How Many Sets of Dumbbells to Do Per Day

Start with a light weight if you're not sure how much to lift at first.
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Adding weight training to your exercise routine offers a number of benefits, including stronger muscles, stronger bones and an overall toned appearance. While free weights or weight machines are viable ways to strength train, it's also possible to use dumbbells for a total-body weights workout. The trick is knowing how many sets and repetitions of each exercise to do. Fortunately though, health experts have some very clear guidelines about what you should be doing.

Exercise Recommendations

First off, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic conditioning and strength training two days a week. The strength-training sessions should work all the major muscle groups. When it comes to scheduling your workouts throughout the week, you can either do all of the strength-training sets in one session or you can break it up into multiple days, doing upper-body on one day and then lower-body the next day, for example. Even with that type of workout, you'll only need to do strength training four days a week and not every day. Also keep in mind that your muscles need time to recover following a strength-training workout, so always give yourself at least 24 hours' rest in between working the same muscles.

Dumbbell Exercises

According to the CDC, the exercises you do as part of your strength-training sessions should include exercises for the arms, shoulders, chest, abs, back, legs and hips. This list includes seven areas of the body -- but that doesn't mean you'll only need to do seven individual exercises. The arms, for example, include the triceps at the backs of the arms, the biceps near the front of the arms, as well as the forearm muscles. To work each of these muscles, you could do bicep curls for the biceps, triceps kickbacks for the triceps and hammer curls for the forearm muscles.

Repetitions and Sets

Once you've determined which exercises you're going to do, you may be surprised to know that you don't have to do a high number of sets and repetitions in order to get the benefits of strength training. According to Mayo Clinic's Dr. Edward Laskowski, most people only need to do a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise in order to fully work the muscle. That comes with a very big condition, however. That single set has to work your muscles to fatigue, meaning you'll barely be able to lift the dumbbell during the last few repetitions. That's when a set of variable-weight dumbbells is necessary, since you may be able to lift different amounts of weight with different muscles. Athletes and people training for a special event can also do two or three sets, advises Dr. Laskowski.

Adding Weight

If you stick to your dumbbell routine, eventually you'll find that the sets that once caused you to be fatigued will no longer do so. That's when you might be tempted to move up to doing a second set of each exercise -- which is not going to hurt you per se -- but it may not do as much good as moving up in weight. Every week or so, move up to a heavier dumbbell, increasing the weight you're lifting by 5 to 10 percent each week, advises Yale Medical Group.

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