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What Weight Dumbbells Should I Use?

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

It's a tricky starting point. What weight dumbbells should I start with? What weight do I need in the gym? As you're here, it's likely you're new to the weights things so we'll come at it from that perspective. The best thing for new lifters is structure. There are more advanced ways of choosing weights but for now we will keep it simple. What we are about to discuss also works for barbells, body weight, resistance machines and cable machines.

The go-to method you'll often see is a percentage of your 1 repetition maximal lift (1RM). Though, you're new to lifting. Do you even know what your maximal lift is per exercise? To physically find out will take quite a bit of time and without professional guidance are you confident you could lift something that's the heaviest you've ever done? Technically you can't maximally consciously contract you're muscles to their maximum anyway. A lot to do with adrenaline and the fight or flight response. So even if you could discover your conscious 1RM it can change depending on your state of mind.

So if the 1RM go-to method has it flaws, what do you do? Well the weight you should lift depends largely how many reps you want to do, which depends on the type of training you want to do. In comes the Power Pyramid pictured below;

As above, the weight you want depends on the reps which is influenced by your training target. For most, the idea of reshaping their body would lend them to using the Hypertrophy training range. As such you're looking at, in this example, 3 - 4 sets per exercise, with a 1 - 2 min rest between sets and lifting / pushing / pulling 6 - 12 reps. There you have the answer, a weight you can lift for somewhere between 6 and 12 reps. If you were to rate the weight out of 10, with 10 being the heaviest thing you've lifted and 1 being barely noticeable you need to score the weight somewhere between a 6 and an 8.

However, say you have no idea what to lift. Well the rule we use for our Personal Training clients will help you to select a weight as well as helps you progress your weights. The 8 - 12 rule. It's trial and error to start with but can stay with you for quite some time until you become a more advanced lifter.

It goes thus;

  • If you can't lift at least 8 reps with good form in your set then lower the weight by an increment.

  • If you lift 12 reps or more before reaching form failure on 2 consecutive sets you should increase the weight by an increment on the 3rd set.

  • On the 3rd set if you manage at least 8 reps with good form then start on that weight in the next training session. If not, try again next session.

Generally speaking you need to be lifting to your best good form potential. In theory, if you have the perfect weight, each set will produce fewer reps as you fatigue over your sets. Therefore, if you can manage a heavier weight on your final set, when you're at your most fatigued, you can manage that weight next time when your fresh in the next session.

There are more advanced methods that will pick holes in the 8 - 12 rule. To start with though, this method will do just fine! Say you want to do more endurance training you could use the same principles on the reps suggested in the power pyramid to make the 8 - 12 rule a 12 - 20 rule. Likewise for strength, 8-12 will become 4-5 and the 2 consecutive sets increase element still applies.

There are more advanced rep ranges that exist such as those for drop sets, negatives, eccentrics, pyramids and German Volume Training which requires a weight you can lift for 20 reps but do 10x10 with failure!

If the idea of picking your weights or looking foolish is still a daunting prospect you can head over to Armoured Muscle to look at the extra guidance we can offer or get straight to it with one of the pre-made workout programmes available from the Agora Shop.

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