3 Common Dumbbell Mistakes & How to Properly Lift Weights


BY Erick Avila

Table of Contents

Dumbbells are one of the most popular pieces of exercise equipment because they allow us to overload the muscles, customize the range of motion on an exercise to suit our unique body types, and they don’t take up much gym space. We love dumbbells for all these reasons but there are some common mistakes that people make that prevent them from enjoying the full benefits of dumbbell exercises.

Luckily, 2x Ms. Figure Olympia Champion Erin Stern identified the 3 most common dumbbell mistakes and gave us pointers on how to avoid them.

Mistake #1 – Not Choosing the Proper Weight

You can go too light or too heavy on an exercise and not stimulate the muscle, failing to get the results you want. A good rule of thumb is to be between 1-4 reps from failure. Choose a weight that’s doable with proper form for those last few reps. As you get to those last 2-3 reps make sure that your mind-muscle connection is good, and you aren’t using momentum. Anything in the 5-30 rep range will be effective for building muscle if you’re within 1-4 reps of failure.

  • If I choose a weight that’s too light and I’m not going to accomplish anything because I can do it for more than 30 reps.
  • On the flipside, if I choose a weight that’s too heavy, I use momentum, my ego, and muscles I’m not intending to use. I’m sure you’ve seen it at the gym but don’t be that guy or girl.

Mistake #2 – Not Keeping Constant Tension on the Muscle

With dumbbells you want to be aware of your range of motion. Anytime that your arms go perpendicular to the ground you’ve lost tension as gravity has taken over. Stop just before your arms go perpendicular, constant tension is key when working with dumbbells. Pay attention, keep that mind-muscle connection, and tension on the muscle for best results.

Mistake #3 – Not Using Proper Form

With machines you have a set range of motion and set form. With dumbbells you don’t have that luxury so pay attention to your form. The great thing about free weights is that you can modify the movements, but the same principles apply.

Some general rules of thumb:

  • Keep your wrists straight.
  • Keep your spine neutral, core braced and back flat.
  • Your knees should always follow the direction of your toes.

We all love training with dumbbells, but they require a little more discipline. Be sure to leave your ego at the door and you’ll be amazed at the gains you’ll make.

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