Beginner's Guide: Dumbbells - Reboot Fitness Coaching

Beginner’s Guide: Dumbbells

The dumbbell is one of the most known and easily recognisable bits of kit in the gym, and was probably the first bit of gym equipment I ever used (not that I knew what I was doing with it…). But if you’ve never used a dumbbell before… like me when I started, you might have some questions, namely: “What are they?”; “What can I do with them?”; and “what weight dumbbell should I start with?”.

Below I’ll break down everything you need to know about them, along with some examples of exercises you can easily do to get started with this piece of equipment.


Typically, dumbbells look something like this:

They’ll have a bar in the middle (for most exercises this is the bit you hold onto), and then weighted ends that get bigger and smaller depending on the overall weight of the dumbbell.

Just to keep you on your toes, you’ll get one’s that look like thin discs; some that look like round balls (although these are pretty old skool); others that are hexagonal; and loads of novelty one’s inbetween.

The shape isn’t (that) important. It’s the weight that you’ll want to pay attention to (hold your horses! We’ll get to that in a bit…). But why even use a dumbbell?


Strength training is a GREAT idea if you’re aiming to lose weight and more importantly do more with your body, and the dumbbell provides one of the best ways to strength train.

Here are some of the benefits of training with dumbbells:

1. You can work your limbs independently – Dumbbells let you do exercises that target each limb individually. The reason that’s great is that you make each arm or leg do it’s own work and don’t have one side compensating for the other. Having one giant arm is great for opening jars. Not so good for finding jumpers that fit…

2. You can move more freely – Using dumbbells allows you to adjust your hand position to make the exercise more comfortable/safe. A slight turn of the wrist when doing a dumbbell move can make the difference between: awkward, poorly executed reps that make you want to skip an exercise; and smooth, comfortable ones where you nail the move. Dumbbells let you make that adjustment.

3. Safer way to add weight – For some exercises, using dumbbells instead of barbells can be a safer option. Lets take single leg exercises for example. If you were to lose your balance… dropping some dumbbells on the floor is probably preferable to commando rolling out from under a barbell (less interesting to watch though I guess…)

4. Versatility – You can use dumbbells for hundreds of upper, lower and core movements. If the only kit you had was a few dumbbells (at an appropriate weight obviously…), you’d be pretty much set to train your entire body effectively.

5. Great if you’re short on space – Tying in with the point above, if you had one decent-sized dumbbell, you don’t necessarily need any other equipment. Therefore you don’t need much space to store stuff.

You don’t need much space to train in either. If you’ve got enough room to swing a cat (which is, of course, the universal way to measure space in a home), you’ve got enough room to do a full body dumbbell workout.


As I mentioned above there are hundreds of exercises you can do, but below I’ve shared 4 of the key ones you could use to to get you started.

1. Dumbbell Goblet Squat

2. Dumbbell Floor Press

3. Dumbbell Split Squat

4. Dumbbell Single Arm Row


In the Gym

The weight of dumbbell you’ll start with in the gym will depend largely on which exercise you’re doing and what your base level of strength is. You’ll be able to use more weight for the goblet squat than you can for a dumbbell floor press for instance.

So the easiest thing to do is:

  1. Pick the heaviest weight you can definitely lift for each exercise i.e. it feels pretty light.
  2. Do one set of 12 reps, and if it feels like you could do 2 or more additional reps, then go up to the next available dumbbell weight.
  3. After a short rest, perform another 12 reps and again, if it feels like you could do more than 2 additional reps, then go up a weight.
  4. You get the idea… repeat this until you’ve got to the point you think, you could only do 2 more reps at that weight.
  5. Not only will you be nice and warm (you’re welcome…😏), but you’ll know the weight you should start with. Make a note of it so you can use it again next time, and then build from there.

At Home

The key when choosing what dumbbell weight to start with at home is to pick weights that allow you to do a range of exercises. I’ve given suggestions of weights below, along with a link of where to get them. If you can get all 3 this will give you the most options as far as exercises you can do for both upper and lower body.

[N.B: These are affiliate links, meaning I will get a small percentage of the sale should you choose to buy any of the products. I’ve chosen the products in each link based on their price (obviously the lower the better) and their ratings (4 star at the very least, with a high number of reviews). But all I’m really fussed about is you get some decent kit to use at home, so feel free to search for items on Amazon yourself  if you don’t like the one I’ve suggested. The product price may change from when I originally publish this article, so it’s a good idea to have a little shop around anyway.

I’d also recommend asking around locally, or looking on your local selling groups to see if anyone is selling some. It may be a cheaper alternative to buying brand new.]

For most men*, I recommend getting these three weights:

===> 10kg Dumbbell

===> 15kg Dumbbell

===> 17.5kg Dumbbell

For most women*, I recommend getting these three:

===> 5kg Dumbbell

===> 10kg Dumbbell

===> 15kg Dumbbell

*The differences in weight suggested above are purely based on average body size difference between the sexes and are a starting point. Of course, the weight someone can handle will vary from person to person based on a number of factors, so just use these as a baseline, and you can adjust as you get stronger.

If you really want to push the boat out and have the most flexible option possible, then there are adjustable dumbbells which can give you a full range of  weights. The one linked below can give you the full range of 2kg through to 24kg (15 weights in one). This is obviously great for saving space (like I mentioned earlier), but more importantly gives you the greatest versatility in terms of weight:

===> Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbell


Get to it and start giving those exercises a try!

If you’re unsure about getting started working with dumbbells (or any other equipment for that matter), and want to get going with strength training, head HERE to find out more about how I can help you get started.


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About the Author Alvin Nurse

Alvin runs Reboot Fitness Coaching and has been a Fitness Coach since 2010. When not helping awesome people in their 30s rejuvenate their bodies, you'll find him listening to music, chasing a ball, or avoiding runny yolks...

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