Dumbbells don't get a lot of respect in the gym. After all, there are tons of other options and shiny new machines just begging for your attention. But dumbbells give you a range of motion that weight lifting machines can't match, so they should make up a part of your strength training plan. If you're looking for gains over the course of a month, dumbbells can be your best friend, since they're easy to use and readily available for you to nail your strength training goals.
Dumbbells are among some of the most common workout equipment, but you'll need to make sure you pick the right ones for your purposes. If you're a beginner, fixed-weight dumbbells in smaller increments work well. If you're getting more serious about your lifting and need the capacity for heavier weights, you can save yourself space by using variable dumbbells, which allow you to change the weight on the same shaft. In general, the right weight should cause you to "burn out" -- feel fatigued -- in between eight and 12 reps. If you can't reach eight reps, the weight may be too heavy. If you can do more than 12, you may have chosen a weight that's too light.
Of course, if you're working out in a gym, you'll have various weights of dumbbells available to you. Just make sure that they're clean and dry before you start lifting.
Let's get one thing straight: A month of working out with dumbbells won't take you from Olive Oyl to Popeye status when it comes to muscle mass. It's important to make realistic goals for the month that are challenging, but still reachable. After a month of strength training, you should see more toned muscles and the ability to lift heavier loads. Create a set of goals -- such as going from 5 pounds to 8 pounds for tricep extensions and hitting 10 pounds for bicep curls -- and work steadily throughout the month to attain those goals.
It's best to keep strength training to three times per week, so you have a day in between for recovery. Still, recovery days don't mean lazy days -- use them for cardio, yoga or another type of exercise. On your strength training days, choose a muscle group and use your dumbbells to tone up. For instance, on chest and back days, use dumbbells for flies, chest presses and lateral raises. On the arm day, go for bicep curls, triceps kickbacks and preacher curls. If you're not sure how much weight you should be lifting, remember that you should be burned out after 10 to 12 reps. If you can't reach that many, you're lifting too heavy. If you can surpass that number, you could be lifting too light.
If your goal is a month long, make sure you keep track of what you're doing, how many reps you were able to do and how heavy you were lifting. A simple calendar is all you need to scribble down the details of each workout. Make sure you hit the following muscle groups: chest and back, arms and shoulders, core and lower body. By focusing on one muscle group per workout, you keep your training program running smoothly while giving your muscles time to recoup after each workout.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.