When used correctly, dumbbells are a highly effective way to burn fat and lose weight whilst maintaining muscle. So how do you do it?
Dumbbells can be used to lose weight by performing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or strength training. They are both effective ways to burn fat as well as increase muscle tone and definition. Both methods require a calorie deficit to successfully help an individual lose weight.
I needed to cut after I reached the height of my bodybuilding bulking phase. But you may just be slightly overweight and looking to burn off that belly, arm, or thigh fat.
Regardless of your reasons, dumbbells can certainly help you to build a leaner and more athletic-looking body.
This post explains why dumbbells are so effective for fat loss and how to use dumbbells to shed those pounds.
- How Do People Lose Weight?
- Can You Lose Weight By Using Dumbbells?
- Can Dumbbells Burn Belly Fat And Help You Get A Flat Stomach?
- What Dumbbell Weight Should You Use To Lose Weight?
- How To Burn Belly Fat And Lose Weight With Dumbbells
- 1) HIIT Dumbbell Workouts To Lose Weight
- 2) Dumbbell Strength Workouts To Lose Weight
- 8 Of The Best Dumbbell Exercises For Weight Loss
- Best Dumbbells For Weight Loss At Home
How Do People Lose Weight?
People lose weight when they consume fewer calories than they require. The resulting caloric deficit causes the body to burn fat and muscle to fuel energy requirements. It is recommended to combine a calorie deficit with weight training and a high protein intake to prevent excessive muscle loss.
When most people say they want to lose weight, they mean:
“I want to lose fat”.
After all, losing fat whilst maintaining muscle mass leads to the lean and athletic-looking body that many of us crave.
“I found a 0-10% calorie deficit to be the most sustainable over a long-term period. I combined this deficit with 3-4 days of weight training per week and a daily protein intake of 1.2 grams per pound of body weight.”Kal, M.S, Kalibre Fitness.
This should be enough for you to lose 1-2lbs per week.
Speaking from personal experience, I managed to lose 15lbs of fat in 3 months whilst retaining my muscle mass to build a leaner and more defined body.
You could go for a more severe calorie deficit.
But in my experience, putting yourself in a calorie deficit over 10% is very stressful, unsustainable, and often leads to the weight being quickly put back on as you go through severe hunger pangs.
Can You Lose Weight By Using Dumbbells?
Generally speaking, any form of resistance training can help someone lose weight by increasing daily energy expenditure. The most popular methods utilize dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, resistance bands, and bodyweight training. These training methods can all accelerate the weight loss process.
It just so happens to be that dumbbells are the most popular type of free weight.
And they’re also one of the most effective ways to lose weight.
I used dumbbells to take me from 175lbs bodyweight to 160lbs in 3 months, equating to a 15lb weight and 5% body fat reduction.
But don’t just take my word for it.
You can also take a look at Han’s case study– he lost 45lbs in 5 months by following John Fawke’s dumbbell program.
Additionally, this 2016 study showed that 89 participants saw a significantly lower waist circumference, waist-hip ratio, and body fat % after just 6 weeks of dumbbell training.
And the best thing about dumbbells?
They’re relatively cheap, don’t take up much space, and are ideal for home workouts!
Can Dumbbells Burn Belly Fat And Help You Get A Flat Stomach?
Lifting weights, such as dumbbells, is a highly effective way for the average person to burn belly fat and get a flat stomach. Not only does weight lifting consume calories during a workout, but it also increases post-workout metabolism. This can help someone burn more fat and flatten the stomach.
A properly structured dumbbell program can help you burn belly fat in two ways:
1) Active calories burned during a workout.
Any form of physical activity (whether that be lifting weights or doing cardio) will burn calories during the workout.
And of course, some types of workouts burn more calories than others.
Take a look at the below table to see how many calories a dumbbell workout burns compared to cardio:
|Exercise Type||Typical Calories Burned In 30 Minutes||Muscle-Building Potential|
|Dumbbell HIIT workout||450 cal||High|
|Dumbbell strength workout||216 cal||Very High|
|Moderate cycling on a machine||252 cal||Moderate|
|Moderate rowing on a machine||252 cal||Moderate|
|Intense running at 7.5mph||450 cal||Low|
|Light running at 5mph||288 cal||Low|
You can see that- depending on the type of dumbbell workout (more on this below)- dumbbells can burn as much, if not more, fat than most of the other forms of popular cardio workouts.
2) Passive calories burnt after a workout (increased metabolism).
Resistance training is known to stimulate the EPOC effect (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) particularly well.
EPOC increases the number of calories you burn even at rest.
Without going into hardcore science, this happens because heavy resistance training produces micro-tears in your muscle that need to be repaired after exercise.
Heavy resistance training also depletes your muscular energy levels which need to be replenished post-exercise.
Combined, these factors increase your passive calorie consumption for up to 48 hours after a workout.
Additionally, these mechanisms work together to increase your overall calorie expenditure which in turn helps you to burn belly fat and get a flat stomach.
And if your dumbbells are heavy enough, you’ll also build/maintain muscle mass.
This is important for building a lean and toned body rather than a bony body with no muscular definition (which is what would likely happen if you were to just do cardio).
What Dumbbell Weight Should You Use To Lose Weight?
The average beginner needs a minimum dumbbell weight of 10lbs (5kg) to effectively lose weight. Heavier dumbbells generally lead to more intense workouts which in turn leads to higher calorie expenditure and better fat loss. Heavier dumbbells are also better to increase muscle size and definition.
By now, you should start to understand that any form of physical activity can help you lose weight. And by that extension, any dumbbell weight can also help you to lose weight.
But the aim of this article is not to just help you lose weight, but to lose weight fast.
And to do that, you need to choose the right dumbbell weight according to your gender and training level.
Here are the minimum recommended weights for men and women to lose weight using dumbbells:
|Training Level||Male Minimum Dumbbell Weight For Fat Loss||Female Minimum Dumbbell Weight For Fat Loss|
|Beginner||15lbs (7.5kg)||10lbs (5kg)|
|Novice||20lbs (10kg)||15lbs (7.5kg)|
|Intermediate||30lbs (15kg)||20lbs (10kg)|
|Advanced||40lbs (20kg)||30lbs (15kg)|
These estimates are based on my own male 10-year dumbbell training history, user-generated dumbbell strength standards from the Strength Level database, and the fact that women have around 35% less strength compared to men.
Note- they are minimum recommendations.
If your goal is to lose fat and build some lean muscle along the way, then you’ll likely require heavier dumbbells (doubling the above minimum recommendations is a good general guideline).
You may also be interested in my other article which explains what you can do with 10lb (5kg) dumbbells.
How To Burn Belly Fat And Lose Weight With Dumbbells
There are two popular ways to lose weight and burn belly fat with dumbbells. The first way is to do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with light to moderate weight dumbbells. The second way is to do strength training using heavy dumbbells. Both workouts can effectively burn fat.
What type of dumbbell workout you choose to do should be influenced by your goals and what dumbbell weight you have available.
If your goal is to simultaneously lose fat fast and build some lean muscle– and you only have light-moderate dumbbells- then HIIT is recommended.
Dumbbell HIIT workouts are great for rapidly shredding fat and generally increasing whole-body muscle tone for a lean and athletic-looking body.
But if your goal is to lose fat and build maximum muscle- and you have access to heavy dumbbells- then strength training is recommended.
Dumbbell strength training workouts are great for losing fat and building significant amounts of muscle at the same time.
And for those who are concerned about developing a bulky physique from lifting heavy dumbbells: don’t be!
This is a commonly misunderstood myth.
It takes months/years of weight lifting at near-maximum capacity, as well as a consistent calorie surplus, to build the bulky bodybuilder-type physique.
Trust me, this is hard even when you try (why do you think so many skinny people struggle to build muscle?!).
And it’s something you’ll likely not be able to achieve unless you actively dedicate yourself to the aforementioned requirements.
Next, I’ll explain in more detail how to do each type of workout.
If you’re interested, you can go to my other article for detailed information on how to choose the right beginner dumbbell weight lb/kg.
1) HIIT Dumbbell Workouts To Lose Weight
Dumbbell HIIT workouts are an effective way to lose weight, get lean, and increase muscle definition. Male beginners are recommended to start with 15lb (7.5kg) dumbbells whilst female beginners are recommended to use 7lb (3kg) dumbbells for an effective HIIT workout.
The whole premise behind dumbbell HIIT (also called Tabata) is to maximize your heart rate in the shortest time possible by using dumbbells to increase the intensity of various bodyweight exercises.
A short but intense cardio workout that’s great for burning fat as well as building a moderate amount of muscle.
Dumbbell HIIT exercises typically involve large and dynamic movements that utilize multiple muscle groups in a single motion. Examples include:
- Dumbbell swings.
- Clean and press.
I go into more detail on how to do these exercises below in the section “best dumbbell exercises for weight loss”.
You do these exercises in short bursts (usually around 10-30 seconds per exercise) before taking a short rest (usually around 10 seconds) before repeating the process for the designated number of sets.
For example, a set of dumbbell swings could involve doing as many repetitions as possible for 20 seconds and then taking a 10-second break to complete a set. Then you could repeat 8 sets of dumbbell swings before moving on to the next exercise.
The average person needs to get their heart rate to 120+ beats per minute to maximize fat-burning benefits.
I use the Fitbit Versa to conveniently monitor my heart rate and calories during an intense workout. But this Fitbit Inspire is half the price and does the same job.
If this type of workout sounds good for you, then you can check out my other article for a complete dumbbell HIIT (Tabata) workout guide to lose fat and get lean.
2) Dumbbell Strength Workouts To Lose Weight
Dumbbell strength workouts are an effective way to burn fat, increase muscle size, and maximize muscle tone. Male beginners are recommended to start with 30lb (15kg) dumbbells whilst female beginners are recommended to use 15lb (7.5kg) dumbbells for an effective strength workout.
Note: the above are general dumbbell weight recommendations. Generally speaking, the more muscle you want to build the heavier your dumbbell should be.
The premise behind dumbbell strength workouts is to maximize muscle activation by lifting heavy weight dumbbells with longer rest durations.
A calorie-burning workout that also ramps up the EPOC effect whilst simultaneously promoting muscle size and strength gains (keep your calorie intake at maintenance or a deficit to make sure you don’t get bulky).
Popular dumbbell strength exercises include:
- Bench press.
- Shoulder press.
- Bicep curls.
- Dumbbell flyes.
The main differences between a dumbbell HIIT and a strength workout mainly lie in dumbbell weight and rest duration.
Strength training often involves lifting heavy dumbbells for a specified number of reps per set (usually 6-12), with a 1-3 minute rest between sets.
For example: a set of dumbbell bench presses would involve doing 6-12 consecutive reps using a heavy dumbbell, before taking a 1-3 minute rest to complete a set. You would then repeat this for 3-5 sets before moving on to the next exercise (typically around 5-10 exercises per workout).
If this type of workout sounds good to you, then you may be interested in my other article to find out the best dumbbell weight to build muscle.
8 Of The Best Dumbbell Exercises For Weight Loss
The best dumbbell exercises for weight loss are compound lifts that activate multiple muscles in one motion. This is because more muscle activation correlates with higher calorie expenditure. Furthermore, muscle activation is greater in lower body exercises compared to upper body movements.
Here’s a list of the best exercises you can do with dumbbells to lose weight:
1) Dumbbell Swings
A classic dumbbell HIIT exercise to lose weight. Each motion works the entire body with emphasis on the posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back). Contract your glutes at the top of the motion to maximize muscle activation and burn more calories!
2) Dumbbell Deadlifts
The deadlift is one of the most well-known exercises. Every muscle in the body is activated to lift the dumbbells off the ground. This makes it one of the best exercises you can do with dumbbells to burn calories and lose weight. The deadlift is also a great strength builder if you use heavy dumbbells.
3) Goblet Squats
A lower body exercise that emphasizes quad-action. The goblet squat also engages the posterior chain and upper body muscles because they stabilize your body as you go through the motion. Lower-body compound movements like the squat are generally great fat-burners.
A lower body exercise that’s similar to the squat. But the movement of the lunge emphasizes the posterior chain muscles, whilst the quads serve as the stabilizing muscles. Both the dumbbell squat and lunge are great exercises for losing weight. But I prefer the lunge since it’s more taxing on the shoulders and therefore burns more calories.
5) Dumbbell Clean And Press
The clean and press is a lower-upper body hybrid compound exercise. And this makes it one of the best exercises you can do with dumbbells to lose weight. The lower portion of the movement targets your quads and posterior chain, whilst the upper portion of the movement hits your arms and shoulders.
If you like, you can check out my other article to find out what dumbbell weight you should use to tone your arms.
6) Bent-Over Row With Dumbbells
The dumbbell row hits all of the muscles in your back, as well as the biceps, in a single movement. It’s a great exercise that can be used to emphasize both HIIT OR strength-building purposes. Perform high reps with a lighter weight to focus on HIIT or do lower reps with a heavier weight to focus on strength-building. You can also check out my other post on how to know if HIIT is working.
7) Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is to the chest, what the row is to the back. It’s a great exercise to hit your pecs, shoulders, and triceps. A cheap bench like this Flybird FB149 allows you to bench press at home. It’s affordable and can also be folded away after a workout. If you don’t want to get a bench, you can do the floor press as an alternative. I recommend getting a cheap yoga mat for comfort and safety. A mat also stops sweat from going all over your floor!
8) Dumbbell Shoulder Press
The dumbbell shoulder press is a great upper-body exercise for torching calories as well as building strength. If the clean and press are too technical, you can start with the shoulder press first. Once you’ve mastered the shoulder press you can begin practicing the clean and press. Both exercises work well in a dumbbell HIIT workout to lose weight.
Best Dumbbells For Weight Loss At Home
If you’re looking for a dumbbell recommendation to start losing weight at home, then here they are.
Papababe Or Hola Hatha Dumbbell Set (Budget Option)- Perfect For HIIT-Only
These two dumbbell sets are ideal for those looking to do dumbbell HIIT to lose weight. Each set is more appropriate for each gender:
- Hola Hatha handweight set for women.
- Papababe fixed-weight set for men.
Both sets are made from a solid iron cast mold, making them durable enough to withstand the knocks and bumps that are bound to happen tour dumbbells during a HIIT workout.
Both sets also provide good value for beginners.
The main difference between them is the weight.
The Hola Hatha’s go up to 15lbs (7.5kg) per dumbbell. In contrast, the Papababe’s go up to 25lbs (12.5kg) per dumbbell.
Whilst they are good for losing weight, you should choose something heavier if muscle-building is on your agenda (see below).
If you’re looking to buy dumbbells, you may be interested in this article to learn about the ideal dumbbell weight for HIIT (Tabata) workouts, or check out this article for 9 of the best dumbbells for HIIT and Tabata.
Bowflex 552 (Premium Option)- Good For HIIT And Strength Conditioning
The Bowflex 552 dumbbells are the ones you see me using in this post.
They’re a bit pricier than the Hola Hatha and Papababes dumbbells. But they’re extremely versatile.
It’s fully adjustable- each dumbbell goes from 2.5lbs to 52.5lbs with 2.5lb and 5lb increments in between. Each dumbbell replaces 14 pairs of dumbbell weights.
This means you can use the lighter weight settings for HIIT, whilst the heavier weight settings are perfect for building muscle and strength.
These are also some of the most popular dumbbells on the market (as of the time of writing). You can find my full Bowflex dumbbell review here.
UPDATE: I’ve since switched to the Powerblock Elites. They’re the direct competitors to Bowflex. The reason I switched is that I needed more than 50lbs per dumbbell. Unlike the Bowflex’s, the Powerblocks can be upgraded to 70lbs and 90lbs per dumbbell using these addon kits. This is overkill for weight loss purposes, but great for building muscle.
I’ve explained how to lose weight with dumbbells and why it’s effective.
Dumbbells aren’t essential for weight loss since any type of physical activity combined with a calorie deficit is sufficient. But they can certainly fast-track your results.
I used dumbbell HIIT and strength workouts to lose 15lbs myself. And in my opinion, it’s one of the more effective (and funner ways) to lose weight.
Will you be using dumbbells to lose weight?
Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions! You can find my details on the “contact us” page.
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 (with printable worksheets) I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)