How to Choose the Right Weights for Strength Training
“Light” and “heavy” mean different things depending on your abilities and goals.
By Alyssa Sybertz•
November 9, 2021
Classes that utilize weights, such as strength and bootcamp classes, are a smart addition to any workout repertoire. But since Peloton instructors are often teaching to thousands of Members at once, they often use cues like “grab your light weights” or “use heavy weights for this one,” terms that are going to mean different things for different people. Confused about which dumbbells to reach for? Peloton instructor Ben Alldis is here to help.
Set Your Goals
Selecting the right dumbbell weight is a crucial part of your workout, so you’ll want to consider it carefully. “Different exercises, skill levels, and physical abilities will necessitate different dumbbells,” Ben says.
A good starting point, he explains, is to determine why you’re working with weights in the first place. “Are you trying to develop a single muscle group? Gain stamina? Or perform each exercise with better form? Setting your goals will guide your dumbbell selection process. Heavier dumbbells are good for building muscle, while lighter ones are better for stabilizing muscle to support tendons and joints.”
“Without a doubt, lifting lighter weights with proper form is always better than lifting heavier weights with poor form,” Ben says, because poor form can lead to injury, including strains, sprains, tears, and breakages of muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints. For this reason, Ben recommends mastering each exercise using only your bodyweight before even picking up dumbbells. “When you feel confident that your form is strong using your own bodyweight, select light weights and build from here,” he says. “It’s always better to start light and add weight in small increments.”
Consider Your Background and the Muscles You’re Working
If you’re working out at home, you likely don’t have a swath of different dumbbells to try out and may only have a few weight options. In this case, Ben suggests considering two key factors. First, “If you’re someone who has experience in exercise and sports, or you work a job which requires you to carry out manual labor, you are likely to be stronger than someone who doesn't,” he says, stressing the fact that each person’s starting point is going to be unique.
And you should also think about which class you’re planning to take. “The weight you use should correspond to the strength of the muscles you're working,” Ben says. “For example, your glutes are very powerful, so you can probably go pretty heavy with a weighted squat or deadlift. However, if you’re working your shoulders with a lateral or frontal raise, you may need to go lighter because it’s a smaller, weaker muscle group.” A good rule of thumb: Ben generally recommends using lighter weights for your biceps, triceps, and deltoids and heavier weights for your chest, legs, and back.
Focus on the Last Few Reps
The last couple repetitions of each set will clue you into if you’re using the correct weights, Ben says. “Your weight is too light if you don't start to struggle during those last few reps,” he explains. “You should start to feel the work from the very first rep, and your weights should really make you work for those last few, without compromising your form. If you feel like you have no problem getting to the end, it's probably too light.”
Try These Guidelines for Starters
For beginners, Ben recommends trying five to 10 pounds for light weights (but having two- or three-pound weights on hand for some arm exercises), 10 to 20 pounds for medium and 15 to 30 pounds for heavy—or simply starting with five-pound weights and working up from there. As a reference point, Ben uses 15- and 25-pound weights for both full-body and arms and shoulders classes, and 20- and 30-pound weights for glutes and legs workouts.
Don’t Forget to Switch It Up
Feeling the work and changing things up when it starts to feel easy is critical to achieving results. “By changing or progressing in your workouts, you'll keep your muscles challenged, and you'll get stronger,” Ben says. “In the beginning, you want to progress in range of motion and form. If you do the same workout you did the week before, but with better form, that’s progression. After proper form and full range of motion are established and ingrained, it’s time to worry about progressing in repetitions and weight.”
Join Ben in a strength class on the Peloton App today!