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All you need to know about your Dumbbell Training Journey


You’ve selected the Dumbbell Gain or Dumbbell Tone Training Journey to lift weights, build muscle, and gain strength. Before you reach for those dumbbells, be sure to familiarize yourself with the below information.

The Fundamentals Of Training With Dumbbells: A Brief Introduction to your Training Journey

This Training Journey is mainly built around a repetition-based structure and includes many of the classic dumbbell lifts such as Dumbbell Bench Presses, Dumbbell Rows, and Goblet Squats - just to name a few.

As a repetition-based Training Journey, this means that you will be given an exercise to perform and a set number of repetitions to complete. For example, you may be given 4 sets of 12 Dumbbell Bench Presses to perform.

Because of this format, we have some recommendations on how many dumbbells you should have available, which weights to use, and how you can determine when it’s time to progress to heavier weights.

Q: How many dumbbells do I need?

A: We recommend a wide range of weights

This Training Journey incorporates various lifts and has several different ranges of repetitions, meaning you’ll need at least several dumbbell weights to choose from, depending on your strength level. Having access to various weights will ensure that you can stimulate your muscles according to the rep-range phase you’re in while trying to get maximum results.

For example, if your training session is a full-body day consisting of weighted multi-joint exercises like Goblet Squats as well as isolation exercises like Biceps Curls, the amount of weight you’ll be able to lift on the Goblet Squat vs. the Biceps Curls will potentially be quite different. If you have a very limited selection of weights, you could end up having too light of a dumbbell for your Goblet Squats and too heavy of a weight for you to complete all reps of your Biceps Curls. Therefore, we recommend having a wide array of options available, from lighter to heavier weights.

Top tip: Keep a note in your phone about the weights you lift for each exercise. It will help you keep track and make sure you progress.

In the following sections, we discuss how you go about choosing the right weight for a given exercise and its sets and repetitions structure, as well as how you progress in weight over time for a given exercise. We will also give you some tips on how to work around bigger weight gaps between your available dumbbells, keeping in mind you have a broad enough selection, to begin with.

Q: How do I know which weight to use for each exercise?

A: This process is often based on trial and error - keep reading for our top tips

To simplify this discussion, let’s make the following assumptions:

1) one weight is used for all sets of a given exercise

2) every set is performed without any major breaks between each repetition

3) fatigue progressively increases throughout the sets, with the last one being challenging but still doable with good technique

You now think that you can lift at least 30 kg on Goblet Squats for 5 sets of 10 reps with 1 minute rest, but you’re not entirely sure. Let’s use your warmup sets to determine your working weight for a given exercise. Here’s what to do:

Pick a lighter weight of 10 kg, for example, then perform a set of 10 reps and see how it feels. If, as expected, the weight is too light, take a small break and move onto the next weight. Which weight should you try next? That’s up to you to decide, depending on how heavy or light the last weight felt. If it was way too light, maybe consider jumping up a few kgs. Repeat this process until you’ve reached a weight where you think you could complete all of your sets with good technique. How can you tell? You should feel as if you have a few reps “left in the tank” after your first successful set. You should feel that you have a reasonable reserve left over to dedicate to the rest of your sets. If you feel this way, you’ve found the weight to use. Maybe 30 kg was the right guess, but it could be that 25 kg was actually enough, or that you’ve underestimated yourself and you need to grab a 40 kg instead. In general, the heavier you can lift, the more warmup sets you’ll need to do, and the bigger the jumps between each weight will be. There’s only one way to know, and it’s to test it.

If you realize you were wrong in the middle of your working sets, just change the weight for the next set and carry on. That’s experience, and learning to identify how it feels to be too close or too far away from your limits on that given day is a very valuable lesson too. You’ll rarely be right on the first try, but with time you’ll become very good at picking up the right weight for yourself.

As mentioned at the top of this section, you should always aim at adjusting the weight and/or pace so that you can 1) use one weight for all sets of a given exercise, 2) perform every set without any major breaks between each repetition, and 3) progressively feel more fatigue throughout the sets with the last one being challenging but still doable with good technique.

Q: How and when do I decide to increase the weights?

A: The general rule of thumb is to progress when you have mastered all of your reps and sets with good technique and when you have a few reps “left in the tank” on the last set. Keep reading for the details!

So, let’s take another look at our Goblet Squats and assume that you’ve found your working weight (30 kg) for your 5 sets of 10 with 1 minute rest. You’ve completed all that was demanded of you, but the last reps of the last set were far more challenging than earlier, and your technique was questionable. You could try a heavier weight next time, but the truth is that your sets will feel more challenging even earlier in the process. You risk damaging your technique even more, thus hindering your progress at the same time and exposing yourself to injuries. Always think quality before quantity.

When this happens, ask yourself if a lighter weight is more appropriate. The great thing about dumbbells, and especially if you have access to a wide selection of them, is that the increments between the weights are typically small, and it’s easier to find a suitable weight for a given exercise and repetition range. Only then will you be able to focus on making sure you perform your exercise with great movement quality throughout all your reps and sets. At this point, you’ll be ready to move to another heavier dumbbell with confidence and repeat that process again.

Distributing your progress in weight over a longer period of time is the best way to prevent injuries related to loading and to develop excellent, durable movement qualities along the way. There’s no obligation to increase the weight at every session, and everyone’s progress rate is different as well. If you’re new to this, you’ll likely progress quickly in the beginning while your progression may slow as you become more experienced. This is normal. Listen to what your body tells you, and pay attention to your technique.

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