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What Size Dumbbells to Use

Are You Using the Right Size Dumbbells?

Dumbbells are an active girl's best friend because they're fairly inexpensive, compact, easy to use, and allow you to tone every part of your body. Using them can be a little confusing since they come in so many sizes, and many people may not realize that one size doesn't fit all exercises. For example, since biceps tend to be stronger than their neighbor muscles, the triceps, you'd want to use a heavier weight when doing bicep curls.

If strength training with dumbbells leaves you in the dark about what size weights to use for which exercise, here's a little cheat sheet. Since lifting too much can lead to a pulled muscle, here are the dumbbell weights you should start off with. Once your body becomes stronger, you can choose to gradually increase the amount.

Exercise Part of body worked Recommended beginner weight
Bicep Curls Biceps: inside of upper arms Five to eight pounds in each hand
Lateral Raises Deltoids and trapezius: shoulders and upper back Two to five pounds in each hand
Upright Rows Deltoids, trapezius, and biceps: shoulders, upper back, and inside of upper arms Two to five pounds in each hand
Bent-Over Rows Deltoids, trapezius, and triceps: shoulders, upper back, and outside of upper arms Two to five pounds in each hand
Overhead Shoulder Presses Deltoids, trapezius, and pectoralis: shoulders, upper back, and upper chest Two to five pounds in each hand
Chest Presses Pectoralis: chest 12 to 45 pounds (body bar)
Triceps Kickbacks Triceps: outside of upper arms Two to five pounds in each hand
Overhead Triceps Extensions Deltoids and triceps: shoulders and outside of upper arms Two to five pounds in each hand
Squats Glutes and quads: booty and thighs Zero (just your own body weight) to 45 pounds
streamsofglitter streamsofglitter 3 years

by how much should we change weights when we start improving?

Lisa15111379 Lisa15111379 3 years
Hi! I've referred readers of Run:ology to this post, as part of an article on strength training using dumbbells as a way to improve fitness. Great information, easy to understand and very usable!! Thanks for the clear and informative post! ~Lisa The post with a link to this page can be viewed at:
Eric-Kenyon-RKC Eric-Kenyon-RKC 7 years
Actually Triceps are twice as large and twice as strong as biceps in a normal person, not the other way around. There are other problems with this article as some have mentioned. The gluteus are the largest and strongest muscles in the body, 45 pounds is nothing. I have female students who squat 225 - 380 and deadlift 170 - 250. I know one tiny woman who does kettlebell swings with 106 lbs. This is the range we should be looking at. This article is also stuck in the very limited and limiting bodybuilding-centric view of fitness. This inefficient and not-very-healthy view sees the body as a collection of parts to be trained in isolation. The body is actually a system of synchronized movement, so a better way to look at exercise would be to break your training down into basic movements such as: hip extension, leg extension, overhead lifting, etc. Lateral raises and upright rows are unnatural and dangerous, don't do them.
Modus-Vivendi Modus-Vivendi 7 years
Wow, sounds like we have some strong ladies here! I only use 5 and 8 pound dumbells, but you all are making me want to work harder so I can step it up!
Sinnamon-Jones Sinnamon-Jones 7 years
I will add this though, a lot of the women are saying they lift heavy and women cannot get bulky from lifting heavy. I do happen to get bulky fairly quickly. I already have broad shoulders and if I get into a groove where I start lifting seriously again, my shoulders and arms get bigger and I get that "triangle neck" .. and it doesn't look good in a dress.. lol. I think it all comes down to knowing your body and how it reacts to exercise.
Zigggy Zigggy 7 years
I'm so impressed with you heavy lifters- good for you!
imLissy imLissy 7 years
I've been weight training three days a week, for 40 minutes to an hour for two years now and I don't lift heavy weight, not because I'm afraid of bulking up, I just can't. I'm very tiny and very weak. I can do plenty of pushups and other exercises that use my own body weight, I look very toned, but 15 pounds is about the heaviest I can go with weights, for my upper body anyway. No matter how many lateral raises I do a week, I can't seem to go past five pounds. It's really difficult for me.
2muchtv 2muchtv 7 years
Those weights sound exactly like what I started with. If you've been exercising for a while, you know where you're at, and you should increase every two weeks. However, when you're starting out, many people have no idea what weights are appropriate. I've seen many chest exercises being done with five pound weights, which does NOTHING. This is an article you forward to your friend who is starting out, not for those who've been exercising for years.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 7 years
I agree -- I think these are good starting weights. Also, I think it's important to do the exercises with PROPER form and posture. Otherwise, one would risk injury, and/or under-condition the targeted muscles. Personally, I use 12-15 lbs for all my upper-body work. The only exception is when I work my deltoids (the shoulder cap muscle). I use 5 lbs weight to target that muscle. When I use heavier weights, my other muscles kick-in, and my deltoids are subordinated. No, I am NOT bulky. I'm quite lean and sculpted. I'm actually considering raising my weights to 15 lbs for ALL my exercises (with the exception of the deltoid exercises, as explained).
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I agree that you should use those weights as starting points and not be afraid of increasing the weights. Two pounds is barely anything...the absolute lightest weights I own are 5 lbs and I don't use them much. I did start with them, but I progressed to heavier weights quickly. Lifting heavy weights doesn't make your muscles huge and you will see fantastic changes in your body. Also, if you have access to an assisted pull-up machine, I highly recommend it for building upper body strength. You can adjust how much of an assist you need based on your arm strength and your body weight. I started with 50% and now I can do it with only 10% assistance.
kimmieb124 kimmieb124 7 years
Zigggy, you are right that the right amount of weight differs from person to person. The key is to lift enough weight that you keep good form and your muscles reach exhaustion by the last rep. Even for some women who are just starting out, that could be more weight than what's on this chart.
yasume yasume 7 years
This is definitely a starting point. I lift heavy weight as well-doing 25 on biceps, 15-20lbs on triceps, 40-50 lbs for shoulders, 100lbs for squats, just to name a few. But of course, I have increased my levels over time. Certainly, do not want an injury.
MandeeLei MandeeLei 7 years
I agree with Sinnamon and hope ladies out there are not afraid to lift heavy. Of course safety is important so you should gradually work your way up but I think we are all stronger than we know! I focus on being able to do 8-10 reps with the last rep being pretty difficult. Goals are important to factor in to rep ranges, certain goals (endurance = higher reps, muscle building = mid range rep like 8-10, strength = lower reps typically 6 or under).
Zigggy Zigggy 7 years
While the chart is a nice guideline, you should lift enough weight so that you can just eek out the last couple reps, and of course that could be a lot different for each person.
Sinnamon-Jones Sinnamon-Jones 7 years
I agree with Philly.. I'm actually way past all those ranges.. with 20's for biceps, 15-25 for shoulders and like +225lb for squats... I lift heavy...
MsTwirlySkirts MsTwirlySkirts 7 years
I agree... I even started out at 8 lbs as a beginner and now do 12 for bicep curls...I think women are afraid of getting "bulky" which is such a myth, because I lift weights between 10-15 lbs 3x a week and still look like a waif...
PhillyEagles1 PhillyEagles1 7 years
I hope women realize this is a starting point and you should gradually move up from this. I mean 5 pounders for bicep curls?! I think I could lift that with my pinky. lol
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