Choose dumbbell weight to build and tone arm muscle

How To Choose The Right Dumbbell Weight To Build And Tone Arm Muscle As A Beginner

The biceps and triceps are some of the most coveted body parts for people to build and define for a generally more athletic-looking physique. But they’re also a group of muscles that many people struggle to succeed with. This post will explain what dumbbell weight you need to build and tone your arm muscle.

The average male beginner is recommended to get 15lb (7.5kg) to 30lb (15kg) dumbbells to build and tone the arms. In contrast, the average female beginner is recommended to get 9lb (4kg) to 15lb (7.5kg dumbbells. Heavier dumbbell weights will allow the user to progress for a longer duration.

10 years ago, I was the skinny kid on the block- looking to build visibly defined arms (what 20-year guy doesn’t?!)

But I was clueless as to what kind of weight I should be using to maximize arm workout results.

My first set of dumbbells were way too light. And I wasted time and money having to upgrade them later on.

Today I’ll be sharing personal research and experience to help you avoid the same mistake that I made.

Let’s get straight to it!

How I chose the right dumbbell weight to build and tone my arm muscle.

If you’re interested, you can find out the different kinds of dumbbells here and which dumbbell type I think is the best here.

How Do You Build Arm Muscle And Tone?

The best way to build arm muscle and tone is through resistance training exercises that target the biceps and triceps. It is recommended to lift weights with 8 to 15 repetitions per set, with a weight that feels challenging to the user. Repetitions should also be performed with good form.

How to choose dumbbell weight to tone and build arm muscle.

There are many ways to resistance train your arms.

The most popular methods are dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands. But kettlebells and gym machines can also be used.

This post focuses on dumbbells.

So why use 8-15 reps per set?

A set, by the way, refers to a group of repetitions performed without a rest.

“The biceps and triceps should be trained using rep ranges between 5-20 reps to best maximize overall development of the muscles.”

Mike Dewar, Strength Coach, Fitbod.

It’s generally accepted in the weight training world, that the arm muscles respond best to hypertrophy (growth) when using this rep range.

Now, 8-15 reps is a rather large range. So do you do 8 reps or do you do 15 reps?

The answer is to combine both by varying your rep ranges.

This allows you to reap the benefits associated with each rep range to maximize arm muscle and tone.

To do this, you can alternate between 8 reps, 12 reps, and 15 reps every month.

For example:

  • First month do 8-rep arm training.
  • Second month do 12-rep arm training.
  • Third month do 15-rep arm training.
  • Repeat.

Regardless of your chosen rep range, you should make sure to use a dumbbell weight that challenges your arm to build muscle and tone (see next).


Struggling to build bigger arms? You can check out my other post for the ideal number of sets and reps for bigger biceps!

What Dumbbell Weight Is Required To Build Arm Muscle And Tone?

For the average male beginner, 15lb (7.5kg) dumbbells are adequate to build arm muscle and tone. For the average female beginner, 9lb (4kg) dumbbells are adequate to build arm muscle and tone. But the heavier the dumbbells, the longer they can be used for future progression.

And I stress the words “future progression”.

Depending on your long-term training goals, it’s important to consider some redundant dumbbell weight to continue to build arm muscle and tone, now and into the coming month/years.

Additionally, the dumbbell weight required to build arm muscle and tone will also change according to your rep range, as follows:

Number Of Reps Per SetRecommended Dumbbell Weight (% Of 1 Rep Max)
880%
978%
1075%
1170%
1265%
1360%
1455%
1550%

Note: 1 rep max refers to the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition in a specified exercise. You can learn more about rep max’s in my other article here.

By following the above weight guidelines, you’ll ensure that your dumbbell weight will always be challenging enough to build arm muscle/tone, regardless of your relative strength level.

This is important.

Why?

Because to continue making muscle gains, the resistance should always feel challenging.

More specifically, the last few reps of every set should induce a “lactic burn” feeling and make you think:

“OK, this is getting hard now”.

Additionally, the last 1-3 reps of the last set should take you close- but not to complete mechanical failure (meaning you can’t physically do any more reps).

This is when you know you’ve chosen the perfect dumbbell weight.

If you’re interested, you can also go to my other article to learn more about the ideal dumbbell weight for a man/woman in kg/pounds

Beginners Dumbbell Weight To Build Arm Muscle And Tone

With the above points in mind, here’s how different dumbbell weights can help the average man/woman to build arm muscle and tone at a beginners level:

Dumbbell Weight (lbs/kg)Male Arm Muscle/Tone CapacityFemale Arm Muscle/Tone Capacity
2lbs (1kg)Very lowLow
5lbs (2kg)Very lowLow
7lbs (3kg)LowModerate
9lbs (4kg)LowModerate
10lbs (5kg)ModerateHigh
15lb (7.5kg)ModerateHigh
20lbs (10kg)HighVery high
25lbs (12.5kg)HighVery high
30lbs (15kg)Very highExtremely high
40lbs (20kg)Very highExtremely high
Capabilities are based on male/female bicep curl strength standards at different training levels (beginner/novice/intermediate/advanced)
  • 2/5/7/9-lb (1/2/3/4-kg) dumbbells have a very low to moderate capacity to tone the arms for beginners. The exact capacity varies depending on gender. Women require less weight compared to men because they have lower relative strength levels and therefore require less resistance.
  • 10/15-lb (5/7.5-kg) dumbbells have a moderate to high capacity to tone the arms for beginners. The exact capacity varies depending on gender. Women require less weight compared to men because they have lower relative strength levels and therefore require less resistance.
  • 20/25/30/40-lb (10/12.5/15/20-kg) dumbbells have a high to very high capacity to tone the arms for beginners. These are considered to be a heavy weight for arm exercises and will take most beginners to the intermediate-advanced stages of training regardless of gender.

You can go to my other post to find my personal dumbbell recommendations for beginners.

No matter how much weight you’re lifting, it’s also important to make sure that you’re able to lift the weight slowly and with good form.

This increases bicep/tricep activation and tension to ensure that your chosen dumbbell weight maximizes your capacity to build arm muscle and tone.

If you’re interested, you can also look at my other article to find out what’s considered to be a dumbbell weight for beginners, intermediate, and advanced lifters.

What Dumbbell Weight Should You Use For Biceps?

The average male beginner requires 4 to 19lb (2 to 9kg) dumbbells to challenge the biceps muscle. The average female beginner requires 2 to 10lbs (1 to 5kg). The exact weight that an individual finds challenging will vary depending on the chosen number of repetitions and the user’s body weight.

These dumbbell weight ranges allow for the user to perform biceps exercises with 8-15 reps at a sufficient intensity to build arm muscle and tone

The table below shows how much weight the average man/woman lifts on the bicep curl for 8/12/15-reps:

Bodyweight8-Rep Bicep Curl Weight12-Rep Bicep Curl Weight15-Rep Bicep Curl Weight
120lbs (55kg) male6lbs (3kg)5lbs (2kg)4lbs (2kg)
150lbs (70kg) male10lbs (5kg)8lbs (4kg)6lbs (3kg)
200lbs (90kg) male14lbs (6kg)12lbs (5kg)9lbs (4kg)
250lbs (115kg) male19lbs (9kg)16lbs (7kg)12lbs (5kg)
90lbs (40kg) female3lbs (1kg)3lbs (1kg)2lbs (1kg)
120lbs (55kg) female5lbs (2kg)4lbs (2kg)3lbs (1kg)
150lbs (70kg) female6lbs (3kg)5lbs (2kg)4lbs (2kg)
200lbs (90kg) female10lbs (5kg)8lbs (4kg)6lbs (3kg)
Average beginners bicep curl weight data derived from the Strength Levels Database of 195,000 user-generated bicep curls.

These average standards will give you a better idea of how much weight YOU need for bicep curls as a beginner, according to your gender and body weight.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about how heavy your dumbbells should be for male bicep curls in my other article.

What Dumbbell Weight Should You Use For Triceps?

The average male beginner requires 4 to 19lb (2 to 9kg) dumbbells to challenge the triceps. The average female beginner requires 2 to 10lbs (1 to 5kg). The exact weight that an individual finds challenging will vary depending on the chosen number of repetitions and the user’s body weight.

As you see, the weight standards are comparable between the triceps and biceps.

In other words, most people can lift as much weight on tricep exercises (like the dumbbell tricep extension) as on bicep exercises (like the dumbbell curl).

Therefore you can refer to the table above to see how much dumbbell weight you need to challenge the triceps.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about how heavy your dumbbells should be for tricep extensions in my other article.

What Dumbbell Weight Should You Get For Arm Workouts?

Generally speaking, male beginners should get dumbells that weigh at least 30lbs (15kg) for arm workouts. Female beginners should get dumbbells that weigh at least 15lbs (7.5kg). These dumbbell weights will provide approximately 6 months of progression for bicep and tricep exercises.

Recommended beginners dumbbell weight to build and tone arm muscle.

Please be aware though- these are just recommendations based on considering the longevity of your newly purchased dumbbells.

The last thing you want is to spend money on a set of weights, only to find that you outgrow them in less than half a year!

When this happens, you’ll find that your dumbbell weight is no longer challenging enough to build further arm muscle and tone.

So the heavier the dumbbell the longer it will last.

In reality, your final decision on dumbbell weight should be influenced by factors such as:

  • How long you want the dumbbells to last.
  • Your current strength levels.
  • How much muscle you want to build.
  • How disciplined you will be to stick to a program.
  • Whether you’ll also be doing compound lifting (bench press, shoulder press, squats, etc).

The below tables gives you a better idea of how much progress you can expect from your dumbbells for arm workouts:

Estimated Progression
For A Beginner
Recommended Male Dumbbell WeightRecommended Female Dumbbell Weight
Up to 6 months30lbs (15kg)15lbs (7.5kg)
Up to 2 years50lbs (25kg)40lbs (20kg)
Up to 5 years70lbs (35kg)60lbs (30kg)
Estimated progression duration for arm workouts only.

If you can afford it, I’d highly recommend choosing a weight that’s on the higher end of the spectrum for your gender!

If you’re interested, you can check out my other article to learn how to use 5kg (10lb) dumbbells to tone biceps and triceps for beginners

Best Dumbbell Exercises To Build Arm Muscle And Tone

Great- so you know how much weight you should be lifting to build arm muscle and tone.

What about the different exercises available?

HOW TO GET TONED ARMS!

The upper arms comprise the biceps and triceps.

The biceps is further comprised of the biceps brachii long head, short head, and brachialis.

Similarly, the triceps is further comprised of the long, lateral, and medial heads.

To maximize arm definition, you should perform exercises that target all of these different regions.

Here are my favorite dumbbell biceps and triceps exercises to build arm muscle and tone:

Biceps ExercisesTriceps Exercises
Standard bicep curlOverhead dumbbell tricep extension
Overhand bicep curlTricep kickback
Incline dumbbell curlLying tricep extension
Spider curlDumbbell skull crusher
Concentration curlDumbbell-weighted bench dips

Recommended Dumbbells To Build Arm Muscle And Tone

In my opinion, selectorized dumbbells are perfect for building arm muscle and tone at home (you can find my personal dumbbell recommendations for arm training here).

These dumbbells come as a single unit that contains multiple weight settings. These settings can then be adjusted using a selector mechanism.

I use and recommend the Powerblock Elites (you can see the full specs here). The base model allows you to adjust from 2.5lbs to 50lbs with 2.5/5lb increments. You can also upgrade to 70lbs and 90lbs using the separate add-on kit.

This makes them perfect for arm exercises at all training levels. The heavier settings are also great for compound moves like the row, bench press, and shoulder press (which are also good to build/train the arms).

If you’re from the UK, then the Powerblock Pros will be cheaper for your domestic market.

For a budget alternative, the Yes4All Spinlock dumbbells (you can see the reviews here) will also work great for beginners.

If you’re looking for something cheap and convenient, then resistance bands like the Undesuns (see the reviews here) can be used to replicate all dumbbell exercises. If you go for this method of training the arms, then don’t forget to buy gloves to protect your hands from friction burn. I use cheap ones like the Ihuans, and they do the job perfectly well.

Is There A Difference Between Arm Muscle Size And Tone?

Generally speaking, arm muscle size refers to the total muscle mass on the arms. In comparison, muscle tone refers to the visible definition of the muscle. Muscle tone usually increases with muscle mass. But tone can also be revealed by decreasing body fat percentage.

How to tone the arms with these two methods to tone the arms.

For most people, the best approach to maximize arm muscle size and tone is through heavy resistance training.

Forget about the adage: “lift light weights for tone and heavy weights for size”.

This is a hugely outdated myth.

There’s a reason heavy lifting is a favorite strategy employed by most PTs for their clients.

That’s because heavy lifting not only allows you to increase arm muscle size, but it’s also great for burning fat (when combined with a deficit or maintenance calorie intake).

Weight Training TypeMuscle-Building PotentialCalories Burned Per 30 MinsPost-Workout Metabolism Increase
Light Weights + High Reps (Aerobic)Low198 cal0 mins
Heavy Weights + Low Reps (Anaerobic)High108 calUp to 24 hours
Calorie data sourced from Harvard Health

That’s because heavy weight lifting is a form of intense anaerobic exercise.

This type of exercise may not burn as many calories compared to cardio during the workout, but it consumes more calories overall when you factor in the EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

“EPOC is the result of an elevated metabolism which occurs after exercise as the body recovers, repairs, and returns to its pre-exercise state. This can happen for up to 24 hours.”

NASM

And when you do this properly, you’ll see great results in revealing highly-toned, leaner-looking arms.


You can check out my other article to find out the best dumbbell weight to gain muscle!

Myth Busting: Lifting Heavy Dumbbells Doesn’t Lead To Bulky Arms!

Many beginners are also under the impression that heavy weight lifting leads to a bulky physique.

This too is a myth.

Heavy lifting AND a consistent caloric surplus over a long period leads to a bulky physique.

“Eating more calories than required to maintain bodyweight is a common practice among bodybuilders looking to increase mass. When combined with resistance training aimed at promoting muscle hypertrophy, this controlled phase of overfeeding is often referred to as “bulking.” Usually, the goal of bulking is to maximize gains in muscle mass”

Leaf et Al. 2017 scientific review

Heavy lifting alone will do little to add significant muscle mass.

There’s a reason why many people struggle to build any significant muscle size- it’s because it’s extremely difficult to consume surplus calories daily.

How I adjusted my nutrition to build bigger arms or tone the arms using heavy dumbbells.

The variable here is nutrition.

If you lift heavy without consuming surplus calories, you should find your arms develop a “tenser” and more defined look without becoming bulky.

On the other hand, if you lift heavy and keep increasing dumbbell weight as you become stronger whilst consuming surplus calories, you should be able to grow bigger arms.

Ultimately- altering your nutrition will get you the results you desire!

You may be interested in checking out my other article to find out how to increase dumbbell weight to build muscle!

Conclusion

I’ve explained how to choose the right dumbbell weight to build and tone your arm muscle.

Ideally, you should choose a dumbbell weight that is 50-80% of your 1 rep max for the given bicep/tricep exercises, and perform 8-15 reps per set.

The higher the reps the lower the weight should be (within the weight range specified above).

For the average beginner, this translates into anywhere between 2-19lbs per dumbbell. The exact weight will be influenced by your gender and body weight.

When you buy dumbbells intending to train the arms, make sure you consider not only the weight you currently need, but also factor in the weight you’ll need in the future.

This will help you to future-proof your dumbbells and avoid wasting time and money on an upgrade.

What dumbbell weight will you be choosing to build and tone your arms?

Let me know in the comments!

You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition I used to go from skinny to ripped!

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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