exercises to do, then you’ve pretty much got dumbbells down.  Even though they can be intimidating at first, they’re easy to use and easy to build an entire workout around all without the help of a personal trainer.

How Much Weight Should You Use?

Now, let’s cut to the chase.  Knowing how heavy your dumbbells should be is extremely important in order to:

  1. Reach your fitness goals
  2. Do the exercises properly
  3. Avoid injuries

To help give you a clear idea of how heavy your dumbbells should be, give the following dumbbell weight test a try.

Lots of dumbbells in gym on rack in sport complex

Here’s a Test to Determine How Heavy Your Dumbbells Should Be

If you want to figure out what an appropriate dumbbell weight is for you as a beginner, then use this simple test.  You can run it on each of the exercises that you’d like to do with dumbbells.  But, for the sake of this example, I’m going to use bicep curls.

Step 1: Women should grab two dumbbells weighing between 7 and 10 pounds and men between 12 to 20 pounds.  Do bicep curls by standing with your back up against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, and elbows locked in at your sides.  Exhale and flex your biceps to curl the dumbbells up by your shoulders.  Squeeze at the top, then inhale and extend the biceps back to your starting position. 

Step 2: Do between 15 and 20 bicep curls with excellent form.  If you cannot do the minimum 15 reps without breaking form or are extremely fatigued before you reach the end of the set, then decrease the weight of your dumbbell by 5 pounds.

Step 3: Once you’re found a comfortable weight at which you can do between 15 and 20 reps, then you’ve found your ideal dumbbell weight for that particular exercise.  You can do this same test for each of your different exercises to find what’s right for you.

The goal is to feel a comfortable challenge from the weight.  Your muscles should be fatigued by the time you reach the 15th rep.  If you’re not feeling that challenge, then your weights are too light.  Try to find that happy medium where it’s not too difficult to the point of failure yet not too easy to where your muscles aren’t being challenged.

Also, make sure that you’re consistently upping the weight of your dumbbells over time. If you stick to the same dumbbell weight forever, eventually your strength progress will plateau.  You should try to up the weight of your dumbbells about every 3 to 4 weeks to prevent that plateau from happening.

Proper Dumbbell Form and Technique

Weight training with dumbbells is great until you get injured.  And, most injuries result from either using too much weight or having poor form.  Good form is a particularly important concept that you should keep in mind because, as we’ve said before, form is king if you want to reach your fitness goals without hurting yourself in the process.

While each dumbbell exercise has its own specific form rules, there are a few form-related rules of thumb that apply to almost every dumbbell exercise out there.  Those rules of thumb include:

1. Do slow and controlled movements: When you’re lifting dumbbells, it’s easy to default from controlled movements to merely throwing weights around and calling it lifting.  Although it may not seem like quite a big deal, it’s probably the easiest way to hurt yourself, and especially hurt your spine. Therefore, each movement should be slow and controlled in order to maintain the proper form and prevent injuries.

One great way to tell if you have the right form is to check your spine: if it’s in a neutral position, then you likely have good form.  If your spine is rounded, curved, or twisted, then you probably lost your form.  So, do your best to make each weighted movement slow, controlled, and working the muscles that it was intended to work.

2. Activate your core and stabilizing muscles: The best way to help keep your form in check is to activate your core muscles.  When your core is activated, your hips, pelvis, and back tend to stabilize which reduces the likelihood of defaulting to bad form and getting injured.

Before you even pick up your dumbbell, tighten up your core muscles as if you were doing a sit-up.  Throughout each movement, keep your core locked and facing forward so as not to curve your spine.

3. Only lift as much as you can in good form: Last but not least, only pick up as much weight or do as many reps as you can with good form.  If you’re lifting and your good form begins to break, that’s a clear sign that either your weights are too heavy or you need to reduce the number of reps that you’re doing.

Not only is it important to maintain the right form for the sake of not getting injured, but it’s also important in order to have the exercise serve its purpose.  If your form sucks, then the movement isn’t going to target the exact muscle it was intended to and then you lose the benefit of doing the exercise altogether.

Try These Dumbbell Exercises

Now that you know how to figure out what the weight of your dumbbells should be and how to lift dumbbells with proper form, you’re ready to start lifting.  Because dumbbells are so versatile and used for a copious amount of different exercises in the gym, you as a beginner will be on your way to being a gym expert once you get the hang of these dumbbell exercises.

Here are some of the best beginner dumbbell exercises for working all of your body’s major muscle groups.  They’re great on their own or as a part of your HIIT workout routine. You can even make them a part of your home workout routine if you have dumbbells at home.

1. Bicep curls: Hold one dumbbell each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.  Let your hands hang straight down without rolling your shoulders forward.  Lock your elbows in by your sides, engage your core, and curl your dumbbells up to your shoulders by bending your elbows. 

Squeeze your biceps as the dumbbells come up to your shoulders, then slowly release the squeeze to bring them back down to the starting position.

2. Triceps extension: Grab one dumbbell and hold it with both bands.  Hold onto one of the weighted ends of the dumbbell, not the handle.  Bring the dumbbell behind your head with your elbows bent and tight by your head.  Do not open up your elbows - keep them locked in place by your head. 

Engage your core and glutes, then extend your elbows while squeezing your triceps to lift the dumbbell over your head.  Hold the squeeze at the top then slowly release it by bending your elbows. 

3. Chest press: Lay down on your back on a flat bench while holding one dumbbell in each hand.  Make sure that your palms are facing your feet.  Hold your arms outward from your shoulders and keep your elbows bent to 90-degrees.  When you’re ready, exhale and use your chest muscles to press the dumbbells straight into the air by extending your elbows.

Hold tight at the lockout, then slowly flex your elbows back to starting position.  For additional range of motion, you can drop your elbows below chest height as you come back down.

4. Bent-over rows: Now to work your back muscles, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold one dumbbell in each hand.  Bend your knees slightly, send your hips backward, and hinge your upper body forward from your hips so that it’s almost parallel with the ground.  Make sure that your back is flat from your hips to your chest. 

When you’re ready, face the palms of your hands towards your body and pinch your shoulders back as you pull the dumbbells towards your chest.  As you pull the weights up, keep your arms along your ribcage and wrists underneath your elbows.

 young man with dumbbells

5. Shoulder press: Set up a seated bench into a completely upright position.  Sit on the bench with your feet flat on the floor while holding one weight in each hand.  Bring the dumbbells up by your shoulders, keeping your elbows pointed away from your body.

Engage your core, keep your back flat against the bench, then use your shoulder muscles to press the weights up over your shoulders and head.  Inhale as you bring the dumbbells back down by your shoulders, then exhale to push them back up.

6. Lunges: To work your lower body with dumbbells, give lunges a try.  Stand up straight and hold one dumbbell in each hand.  Allow your arms to hang straight down with the weights, but don’t let your shoulders roll forward. 

Take one step forward with your right foot then bend your right knee so your thigh is almost parallel with the ground and your left knee hovering slightly above the ground.  Straighten your right leg and return to a standing position.  Repeat by stepping your left foot forward.

7. Deadlifts: Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outwards.  Sit back into your hips and bend your knees slightly so you can grab your pair of dumbbells.  When you grab the dumbbells, keep your arms outside of your legs, not inside. 

Exhale and thrust your hips forward to stand up straight.  Unlike a traditional deadlift with a barbell where you hold the bar right in front of your legs, hold the dumbbells slightly off to the sides. 

Final Thoughts on Dumbbell Weight for Beginners

A pair of dumbbells can go a long way to help you reach your fitness goals.  Now that you know how much your dumbbells should weigh along with some of the best exercises and proper form, nothing is stopping you from getting started.  Start lifting dumbbells today to start smashing your fitness goals.

Bonus tip: Up your free weight game beyond dumbbells with these top kettlebell exercises!