Wondering how heavy the dumbbells you buy should be? Here’s your guide to choosing the right weight for your workouts.
Dumbbells are one of the best investments you can make in your training goals.
Dumbbells are wildly versatile. They allow a more comfortable grip compared to bars and barbells. And they can be used for everything from powering up your spin workouts to sculpting some muscle.
In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know about choosing the right weight for your dumbbells.
- How to choose the right weight for your dumbbells
- An overview of the different kinds of dumbbells
- When to increase the dumbbell weight
Let’s jump right in.
What kind of workouts are you going to do with dumbbells?
Dumbbells serve a variety of purposes.
And knowing what your goals are in the gym are crucial for choosing the right dumbbells to buy.
Related: 7 Best Dumbbells for Home Gyms
There are several different ways that you can train with dumbbells, including:
⭐ Hypertrophy (muscle building). Dumbbells are most frequently used for building muscle. Increasing muscle mass happens most efficiently when we do sets of around 10-12 repetitions. Free weights like dumbbells are one of the safest ways to build muscle as they allow for a more natural grip and you can ditch/drop them relatively safely.
⭐ Strength. Sets with lower repetitions and near maximal load help develop overall strength and power. Doing 5 reps of dumbbell bench press, for example, at the highest weight you can muster, is the range where you are primarily building strength.
⭐ Muscular endurance. At the tail end of the range of repetitions for hypertrophy is the muscular endurance zone. A rep range in the neighborhood of 14 repetitions will primarily challenge your muscle’s ability to exert force for longer durations.
⭐ Cardio (aerobic endurance). Dumbbells can also be used in cardio workouts. Walking with light neoprene dumbbells, for instance, is a way to power up your aerobic workouts. The dumbbells need to be light enough that you can grip them properly for extended periods of time.
The dumbbells you end up buying will ultimately be a reflection of what your goals are with your workouts.
What are the different types of dumbbells?
While the function of a dumbbell is almost hilariously simple—be heavy—there are a TON of different kinds of dumbbells on the market.
Even for home gym enthusiasts, there is a lot out there.
Here is a quick overview of the different dumbbells:
? Cast-iron dumbbells.
The least expensive dumbbells for home gyms, they are made with cast iron and give you the familiar “clang and bang” sounds of your local gym.
Cast iron dumbbells are the least accurate in terms of actual weight (I’ve seen iron DBs be off by over 10% in weight) because of air pockets that happen in the manufacturing process.
Nevertheless, for a basic dumbbell, these do the job great.
? Rubber hex dumbbells.
Easy to stack, almost always featuring a contoured handle for a superior grip, and inexpensive, rubber hex dumbbells are a killer choice for people building a home gym.
The rubber keeps noise to a minimum when dropping or racking.
Only downside is that they are usually made with recycled rubber which can be a bit stinky in small and enclosed spaces.
? Adjustable dumbbells.
The options for adjustable dumbbells have absolutely exploded in recent years.
Resistance is generated in a variety of ways, including plate loaded dumbbells, pin and lock dumbbells (like the Powerblock Pro EXP dumbbells or the Bowflex 552’s) or a quick-lock system.
While they are more expensive up front, compared to a set of dumbbells they are far more cost-effective.
They are also a no-brainer for people who have a smaller workout area and don’t want a full rack of dumbbells.
? Neoprene dumbbells.
Coated with the same material as a wetsuit, neoprene dumbbells are perfect for cardio-based workouts.
They are the same kind of dumbbells that you commonly find on the back of popular spin bikes like those made by Peloton.
The water-repelling material keeps your grip steady through your workout, no matter how sweaty you get on your spin bike or when going for a brisk walk.
? Urethane dumbbells.
These are the premium, commercial-grade dumbbells you will find in your local gym and at the training facilities of pro sports teams.
Urethane dumbbells are made for heavy-duty use, and people who lift at home love the fact that it doesn’t have the used-car-tire smell that rubber dumbbells frequently have.
They are the most expensive option and are the most accurate dumbbell in terms of weight variance.
When should you increase the weight of your dumbbells?
One of the most satisfying feelings when working out is leveling up in terms of performance and gains. That warm feeling of busting a new PB is kind of the best.
When you are able to easily lift a weight that you struggled with a couple of weeks ago, it’s time to level up and increase the weight of the dumbbells.
Because your body is an adaptation machine and requires the novelty of new stimuli to continue growing and strengthening.
Using the concept of progressive overload, there are two ways we can keep things moving forward:
⭐ Add reps to your sets. Instead of doing 8 reps, do 10. This is about as simple as it gets, but if your goals are very specific (strength building vs muscle hypertrophy, for example), you will want to stay within your designated rep range. Which means…
⭐ Add weight to the dumbbell. Instead of doing 8 reps at 25lbs, do 8 reps at 30lbs. Dumbbells come in 5lb increments, while adjustable dumbbells can give you even more flexibility, with some of them having 2.5lb increments between weight options.
But how do you know for sure when to escalate the weight resistance with your dumbbells?
As long as your technique and form are on point, if the last couple reps still feel easy-breezy, it’s time to crank up the weight.
A handy rule-of-thumb I’ve used over the years with clients and in my own workouts is to limit weekly progression to no more than 10%.
For example, if I am squatting 200lbs this week, I will try and lift between 200 and 220lbs next week.
This progression isn’t sustainable forever (obviously), but it provides a simple metric for people who are just starting to ramp up their weightlifting routine.
If you are unable to complete the designated reps for your set, or your technique is turning to mush, scale back the weight on the dumbbells.
Tips for Choosing the Right Dumbbells
✔️ Test your maximum strength at the gym. Head down to your local gym and try out a few of the dumbbells. Even if you don’t have a membership, eat the one-time drop-in fee and get your hands on a few different dumbbells to get a sense of how much you can lift.
✔️ Test different dumbbells at your local fitness equipment store. While you are always going to find WAY more options online, physically touching different dumbbells to get a feel for how they are weighted, what kind of handle they have, and the materials used prior to clicking “add to cart” can go a long way. By touching the DBs for yourself, you will have a better idea of what is most comfortable and most durable.
✔️ Start small. The excitement of starting a new workout routine is palpable and can almost feel overwhelming. In this frenzied rush, it’s tempting to go all out on day one with maximum weight. Take it easy and start small with weight on day one to focus on technique and blow a flat before you get a chance to settle into your workout routine.
✔️ Space requirements. While dumbbells are an excellent form of free weights, individual dumbbell sets take up a ton of room. For lifters on a space crunch, consider investing in adjustable dumbbells as they can provide all of the benefits of a regular dumbbell combined with the space-saving features of packing up to 20 dumbbells into one adjustable unit.
The Bottom Line
Dumbbells are one of the best investments you can make for your training goals.
Whether you are looking to build muscle, lose weight, or simply get ridiculously strong, dumbbells—of all stripes—are the best way to get the job done.
Choose the right dumbbells for you, get to work, and chase down your workout goals.
More Dumbbell Guides and Articles
Looking for more information on dumbbells, including buyer’s guides to the best DBs for home and commercial gyms?
Check out the detailed articles below for more dumbbell-related information.
6 Best Dumbbell Sets for Every Kind of Home Workout. Looking for an awesome set of dumbbells for your home gym? Read on for a detailed review of the best dumbbell sets for working out at home.
6 Best Adjustable Dumbbells for Your Home Gym. Looking for the best adjustable dumbbells for taking your home workouts to the next level? Read on, because you’ve come to the right place.
6 Best Olympic Barbell Holders for Protecting and Storing Your Bars. Barbell holders protect your bar, open up more space in your home gym, and extend the life of your lifting gear. Here’s a breakdown of the best Olympic bar holders.