July 19, 2021 9 min read

When it comes to working out and training hard, we are often faced with several questions along the way. Throughout your gym journey, you may ask questions like, “How many pushups should I do?” or, “When should I workout?” After all, training is a journey of learning as much as it is a journey of fitness.

One question that often plagues the lifting population is the amount of weight you should be moving. No two lifters are the same, so knowing the proper resistance for your body can be difficult.

Whether you’re looking to get absolutely jacked or want to boost your muscular endurance, weights are an incredibly important tool to use.

Dumbbells on the floor

Benefits of Free Weights

If you’re here because you’re completely new to weight training, then congratulations! You’ve started the journey towards one of the most rewarding tools in exercise. We know that the freedom free weights offer can seem daunting at first.

However, there are many great benefits that should help you get over any fears, such as:

  • Target Many Muscle Groups: Oftentimes, those machines you use in the gym, while great tools, target one specific muscle group. Many movements that use free weights, such as the deadlift, chest press, and shoulder press, are compound movements. This means they require the engagement of multiple muscle groups at a time, making your workout much more efficient and applicable in real life.
  • Work the Stabilizer Muscles: When doing compound lifts, we recruit stabilizer muscles to help keep us balanced overall but also to support the primary muscles in the lift. There are several benefits to stabilizer-recruiting exercises. Your stabilizing muscles change depending on the lift you’re doing. For example, a squat requires your glutes as the main mover and the core as a stabilizer. However, in other types of movements, the core may be the main mover.
  • Get  Stronger Faster: Since free weights require the recruitment of the stabilizer muscles and can also target multiple muscle groups at once, you typically make gains much more efficiently. Of course, this relies on individual output.
  • High Versatility: Weight machines are plentiful in the gym. This is because one machine typically does just one thing. While it is great for isolating muscles, you’d have to have access to many different machines to get a full-body workout. If you’re building a home gym, that’s just too expensive for most people. Free weights serve as a great option for getting a workout in with minimal equipment. You can even do several different exercises with just one dumbbell for a total body workout!
  • Improve Core Strength and Balance: Almost any movement with free weights requires the use of your core for stability. With core strength comes a multitude of huge benefits, such as helping your posture become better and protecting you from certain types of injuries.
  • Enhance Your Range of Motion: Since free weights are, well, free and aren’t bound by a cable or attachment, your range of motion increases significantly. This means you can get more bang for your buck by getting deeper on those squats or switching up the angle of those tricep kickbacks.Not only does the available range of motion increase with free weights, but training with free weights can help increase your body’s overall range of motion.
  • Affordability: Free weights are typically very affordable compared to specialized machines, which can cost thousands of dollars. Additionally, you don’t need many free weights to workout, but you do need many different machines to achieve a full-body workout. Therefore, in total, free weights are much cheaper. Even if you outfit yourself with dumbbell sets, a barbell, and weight plates, you’re still likely to save a lot more money than if you chose to buy several machines.
  • Size: Free weights are relatively compact and small compared to large, clunky workout machines. This makes free weights, such as dumbbells, perfect for those working with limited space at home. You can even travel with lightweight dumbbells for workouts on the go!

Using free weights has many perks, but there are several things to be aware of, such as the risk of injury. Though, knowing how to choose the right poundage takes away a lot of the risks and issues when utilizing free weights.

What To Take Into Consideration

Asking what amount of weight you should be moving is really quite a loaded question. If you’re wondering about the right weights for your dumbbells, then you’re probably also wondering about plates for a barbell or even kettlebell weight. A lot of this information can be applied to any type of free weight, not just dumbbells.

When choosing the proper amount of weight to lift, there are a number of things you should take into consideration before making a decision, such as:

  • What are my goals?
  • What is my current fitness level?
  • Why type of exercise will I be doing?

It may be surprising, but a lot of what determines the weight you’ll be moving is what goals you have. You’ll utilize different weights when you’re striving for different types of goals, such as muscle hypertrophy, muscular endurance, or muscular strength.

Next to your goal, you must assess your current fitness situation. Are you at a heavier fat percentage? Do you already have some muscular strength? Are you at a lower weight?

Along with your goals, where you are currently will help determine your present abilities and, therefore, the amount of weight you should be lifting. Accurately assessing your current abilities will help you avoid injury and unnecessary fitness struggles.

The type of exercise you plan to do is the third most important thing to take into consideration when choosing your weight. Are you doing powerlifting? Pilates? Barre? CrossFit? Each of these training methods typically has their own weight prescriptions that fall in line with the training method’s basic principles.

If You’re a Beginner

Beginners and those at lower weights or lower muscle density should choose weights on the lower side of the weight spectrum. Even if a weight amount feels quite easy to you, use this time to focus on good form rather than heavy lifting.

An adequate form will set you up for making even bigger gains in the long run as you’re less likely to sustain injuries when you have good form. Furthermore, having good form often allows you to move higher weights.

Beginners are at a great spot for making some super exponential gains, but are at a higher risk of injury simply due to a lower muscular strength level as well as the highly common issues with having the proper form (we’ve all been there).

Free weights can be intimidating at first, but don’t let the difficulty get you down. With hard work comes great reward and simply becoming educated on the subject already gives you a leg up.

Weight for Muscular Strength

Muscular strength does not focus on the appearance of the muscle, but rather strictly on the performance. If you want muscular strength, you want to be able to lift a lot of weight but don’t necessarily care whether the muscles appear large or defined.

Strength training often utilizes heavier weights at very low reps. Of course, even if you’re striving for muscular strength, the weight you’ll use is still very individualistic.

Just remember: heavy weight, low reps. If you still aren’t sure, choose a weight that feels impossible to lift once you’re in the 8 to 12 rep range. This may take some experimentation.

Weight for Building Muscle

Getting ripped and shredded is no easy task, but knowing how much weight you should be lifting at least solves part of the equation.Muscular hypertrophy, or muscular growth, is typically only achieved through heavy weight and a medium to low amount of reps.

This is because you want to use the muscle just enough before the glycogen stores are completely depleted. 

Having an adequate amount of glycogen contributes to larger muscles.Like strength training, rep amount is perhaps just as important as your weight amount when you’re looking to build muscle.

Typically, a rep range of 4 to 6 encourages the growth of muscle mass. Weights should be heavy, but not too heavy that you can’t finish your reps. However, you should feel close to failure by the end of each set. This is typically a weight that is less than a strength training weight, but much more than a muscular endurance weight.

Weight for Muscular Endurance

Those striving for muscles that just can’t quit should use a weight amount that encourages muscular endurance. This is a weight that is less than what you might use to build strength or hypertrophy and might even be a weight that feels way too easy for you.

In muscular endurance, the real trick is the rep and set amounts. Sure, you can bicep curl that 10-pounder 8 times, but starting in the 15-20 rep range, 10 pounds can quickly start to feel like 20. With muscular endurance, strive for as many reps as possible before you reach muscular exhaustion.

Various Training Methods and Their Suggested Weights

In addition to a goal you may be after, there are also several training methods or workout programs you may be drawn to, each having their own set of rules and principles when it comes to weight.

Pilates and Barre

If you’re into pilates or barre exercise, you’ll use a relatively light amount of weight despite your current level of fitness or abilities. If you’re at a higher level of fitness, the weight of your equipment is increased by just a few pounds.

Most barre and pilates workouts don’t utilize anything over a five-pound weight and often just use a series of bodyweight exercises. This may seem very light for some people, but pilates and barre workouts are endurance-focused with large importance on the core and muscular toning.

Powerlifting

Powerlifting is not just a training method, but also a competitive sport. If you’re interested in powerlifting training, you need to work on maximizing performance and explosiveness of a muscle group in order to lift at competitive amounts of weight.

Powerlifting is most synonymous with the muscular strength goal in which performance of the muscles is given more priority than the appearance of the muscles.

Crossfit athlete doing dumbbell squats at gym

CrossFit

CrossFit is a widely popular form of training with highly specific methods. Unlike some other forms of training, CrossFit aims to achieve several different goals at once.

When doing CrossFit, you’ll likely need to do a combination of endurance-level weight and muscular strength-training weight. Free weights are an extremely important tool for CrossFit.

HIIT

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a type of cardio workout that often utilizes just your body weight. However, sometimes HIIT uses dumbbells or kettlebells. In this case, it’s best to use lighter dumbbells or  than what you’d consider being your current normal weight.

This is because HIIT is typically highly taxing at any level of fitness and often recruits high levels of muscular endurance.

Other Tips

Home Gym

If you’re building a home gym or prefer to do home workouts, knowing what equipment to buy is difficult. If you’re specifically stuck on what poundage of weights to buy, look at the many options that provide a large range of dumbbells to choose from.

These are typically cheaper per pound than buying a new set of dumbbells each time you feel ready to move up. You can also look for adjustable dumbbells, which can be a much more affordable option.

Weight Differs Between Muscle Groups

That 30-pound dumbbell might be easy to squat, but don’t pick up the same 30-pound dumbbell expecting to be able to curl it. This is just simply not how the body works.

Typically, your lower body is much stronger than your upper body, but we aren’t telling you to skip leg day. Just be aware that your abilities aren’t universal for every muscle group.

Progressive Overload

As if choosing your dumbbell weight amount wasn’t already difficult, we should probably tell you that that number will always be changing. If the weight you’re moving isn’t increasing over time, you aren’t likely to make much progress.

This is why progressive overload is important to implement with nearly any method of training.

What is progressive overload, you may ask? Simply put, progressive overload is the gradual increase of weight you lift over time. Some people have this down to a mathematical equation, but others just experiment to see what feels right.

Again, the increase in weight will likely differ between muscle groups as it is typical for certain muscle groups to progress slower than others.The best tips for progressive overload are:

  • Maintain an increase that is slow, avoid large jumps in weight as this can lead to injury
  • Progressive overload can also apply to reps and other aspects of your workout, not just weight
  • Good form should come before a weight increase
  • Progressive overload can be applied to types of training other than weight training

Closing Thoughts

Determining how much weight your dumbbells should be can cause an unnecessary sweat, and not the good kind of sweat! Walking into the gym without a plan is never a good idea and can even hinder your ability to reach your goals. Deciding your dumbbell weight is just one step towards having killer gym sessions every time.

Taking a serious look at your abilities, goals, and preferred method of training is vital in knowing how much weight you should be moving. Choosing the right equipment is never easy when you’re striving for efficiency, effectiveness, and most importantly, massive gains.

However, you should never take your goals lightly. Whether you’re a CrossFit junkie or looking to sprint like a true athlete, doing every part of your workout with knowledge and intent just makes sense.


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