How Much Weight Should I Lift? (And When Should I Increase or Decrease?)


By Takia McClendon

If you’re a member of City Fit Girls Strength Club, you’ve become very friendly with our favorite free weight, the dumbbell. Utilizing dumbbells in your workouts can help increase strength, grow muscle, and improve your athletic performance.

Keep reading to learn more about increasing/decreasing weight and incorporating other free weights into your routine.

How Much Weight Should I Start With?

One of the most common questions we get from City Fit Girls Strength Club members is “how much weight should I be lifting?”

While the answer to this question will vary from person to person, we recommend starting with at least two 10lb, 12lb or 15lbs dumbbells.

What If I’m Brand New to Strength Training? If you are brand new to strength training or suffering from an injury, you can incorporate resistance bands in your training until you build enough strength to use dumbbells. [We also recommend seeing a doctor and getting cleared for strength training]

When Should I Begin To Increase? And By How Much?

If you find that your reps are too easy and your technique is perfect, it may be time to increase your load. One of the best ways to gauge your readiness is to assess how you feel during your last few reps in an exercise. If you get to the end of a workout and you feel like it was too easy, add more weight (BUT NOT TOO MUCH).

So…How Much Exactly? It depends. Increase your dumbbell load slowly and in small increments, think 12lbs to 15lb or 20lbs to 25lbs, over time. Remember, we’re in this for the long haul so there’s no need to jump from 10lbs to 50lbs.

Why Do I Need To Increase Weight? Two words: Progressive Overload. In order to continue to build strength, you should increase or decrease one (or all) of the following:

  • Reps

  • Intensity

  • Load

  • Effort

  • Time under tension

Since members of City Fit Girls Strength Club start at different abilities, the easiest way to progress using dumbbells is by adding more weight to your load.

But! And there’s a strong but - We don’t recommend increasing your load until you feel great about your form, technique and range of motion.

When Should I Decrease Weight?

When you feel pain or severe discomfort: You will likely feel some discomfort when you increase your load but pain is not normal and may lead to injury. Scale back until you’re ready to increase. You may also want to see a doctor.

When You’re Injured: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Again, please go see a doctor.

When You’re Deloading: During any type of training program, we recommend decreasing your load (deloading) to give your body a bit of much needed rest and recovery. Every 6-8 weeks or so, scale back your lbs lifted before increasing your weight again. This will help prevent plateauing and reduce your risk of injury and overtraining.

When You’re Training for Strength Endurance: When training for strength endurance, you’ll see reps in the 15-20 range. You’ll want to use a lighter load to perform these movements.

How To Progress Beyond The Dumbbell

While the dumbbell will always in our program, you can include other training modalities to help you increase weight in addition to your dumbbell training:

  • Bodyweight: Although they don’t require free weights, movements like the push-up and pull-up can be more difficult to perform than a bench press or row.

  • Kettlebells: The kettlebell is a flat-bottomed cast iron ball with a handle. It differs from the dumbbell because the center of mass is away from the handle. This may require a bit more strength, coordination and stabilization than dumbbells. For technique and endurance, start with a 10lb-15lb kettlebell, for strengthening, use at least 20lb-50lbs.

  • Hex/Trap Bar: If the dumbbell is our favorite free weight, the trap bar is definitely our second favorite. This is a great tool to use for deadlifts and farmer’s carries. The bar itself is already pretty heavy so we’d recommend mastering the dumbbell Romanian Deadlift before progressing to the trap bar.

  • Barbell: As we progress in City Fit Girls Strength Club, we will incorporate barbell weight lifting in the programming. The barbell is a great way to challenge our central nervous system which leads to building muscle, developing coordination and increasing motor recruitment.

Where Can I Get A Good Set of Dumbbells?

You should be able to get a set of dumbbells from your local sporting goods store, Target or online. Here are a few options:

P.S. When your purchase dumbbells, be sure to purchase a “set” or “pair”.