Dumbbells: How Much is Too Much Weight?

oberdorf_weightsWeight lifting can be one of life’s great mysteries. Do you need to grunt a lot when you lift? Should you wear those cool looking gloves? What exactly is powerlifting? Should you be doing it?

Well, we’ll take care of one question for you: how do you choose the right amount of weight?

Perfecting your form is the first step in being weight-savvy. It’s hard to judge your limits if your form is off, making it harder for you to work out or exposing yourself to injuries (ouch).

Ask one of the personal trainers or fitness instructors at the gym to see if your form is correct. Different moves require different muscles, and you shouldn’t just assume you’re doing it right. Choose weights you know you can handle — five pounds is a good place to start — and check yourself out in the mirror to make sure you’re in good form.

Once you’re sure you have your form down pat, it’s time to start recording your progress to see what your body can handle. Taking a few minutes out of your workout to see where you’re at is a good way to see where you can go next with those dumbbells.

If you seem to be kicking butt with 15-pound weights, maybe it’s time to go for 20 or even 25 pounds. Make sure to write down the number of reps and sets you do each time and establish a routine. Don’t increase your weight too quickly, or you’ll risk injury (then you can’t lift at all!). A good rule of thumb is to increase weights by a few pounds each week.

So now you’re in your groove, challenging your muscles and getting a good workout. But how do you know when enough is enough? When you look back through your weight lifting log, if you see you’re really struggling with 30 pounds, dialing back the weight or alternating different weights may be the way to go. You should be able to keep the same lifting tempo as with less weight.  To mix up your routine a bit, try doing higher reps with less weight and lower reps with higher weight. Confusing your muscles like this will provide better results than holding the same tempo over and over again. And make sure you maintain your form!

How do you know it’s not enough? If you find yourself able to do way more sets or repetitions, it may be time to pick up a little more weight. You shouldn’t be struggling through the entire workout but feeling that burn towards the end will be your first clue to whether you’re challenging your muscles. You want to be sore enough that you feel like you got a good workout, but not so sore than you can’t move the next day.

And, remember that different muscle groups or exercises will require different weights. For example, your biceps might a lot stronger than your triceps. So you might curl with more weight than you kick back. Stay in tune with your body and make your workout work for you.

Once you find your dumbbell match made in heaven, you’ll be on your way to toned arms and awesome upper body strength. Just make sure to use that power for good, not evil.

Photo by Victoria Oberdorf

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