What Size Dumbbells to Use?

The best weight for your dumbbells depends primarily on your fitness goals and your previous experience with weight training.
Using dumbbells 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.


The American Council on Exercise recommends that beginners start with a weight they can lift about 12 to 15 times for one to two sets. This is generally five to 15 lbs., depending on the muscle group. This helps develop baseline musculature and strength, plus proper technique and rhythm. Exercise with this repetition and weight range for about four weeks, then gradually progress according to your goals.



Generally, those who want to train for muscular endurance are distance athletes, such as marathon runners or triathletes, or people who need muscular endurance in their work. To train for endurance, you need a dumbbell size that will fatigue your muscles in about 15 to 20 repetitions. This type of training doesn’t specifically work on increasing muscle mass — although that may be a side effect. — but more on increasing the amount of work your muscles are capable of over a long period.


“Muscle hypertrophy” means building muscle size. The best repetition range for building muscle mass is three sets of eight to 12 repetitions two to three time a week, using slightly more weight than that in the beginner phase. Depending on your workout status and what muscle groups you are exercising, dumbbells for hypertrophy should be between 10 and 20 lbs.


Building strength is done at a much higher intensity and weight than the hypertrophy stage. If strength is your goal, increase sets to about three or four. Increase your dumbbell weight so you are now maxing out between six and 10 repetitions. Since this is a higher intensity exercise, get adequate rest between sets, ideally about one to two minutes to let your muscles recover.


Developing power is the goal for football players, Olympic lifters, wrestlers and other athletes who require bursts of strength over very short periods. This is the most intense form of weight training, and the dumbbells are very heavy. Do three to six sets of about three to six repetitions. Due to the high intensity of these exercises, give yourself two to three minutes of rest between each set.

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