How to choose dumbbell weight

How To Choose Dumbbell Weight: A Complete Buyers Guide For Beginners To Advanced Lifters

Are you looking to buy a set of dumbbells to reach your fitness goals at home? Maybe you’re wanting to upgrade your current set but are unsure what weight to get? If this sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place. Today, I’ll explain how to choose the right dumbbell weight.

Choosing the right dumbbell weight requires consideration for training level, goals, and progression. Those who are training to build muscle, strength, and tone should use dumbbells that are at least 40lbs, whilst those who are training for general fitness and fat-burning do not require so much weight.

Don’t forget- you should also factor in your gender, current strength level, and future goals.

All in all, these factors lead to a spectrum of dumbbell weights that are suitable for different people. And lifting the wrong dumbbell weight can produce fruitless results, wasted money, and even injury.

So you better choose the right weight!

This post will explain exactly how to choose the ideal dumbbell weight for your personal goals.

Let’s go.

The Different Types Of Dumbbells

There are 3 main types of dumbbells- spinlock plate adjustable, selectorized adjustable, and fixed-weight. All 3 variations can be used for resistance training at home. But they all differ in price, materials, maximum weight load, weight increments, and mechanism of weight adjustment.

how to choose the right dumbbell weight.

Here are the main differences between the 3 types of dumbbells:

  • Spinlock plate adjustable dumbbell- these are the cheapest and most basic old-school style of dumbbell. They’re commonly made from bare cast iron, but cheap plastic ones also exist. They usually have a maximum weight capacity of ~50lbs per dumbbell with 1-20lb increments. You adjust the weight by adding/removing weight plates and tightening the spinlock nut on the handle.
  • Selectorized adjustable dumbbell- these are a modern style of dumbbell that are moderately priced. They’re made from a variety of materials like steel, iron, urethane, rubber, and plastic. Each dumbbell unit replaces up to 30+ dumbbell weights. Their maximum weight capacity ranges greatly from 15lbs all the way to 100lbs per dumbbell, with 2.5-10lb increments in between. The weight is adjusted by using the built-in dial or pin adjustment mechansim which allows for rapid weight selection.
  • Fixed-weight dumbbell- these are the ones you find in a commerical gym and also the most expensive. They’re usually made from iron, steel, and urethane. Each dumbbell has a specified weight, which can be as low as 5lbs and as high as 120lbs+. This means you need to buy multiple dumbbells to complete a set. The weight is adjusted by simply swapping between dumbbell weights.

You can check out my other article to find out which type of dumbbell I think is the best!

Which Type Of Dumbbell Is Best For Beginners?

Generally speaking, selectorized adjustable dumbbells are the best for beginners. They offer a good balance between affordability, maximum weight capacity, and small weight increments. Selectorized dumbbells can hold up to 30 weight settings and are heavy enough for most beginner training goals.

I used selectorized dumbbells as a beginner and I’m still using them now (5 years later). So I highly recommend them.

MetricSpinlock DumbbellsSelectorized dumbbellsFixed Weight Dumbbells
Average cost:$90$400$1000+
Durability:GreatGoodGreat
Max weight:50lbs90lbs120lbs+
Weight Increments:HighSmallSmall
Space Requirement:2 square feet4 square feet18 square feet

The important thing about choosing the right dumbbell as a beginner is to make sure they provide you with a variety of resistance levels- from light to medium to heavy.

Why?

You need to progressively lift more weights as you become stronger in order to reap the same benefits from your training.

This is especially important if your goal is to build muscle with your dumbbells.

Weight increments should also be small to allow for a smooth weight progression (adding 5lb to a bicep curl is easier than adding 10lbs).

Now, you could buy an entire set of fixed-weight dumbbells to cover all your weight requirements- but are you willing to spend upwards of $1000 for a complete set as a beginner?

Probably not.

Your other option- spinlock dumbbells- are much cheaper (costing around $90 for a set). But will they provide enough weight to keep you challenged in the future?

As a male, most likely not. As a female, maybe.

In fact, I had to waste money and time replacing my spinlocks after only a year of use.

Simply put- selectorized dumbbells offer the best balance of pros and cons for beginners.

You can find my favorite beginner dumbbells here.

What Dumbbell Weight Should Beginners To Advaned Lifter’s Buy?

In general, it is recommended to buy a dumbbell weight that is at least 10% to 25% of your body weight. This will provide enough resistance to challenge the muscles now and into the future. Beginners can stay closer to 10% whilst advanced lifters should go closer to 25%.

Best dumbbell weight for beginners Quora poll results.

But this is a rough approximation.

Indeed, a Quora poll reveals that 72% of fitness enthusiasts and trainers feel that your choice of what dumbbell weight to buy should depend on additional factors including:

  1. Training goals. Heavier dumbbells are required to build muscle, strength, and tone whilst lighter dumbbells are enough for HIIT (high intensity interval training), fat loss, and general fitness.
  1. Gender. Males are on average ~35% stronger than females and require heavier dumbbells to keep their exercises challenging.
  1. Exercise choice. Upper body exercises work smaller muscles, and generally require less weight, compared to lower body exercises. For example, you’re able to lift much less weight on the bicep curl compared to the squat and lunge. Additionally, compound exercises like the bench press work larger muscle groups compared to smaller isolation lifts like the bicep curl, and thus require more weight.

“Different exercises require different dumbbell weights. If you’ve never lifted before, then go for a set with multiple weights so you can apply the right weight for different exercises.”

Dom Thorpe, Personal Trainer.

With these factors in mind, here are minimum dumbbell weight recommendations based on your training level and goal:

Training GoalBeginner Minimum
Dumbbell Weight
Intermediate Minimum
Dumbbell Weight
Advanced Minimum
Dumbbell Weight
Increase Strength70lb90lb100lb
Build Muscle / Tone50lb70lb90lb
Burn Fat / HIIT20lb35lb50lb
General Fitness10lb20lb30lb
Recommended weights per dumbbell.

Note: beginners have been training for 6-12 months, intermediates 2-4 years, and advanced 5 years.

Additional note: building muscle will inherently also lead to strength gains. But in order to maximize strength, you should use the heavy dumbbell weights listed in the above table.

What Is A Good Dumbbell Weight For Beginners To Build Muscle?

A good dumbbell weight for beginners is approximately 40lbs to 70lbs. This is enough weight for beginners to build muscle, strength, and tone, and continue doing so into the future. Males should choose a heavier dumbbell weight, whilst females can use a lighter dumbbell weight.

How to choose your weight - How many reps - How many sets

The exact dumbbell weight you should choose will depend on your training goal, gender, and exercise choice (as described in the section “what dumbbell weight you should buy”).

But other factors to consider are:

  1. Longevity. The heavier the dumbbell weight you choose, the longer the duration you will be able to keep progressing and keep making gains. This is especially true if your goal is to build muscle, strength, and tone. A pair of 10lb dumbbells may be great now, but they probably won’t be half as effective several months into your training.
  1. Working on multiple goals. Building muscle and strength requires you to work in the 6-15 rep range using dumbbells that are 60-90% of your 1 rep max (maximum lifting capacity for that exercise). In contrast, burning fat (by doing HIIT workouts for example) requires lighter weights. But if your goal is to build muscle AND lose fat to become leaner, then it’s a good idea to choose dumbbells that offer you both light and heavy poundages.
  1. Cost-effectiveness. As a beginner, you may not want to spend money on the heaviest dumbbells you can buy. Ideally, you should choose a dumbbell weight that’s both affordable and will allow you to progress in the long term. But if you can afford it, the heavier the dumbbells, the better.

Taking these 3 factors in mind, adjustable dumbbells that weigh 40-70lbs will offer you a great balance between value for money, longevity, and muscle-building benefits.

If your intentions are just to lose fat and do HIIT-style workouts, then lighter dumbbells (20-30lbs) will be sufficient.

But remember- regardless of your goal- the heavier the dumbbell the faster you can achieve your targets. And if you can afford it, then it’s always a good idea to go heavier for more redundant weight.

Ideal Dumbbell Weight For Men

The ideal dumbbell weight for the average man is between 50-90lbs or 30-40kg. This is heavy enough to challenge the muscles to build size, strength, and tone. 50-90lb dumbbells can also be used for fat-burning workouts by decreasing the weight and rest times and increasing the repetitions.

The table below shows how each dumbbell lb/kg performs for different male training goals. The results are based on the Strength Level database of male strength standards for different dumbbell exercises.

Dumbbell WeightStrength-Building CapabilitiesTone & Muscle-Building CapabilitiesFat-Burning Capabilities
2lb (1kg)Very badVery badModerate
4lb (2kg)Very badVery BadModerate
7lb (3kg)Very badBadModerate
11lb (5kg)Very badBadModerate
17lb (7.5kg)BadModerateGood
22lb (10kg)BadModerateGood
33lb (15kg)BadModerateGood
44lb (20kg)ModerateGoodGood
55lb (25kg)ModerateGoodGood
66lb (30kg)ModerateGoodVery Good
77lb (35kg)GoodVery GoodVery Good
88lb (40kg)GoodVery goodVery Good
100lb (45kg)GoodVery goodVery Good
You can check out my other post for my best dumbbell recommendations for men!

You can see that the minimum dumbbell weight to be effective for all 3 goals is 50lbs.

Beginners should sway closer to 50lb dumbbells, whilst heavier guys with some training history should go closer to 90lbs dumbbells.

You can also check out my other article to find out more about the ideal dumbbell kg to buy.

Ideal Dumbbell Weight For Women

The ideal dumbbell weight for the average woman is between 20-60lbs or 10-30kg. This is heavy enough to challenge the muscles to build size, strength, and tone. 20-60lb dumbbells can also be used for fat-burning workouts by decreasing the weight and rest times and increasing the repetitions.

The table below shows how each dumbbell lb/kg performs for different female training goals. Again, the results are based on the Strength Level database of female strength standards for different dumbbell exercises.

Dumbbell WeightStrength-Building CapabilitiesTone & Muscle-Building CapabilitiesFat-Burning Capabilities
2lb (1kg)Very badBadModerate
4lb (2kg)Very badBadModerate
7lb (3kg)Very badBadModerate
11lb (5kg)BadModerateModerate
17lb (7.5kg)BadModerateGood
22lb (10kg)ModerateModerateGood
33lb (15kg)ModerateGoodGood
44lb (20kg)ModerateGoodGood
55lb (25kg)GoodGoodGood
66lb (30kg)GoodVery goodVery Good
77lb (35kg)GoodVery goodVery Good
88lb (40kg)GoodVery goodVery Good
100lb (45kg)Very goodVery goodVery Good

You can see that the minimum female dumbbell weight to be effective for all 3 goals is 20lbs.

Beginners should sway closer to 20lb dumbbells, whilst heavier girls with some training history should go closer to 60lbs dumbbells.


You can check out my other post to find out what dumbbell weight you need to tone and build your arms!

How To Decide What Weight Dumbbells To Use

Dumbbell weight is decided based on training goals. Building strength requires low reps performed at 85-90% of maximum capacity. Increasing muscle size requires moderate reps performed at 50-80% of maximum capacity. Burning fat requires moderate reps and weight performed with short rest durations.

Here are the recommended dumbbell weights to use, according to your training goal:

Training GoalReps Per SetSetsDumbbell WeightRest Between Sets
Increase Strength4-63-485-90% of 1RM4 minutes
Build Muscle Size & Tone8-153-450-80% of 1RM2 minutes
Burn Fat8-154-550-80% of 1RM30 seconds.

Note: 1RM (1 repetition maximum) is the maximum amount of weight you can lift in a single repetition for that exercise. You can go to my other article to learn more about repetition maximums.

You’ll notice that to burn fat, you’re essentially lifting the same weight as you would to build muscle and tone.

The only difference is the decreased rest time between sets.

When you cut short your rest duration, you’ll increase your heart rate and burn more calories.

The result is a leaner and more toned physique with increased muscle definition.

This is the premise behind dumbbell HIIT workouts.

One thing to remember though- the chosen dumbbell weight should always lead to challenging reps and sets. You should feel fatigued within the last 3 reps of a set. And this applies to every set.

If you don’t feel tired, then you should increase your dumbbell weight.

But don’t overdo it- it’s always better to lift lighter weights with good form than vice versa.

The key is to find the perfect balance between a challenging weight and the ability to lift with good form!

You can go to my other article to find out how to make your dumbbells harder with progressive overload.

Best Dumbbells For Beginners To Train At Home

Here are some of the best dumbbells for male and female beginners to train at home with. I’ve tested most of them, and others I chose based on personal research prior to buying my current ones (the Powerblock Elites).

Beginners DumbbellMax WeightIncrementsDurabilityPriceCheapest Place
Powerblock Elites90lb2.5-5lbGood$$Amazon
Ironmaster Quicklock 165165lb2.5lbExtremely durable$$$$Official website
Bowflex Selectech 552i52.52.5-5lbGood$$Amazon
Flybird 25 Selectorized Dumbell25lb5lbGood$Amazon
Core Home Fitness 50lb Selectorized Dumbbell50lb5lbGood$$Amazon
REP Fitness Spinlock 52.585lb2.5, 5, 10, 20lbExtremely durable$$Official website
Yes4All Cast Iron Spinlock Dumbbells100lb5, 10, 20lbExtremely durable$$Amazon
Amazon Basics Hex Dumbbells505lbExtremely durable$$Amazon

1) Powerblock Elites (My Recommendation)

There are different PowerBlock models currently on the market. The Powerblock Elites are the dumbbells I personally use and recommend. You can find full details for why here.

They’re extremely well priced for what you get.

The base model weighs 50lbs- that’s enough for male and female beginners to increase strength, build a foundation of muscle, tone, and burn fat (check out my other post to find out the ideal dumbbell HIIT weight to burn fat).

But the best thing about them is the option to upgrade to 70lbs and 90lbs whenever you wish.

This is done with their addon kits.

It means you don’t have to spend 500+ bucks from the get-go. Instead, you can upgrade whenever you’re ready.

They also come with 2.5lb increments which are rare on selectorized dumbbells. These small increments make them awesome for progressing at a slow but steady pace.

You can find my full review of the PowerBlock Elite here.

Check out my other article for a full Powerblock dumbbell workout!

These are solid dumbbells for all training goals, and they will take you from the beginner stages of training all the way to the advanced stages.

The adjustment mechanism is slick and rapid, and it makes them great for HIIT workouts too.

Having tested both the Elites and the more expensive Pro series, I wouldn’t waste the extra cash on the latter. The Elites are just as good (they just don’t have the urethane coating of the Pro’s).

You can see the full Powerblock specs here.

You may also be interested in my other article to learn about a cost-effective way to build a dumbbell-only home gym using the Powerblocks.

Ironmaster are an expensive beginners dumbbell but they have a high lb/kg capacity.

2) Ironmaster Quicklock 165

These are ideal for the beginner who has one goal in mind- to build muscle and strength.

The basic model weighs in at 45lbs per dumbbell, but they can be upgraded to a gargantuan 165lbs with the addon kit.

The patented quick-lock technology makes for rapid weight adjustments (though not as fast as regular selectorized dumbbells), and they also come with 2.5lb increments.

These things are virtually indestructible. A quick “Ironmaster drop test” search on Youtube will show them being dropped from various heights and surviving perfectly well.

The main drawback for these dumbbells is their price tag- they’re effin’ expensive!

If I had the cash, I would happily upgrade to these.

But in the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming.

You can see the full Ironmaster specs here.

The Bowflex dumbbells are great for beginners.

3) Bowflex Selectech 552i

These are a great alternative to the Powerblocks if you prefer a selectorized dumbbell with a more traditional shape.

You can find my hands-on Bowflex 552 SelectTech review here.

Some people also prefer the dial-select mechanism over the Powerblock pin-selector.

They weigh 52.5lbs per dumbbell, making them great for male and female beginners to build muscle, tone, and get lean at home.

The Selectech’s are also one of the few dumbbells at this price range to feature 2.5lb increments.

Just be aware that once you’ve maxed out the Bowflex weight, you can’t upgrade them.

So if you have long-term goals in mind to build muscle, then the Powerblocks may be the better option.

The Bowflex is slightly cheaper than the Powerblock. But in my opinion, it’s worth paying the extra 40 bucks for the reason just stated.

Powerblocks also hold their value better than the Bowflex dumbbells.

You can find the full Bowflex specs here.

Or learn more about dumbbell price appreciation in my other article about how much dumbbells should cost.

Flybird is a good beginners dumbbell with a good weight for women

4) Flybird 25 Selectorized Dumbell

Flybird makes 2 models of selectorized dumbbells with a handle-twist selector mechanism.

Both are reasonably priced and get very good reviews on Amazon.

The 25lb Flybird dumbbell is an affordable dumbbell option for beginners. It’s especially suitable for women who want an affordable way to build a bit of muscle and tone at home.

Affordable as they are, I would not recommend these if you plan on making significant muscle gains.

The 25lb weight capacity will be outgrown very quickly, and the 50lb model does not provide as good value for money as its competitors (see the Bowflex above and Core Home Fitness dumbbell below).

Go for a heavier dumbbell if you’re a guy on a mission to get jacked.

You can find the full Flybird specs here.

Core home fitness 50lb dumbbells are a good weight for beginners to build muscle.

5) Core Home Fitness 50lb Selectorized Dumbbell

If you’re sure that a 50lb weight capacity is all you’ll ever need, then the Core Home Fitness may be for you.

It’s one of the best priced at this weight capacity (they’re a slightly cheaper option to the Bowflex).

The Core Home Fitness also features a traditional dumbbell shape and the handle-twist adjustment comes highly praised.

The dumbbells themselves have a compact shape (unlike many other 50lb selectorized dumbbells).

They’re great for guys and girls to build muscle and do HIIT-style workouts at home.

But if you want to make significant muscle gains, I would choose something that gives you the flexibility to upgrade to 70lb+ (especially if you’re a guy).

You can find the full Core Home Fitness specs here.

Rep fitness spinlock dumbbells provide a heavy kg/lb and are a cheap dumbbell for beginners.

6) REP Fitness Spinlock 52.5

In my opinion, these are some of the best spinlock dumbbells you can buy.

The base model is compact but still offers 52.5lbs per dumbbell, with the option to expand to 85lbs using their addon kits.

The weight adjustment mechanism is easy to use (although slower compared to selectorized dumbbells) and the locking nut is very durable.

The stainless steel handle threads are chip-resistant, and this means the locking nuts won’t become loose over time.

Additionally, the knurling (cross-hatching on the handlebar) is just about right- it’s enough to provide a good grip but not so abrasive that it causes pain on a beginner’s hand.

The cast-iron plates are virtually indestructible.

They’re perfect for beginners to start lifting heavy at home on the cheap.

You can find the full Rep Fitness specs here.

Yes4All are one of the cheapest spinlock dumbbells for beginners.

7) Yes4All Cast Iron Spinlock Dumbbells

The Yes4All dumbbells are a budget alternative to the REP Fitness spinlock. The materials don’t scream quality, but they get the job done at a very beginner-friendly price.

The cheapest model weighs 50lbs per dumbbell whilst the most expensive one weighs 100lbs.

There’s nothing fancy about them- they’re literally two handlebars for you to load plates onto. And the weight increments are quite large (which isn’t ideal for smooth progression)

That being said, they can be afforded by all and are also very durable.

So if you’re a beginner who wants to start lifting heavy dumbbells at home with minimal cost, these fit the bill.

You can find the full Yes4All specs here.

Amazon basics beginners fixed-weight dumbbell.

8) Amazon Basics Hex Dumbbell

If you’re looking for cheap dumbbells that don’t require you to manually adjust the weight, and ones that won’t break, then these are for you.

The lightest dumbbell in the set weighs 10lbs whilst the heaviest weighs 50lbs (with 5lb increments in between).

The main perk going for these dumbbells is their price. You won’t find any other fixed-weight dumbbell set from 10-50lbs for under $400 (which is exactly what you get with these).

Fixed-weight dumbbells like these make for faster workouts since you don’t need to manually change any settings everyimt you ant to increase weight.

But they require around 15 square feet of floor space to fit a rack to hold all the dumbbells.

You can find the full Amazon hex dumbbell specs here.

Conclusion

I’ve explained exactly how to choose the right dumbbell weight.

As a beginner, you should choose a weight that challenges you for the reps that you aim to perform. And you should choose your reps based on your training goals.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to factor in some redundant weight for future progression. And this is especially important if you plan on making significant muscle and strength gains.

Also- don’t forget to consider your gender, training level, and current strength levels when deciding which dumbbell weight to buy!

You’re more than welcome to choose from the beginner dumbbell recommendations provided.

What dumbbells are you planning to get?

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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