With gyms and fitness studios closed, and all the equipment inside them inaccessible, dumbbells and free weights for at-home workouts are now hot commodities. If they're not completely sold out on Amazon or sporting goods websites, the selection in sizes is slim pickings.
Ideally, when building your own at-home gym, you'd probably want to purchase multiple sets in varying weights so you can swap when you need more of a challenge, or when you need to lighten up your load in order to modify or reduce injury. Unfortunately, that's not always possible right now — and you might end up with just one set of dumbbells in your online shopping cart.
That leads to the question: what's the correct size dumbbell set to buy?
For help, we turned to Charlee Atkins, CSCS, founder of Le Sweat TV – check out her top tips below.
Determine Your Training Goal and Your Exercise Method
In barre and Pilates classes, you typically reach for a lighter set of weights — say anywhere from 1-3 lbs. — verses a bootcamp, strength-focused class where a heavier weight is commonly suggested.
So it all makes sense — the dumbbell weight you choose is directly related to what type of activity you'll be performing. If you prefer following curated fitness classes, check out the studio's website or the description under the workout video to see what dumbbell weight is suggested.
However, Atkins mentions that the specific exercises and number of reps should also help you narrow down the correct size dumbbell to choose.
Take strength training, for example.
"For strength exercises, keep in mind that your lower-body and upper-body strength isn't going to be the same, and you'll most likely want a heavier set for lower-body exercises and lighter sets for upper-body exercises. And to get stronger, you'll have to progress," Atkins says.
In that situation, and if you still can only buy one set, you might want to buy a heavier set for leg workouts and utilize household objects, like cans of soup, for arm exercises. For strength sessions, Atkins suggests at least 10 lbs. for lower body and 5 lbs. for upper body. What you're looking to accomplish out of the exercise routine — like muscle building or weight loss — also comes into play. In terms of weight loss, Atkins says, in general, she recommends using heavier weights than 1 or 2 lbs.
Evaluate Your Personal Fitness Level and Consider Your Injury History
The suggestions above are not universal recommendations, as your personal fitness level also comes into play when purchasing dumbbells.
"If you are comfortable at the gym and just need some guidance, I would say 8-12 lbs. is a good range for you," Atkins says.
"If you're brand new, it's best to learn the bodyweight exercises first, and a 5 lb. is a good starting range for you. If you're advanced, then you should be looking to invest in one heavy dumbbell that is 15+ lbs. You'll be able to diversify your workouts with a heavier option."
Again, that's not a hard and fast rule, and Atkins says it really all does depend on where you're at in your own fitness journey.
Remember to listen to your own body and consider any injuries you currently have and/or your injury history. To play it safe, speak with a healthcare professional or book a virtual training session with a certified trainer.
Ace Form First
It's true: you don't need any equipment at all to get in a good workout.
In fact, Atkins says there's "no sense in adding an external load on the body if you can't handle your bodyweight without good form."
Before adding dumbbells to any exercise, work on acing the technique of an exercise.
Enlist the Help of Household Objects
Whether you still don't feel comfortable making the purchase or can't seem to snag a set of dumbbells before they sell out, you still have options.
Once you've practiced your technique without any weight, utilize household objects to help you improve your form even more.
"For example, in a bent-over row, you could use a can of soup to help perfect the pulling form. In a squat, you could hold a yoga block out front to help with squat form. To add weight to your workouts, you must first have good form," Atkins says.
Don't Buy Heavier Than What You're Comfortable Lifting
Choose your weights responsibly — don't make lofty goals or impulse buy a set of weights that are way too heavy for your current fitness level. Atkins says there's a chance you won't be able to handle that weight and could wind up with an injury.
Consult a Professional
There is a lot of room for error when it comes to utilizing weights in a workout routine — especially at home and without the proper instruction of a trained professional. Never hesitate to play it super, super safe and chat with a certified personal trainer or healthcare professional on the best form of exercise — and weight options — for you.