what dumbbell weight should i start with

What Weight Dumbbells Should I Buy?

December 11, 2020

Thinking about getting dumbbells for your home gym but you aren’t sure what weight dumbbells to buy? Great. You’ve found the right article! This is bar none the most complete guide for both men and women on choosing the right dumbbell sizes. We will tell you exactly how to choose the right dumbbell weight based on specific goals, which includes building muscle, increasing strength, and losing fat, as well as gender and fitness level (beginners to advanced). Not only will you learn how to select the appropriate dumbbell weight for your home gym, but you will also receive advice on how to properly utilize dumbbells. And don't worry about budget restrictions, as we will provide a clear cut option for those with a tight budget and for those who are willing to splurge a little more.

Note: we will be discussing the dumbbell weights in pounds, but we will throw kilogram conversions in parentheses.

what weight dumbbell should i use

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WHAT WEIGHT DUMBBELLS SHOULD I BUY?

There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as it depends on your fitness goals, your fitness level, your gender, and your budget. As such, we need to dig into this question based on all of these points.

The best way for us to go about answering this question is to break it down into three sections: building muscle, improving strength, and losing fat (a.k.a. getting tone and shredded). Within these sections, we will provide options for beginners, men, women, and budget. 

Let's begin with the most common purpose of using dumbbells, building muscle!

how to choose the right dumbbell weight

What dumbbell weight should I use to build muscle?

If you want to build muscle, then you need a dumbbell weight that will challenge you at around 8-15 reps. This is the perfect muscle building rep range. Ideally, it should feel like you have just one or two reps left in the tank each set, and you should be doing 3-4 sets of each exercise.

Every set should be a challenge within the 8-15 rep range. And this applies to all the various exercises you will be doing in your muscle building training program, so the dumbbell weight will vary based on the exercise.

For example, two 20lb dumbbells might be challenging in the 8-15 rep range for shoulder press, but it would be too easy for squats or too hard for bicep curls. Because of that, having a set of dumbbells that accommodates all the various exercises you will be doing is crucial if you want to build muscle with dumbbells over time.

THE MONEY-ISN’T-MY-CONCERN-SPLURGE OPTIONS:

Men | Beginners

A dumbbell set that ranges from 5-50lbs (2.5-22kg) would be best. This will be enough to effectively target each muscle group for hypertrophy, while also giving you room to move up in weight for the different exercises over time.

This will also allow you to work on your strength, which requires heavier weight for lower reps. It's important to work on strength as well because it will allow you to build more muscle. The two go hand-in-hand.

A 5-50lb (2.5-22kg) dumbbell set will generally go up in 5lb increments, and that is perfect. Also, remember, you are buying two of each weight. Although there are many great ways to use one dumbbell, you will want two of each size.

Women | Beginners

If you are a beginner who has never done any weightlifting or sports, you could start with a set of 3-12lbs. The increments will be as follows: 3lb,5 lb,8 lb,10 lb,12 lb.

For women who haven't worked out in a long time or have done sports in the past, you would likely do better with a range of dumbbells from 3lbs to 25lbs (2-12kg). 

This should be enough to effectively target each muscle group for hypertrophy, while also giving you room to move up in weight for the different exercises over time.

Men | Intermediate to Advance 

If you are intermediate to advanced, it would be better to have a set of dumbbells ranging from 10lbs to 70lb-100lbs (5-50kg).

Go for the 100lb (50kg) max if you are really strong...remember, for exercises like squats, the total weight doesn't equate to barbell lifts, as you need to use your arms to hold them (rather than your back). Moreover, dumbbells requires more stabilization.

Women | Intermediate to Advance

Get yourself the set of 3-25lb (2-12kg) dumbbells (as a beginner would) and then buy a couple pairs of heavier dumbbells. Get a 30lb and a 40lb pair of dumbbells for certain big lifts like squats and deadlifts. The other lower weight dumbbells should be perfectly fine for most women, even those who are in great shape.

As for pro bodybuilder women, they obviously know what weight dumbbell to use so we don't need to tell them anything. 

All in all, sets of this amplitude will be great if you want to effectively target all your muscle groups and do a wide range of exercises...

It is basically what most gyms have. Needless to say, it's a big investment, but it's one that you will enjoy for a very long time. Fixed dumbbells will not break, so you will be able to use them for many, many years to come. All of the dumbbells on Amazon that we recommended for you are rust-resistant and super durable as they have rubber casting so you can drop them without worrying like you would with adjustable dumbbells. Many of these options come with a rack too so you can keep things tidy! It makes for a very official home gym.

THE BUDGET OPTIONS:

Men | Beginners

For men who are beginners, you don’t necessarily need so many increments. We would recommend a 5lb (2.5kg) or 10lb (4 or 5kg) as the lightest weight (depends on your strength level, some people are naturally stronger) and then from there pairs of 15lb (8kg), 20lb (10kg), 30lb (14kg), and 40lb (18kg) or 50lb (24kg) dumbbells as your top weight. You could even get away with a 10lb, 20lb, and 30lb range.

This way you have 10lb dumbbells for arm work, 20lb and 30lb for back, chest and shoulder work, and 30lb and/or 40lb set for exercises like squats and deadlifts. As you get stronger, you can buy heavier dumbbells as needed and then use the existing dumbbells for areas that you improved on that initially required lighter weights. 

Buy individual dumbbell pairs so you can choose whatever sizes you want!

Note: This is just to start. You will have some limitations for certain exercises, but you can work around that. As you get more money, buy more dumbbell sizes that you need. 

PRO TIP: Go for Amazon's monthly payment plans!

Here is a 5-25lb option from CAP that allows you to pay monthly for 6 months!

Women | Beginners

For women who are beginners, the following sizes should be ideal: 5lb, 10lb, 15lb dumbbells. And you may want a 2-3lb dumbbell for arm exercises. These smaller sizes are cheaper so it won't break the bank to get a smaller size. 

Eat well and Sleep well!

Note: Besides choosing the right weight that creates enough tension and stimulation for muscle growth, you need to eat right and sleep well. Without that, you won't be building any muscle no matter how many dumbbells you have 

what weight dumbbells should i buy

TEST YOUR STRENGTH AT THE GYM!

If you want to build muscle at home but you aren’t sure what db weights to buy, go to the gym and do a full body workout to test the weights!

Hit the gym for a dumbbell only workout. Do dumbbell squats, deadlifts, chest press, flys, shoulder press, lateral raises, rows, bicep curls, and tricep extensions to see what weight is working well for you in 8-15 rep range.

Remember, if you get 15 reps on your first set and you feel like you had a few reps left in the tank, you will only be resting for 60-90 seconds with a muscle building workout. On the next set, if you get another 15 reps with ease, then this weight is probably too light for you, especially considering in the coming weeks you will be getting stronger.
 

what weight dumbbells should i use female

What dumbbell weight should I use for strength training?

Strength training is done in the 1-6 rep range. As such, if you want to build strength, heavy weights are needed...relative to your strength level, of course. That said, you are limited when it comes to dumbbells as every exercises requires you to hold the dumbbells with your hands. With that, dumbbells are better suited to building muscle and losing weight rather than gaining serious strongman strength. You’d want an Olympic barbell, plates, a bench, and a squat rack for serious strength training. 

Nevertheless, dumbbells will help you build significant strength, especially if you are a beginner. And you can get very strong with dumbbells for upper body exercises.

Now, much of the same points that we discussed about building muscle with dumbbells applies to building strength. After all, strength comes with hypertrophy and hypertrophy comes with strength. 

That said, when you train for strength specifically, you will be doing heavier weights with lower reps, as we mentioned. 

Moreover, for strength training you really want to focus on compound lifts like db squats, bench press, deadlifts, and military press.

We will only be going over this section for beginners. After all, if you are intermediate or advanced, then you’ve been using dumbbells for quite some time now and you will know what works best for you. Moreover, intermediate and advanced trainees will likely require barbells for Olympic lifts to continue building strength. For those who seasoned in strength training, dumbbells can be a great to "maintain" or test their strength in new ways. 

Men | Beginners

Since strength training focuses on big, compound lifts (exercises that target multiple muscle groups), we are going to break this down based on exercises...

Military Press: 15-30lb (7-14kg)
Bench press: 20-40lb (10-20kg)
Squat: 30-60lb (14-28kg)
Deadlift: 30-70lb (14-30kg)

Women | Beginners

Military Press: 10-20lb (4-9kg)
Bench press: 10-25lb (4-12kg)
Squat: 20-40lb (9-18kg)
Deadlift: 20-50lb (9-24kg)

As you can see, it’s a wide range because beginner’s strength levels vary so greatly. Some beginners have a more solid foundation from doing sports or labor work in the past, while others will not have that same base.

Be honest with yourself and choose a db weight based on what you think will challenge you. In any case, getting a big set of dumbbells ranging from a low weight to a high weight, relative to your strength level, will be great because you will always be able to grow into the heavier weights with exercises that you currently can’t do them with. You will get stronger a lot quicker than you think so those heavier dumbbells that are lying around will be accessible before you know it, and those light ones that use to challenge you can be used for other things like fat loss workouts or ancillary exercises (i.e. front raises or side raises or bicep curls).

At SET FOR SET, we have been working out for more than a decade and we would still find a set of 5-50lb dumbbells highly efficacious. You may need to get some heavier sizes or even a barbell someday for squats and deadlifts, to continue your strength training journey, but that’s much into the future when you will likely have more funds available. And when that day comes, you will still get use of your range of dumbbells. They will never become obsolete.

Related Article: How to Improve Your Strength

what weight dumbbells for beginners

What dumbbell weight should I use for weight loss, fat loss & toning?

If you want to lose weight and burn fat, you really don’t even need dumbbells, bodyweight exercises will do the trick. After all, your body has plenty of resistance to work with!

That said, dumbbells can speed up the process by intensifying your workouts. Plus, it’s fun to use weights and you can still mix in bodyweight exercises with your dumbbell training. 

For getting tone and losing weight with dumbbells, you won’t need heavy weights. You will want to do high reps (20+) per set. Moreover, you will want to keep your rest time to a minimum. If strength is 1.5-4+ minutes rest between sets and hypertrophy is 60-90 seconds, then weight loss should be around 30-45 seconds (or even as little as 20 seconds). Circuit training is great too! Do 2-4 exercises back to back then rest.

Training like this will allow you to keep your heart rate up while also getting your muscles get pumped like crazy. A good 30 minute workout like this is all you need. Your metabolism will sky-rocket and you will be burning more calories throughout the day. This is the perfect recipe for toning. 

Dumbbell Weight for Men Who Want to Lose Weight:

Go for a pair of 10lb (4kg or 5kg) and 20lb (9kg or 10kg) dumbbells if you are beginner. If you want to lose weight and burn fat, you should focus on compound exercises. You shouldn't even bother with bicep curls and the like. Stick to lifts that target multiple muscle groups. Like DB thrusters, DB front squats, db sumo deadlifts, glute bridge chest presses. If you do that, a set of 10lb and 20lb dumbbells will be perfect for you as a beginner.

If you are concerned about your strength, get a 5lb and 15lb dumbbell set or even a 5lb and a 10lb. 

Remember, you will be doing high reps with low rest time, so it may seem light at first but after you are halfway through your workout, those dumbbells are going to be feeling WAY heavier. 

Dumbbell Weight for Men Who Want to Lose Weight: 

Get a 5lb (2kg) and 10lb (4-5kg) set of dumbbells. The same points above about doing compound exercises apply to women. Don’t bother with isolation exercises. If you go for compound movements, these two db sizes will be perfect. If you feel you are really lacking in the strength department, add a 2 or 3lb dumbbell into the mix for your lightest weight. 

IS MONEY NOT A BIG CONCERN?

If money is no concern, here are great options for men and women who want to lose fat and get toned:

Dumbbell set for men who want to get tone:

This one has 5-25lbs (2-12kg), which is perfect for a mix of hypertrophy and weight loss (or in other words, getting lean and shredded). 

Dumbbell set for women who want to get tone:

This one has 3-10lbs (1-5kg), which is perfect for a mix of building lean muscle and losing fat. Get a 20lb (9kg or 10kg) too if you want to go a little heavier for some leg-based compound movements.


Related: How to increase your metabolism and lose fat fast

HOW TO CHOOSE GOOD DUMBBELLS TO BUY

how to choose dumbbells

First, it should be noted that we didn’t recommend adjustable dumbbells for a reason. We much prefer using fixed dumbbells because they are more durable and they have flat ends rather than the handle sticking out on both sides. The latter point is important for many exercises because the protruding handle gets in the way.

To us, fixed dumbbells are more convenient and way more versatile. Adjustable dumbbells are ok if your goal is simply to lose weight, as you won’t need to drop them down since they are light and you’ll be able to throw them up without placing them on your knees (for example if you do chest press or shoulder press).

Now, in terms of quality for fixed dumbbells, always go for dumbbells that have a steel handle and hex shaped rubber encased bells. These are the most durable and long lasting. You won’t have to worry about rust or them breaking.  

Related: Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed Dumbbells

WORKING WITH THE DUMBBELLS YOU HAVE

Let's say your dumbbells are starting to feel light, but you don't want to buy more...there are ways you can make things more difficult. 

Not everyone is going to be able to buy a huge set of dumbbells and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you can’t get some serious workouts in and it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t build muscle or lose weight with lighter dumbbells.

If you don’t have heavy enough dumbbells for certain exercises, here are some work arounds that you can employ until you can buy some heavier dumbbells:

  • Slow down the tempo of your movement (more time under tension and the difficulty will increase greatly).
  • Focus on full range of motion and really squeezing and contracting your muscles.
  • Do explosive exercises (i.e. if you only have 20lb dumbbells and you want to do squats, try jump squats, but be safe - there are tons of ways to get more explosive - slow down, explosive up).
  • Do unilateral exercises and different variations (i.e. split squats, lunges, single leg deadlifts, one arm kneeling shoulder press).
  • Decrease your rest time.
  • Increase the amount of sets you do or the exercises in your workout. 

As you can see, there are many ways to increase the difficulty of your workouts without going up in weight. Progressive overload (which means progressively making your workouts harder over time so your muscles need to continually adapt) can be done in many ways. 

what weight dumbbells should i use male

WHEN TO INCREASE DUMBBELL WEIGHT?

In regards to building muscle, for any given exercise, if you are doing 15 reps easily with 60 seconds rest, then it's time to go up in weight (i.e. increase dumbbells by 5lbs for men, 2.5lb to 5lb for women). This may take 2-3 weeks. If you don’t have an ideal weight to jump up to, see the points above about increasing the difficulty with the dumbbell weights you have. 

Note: When you go up in weight, your reps will likely go down to the lower end of the ideal hypertrophy range. From there, you can work your way back up to the 15 reps before jumping up in weight again.

For strength, the same applies. If you can do 6 reps easily and with minimal rest, then you should go up in weight. Again, you will be limited on building serious strength with dumbbells for certain exercises like squats, but you can still get very strong with dumbbells alone.

For fat loss, you really don’t need to go heavier. Aim to decrease rest time, switch up exercises, increase intensity by being more explosive, etc. Fat loss is about keeping your heart rate up so you can burn calories. To do this, you won’t necessarily need to increase weight unless the weight is so little that your heart rate doesn’t get up and stay up at the right level. That shouldn’t happen if you are performing the right exercises, minimizing rest time, and using the right intensity. 

best dumbbell weight for home

CONCLUSION

There really is no easy way to generalize what's the right size dumbbell to buy, as each individual is different. We suggest following our advice above and using your best judgement.

For beginners, when it doubt, go light. You can always make the dumbbells more effective by slowing the tempo, shortening the rest time, adding more reps or sets, increasing the volume of your workout, and so on. Moreover, you can focus on building a solid foundation with proper form, which you can't do if your dumbbells are too heavy for you.

If you have the money, go for a wide range of dumbbells that you think will be suitable for you. That is the best option.

If you are on a tighter budget, get a two or three pairs of dumbbells suitable for lower body and upper body. Focus on compound movements rather than isolation exercises which typically require a wider range of dumbbells.

Overall, see how you feel and do your best to get killer workouts with what you have. People can build muscle with bodyweight exercises alone, so any dumbbells size will be advantageous to your fitness goal...unless it's too heavy to use! So, keep that in mind if you are on a tight budget. You can always add to your dumbbell arsenal over time.

Related: Other great affordable equipment for your home gym

If you have specific questions for us about choosing a dumbbell set, please contact us, we are happy to help.

 



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