Some popular exercise programs promise that dainty weights yield a dainty, feminine physique, but most personal trainers reject this notion and encourage their female clients to lift heavy weights for muscle toning. Despite the exclusive claims on each side, science supports both perspectives, with one critical caveat: You must exercise until you reach muscle failure. With light dumbbells, that process can take a lot longer -- think 50 biceps curls -- than lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions. But the time isn’t wasted; lifting lighter weights for a long time increases your strength and endurance.
Choose exercises that work smaller versus larger muscle groups, such as triceps instead of biceps. Bonus: Working your triceps helps you lose the pageant-wave arm waddle. Skull crushers target your triceps with minimal weight, so don't let the name scare you off. To perform, lie on your back with a dumbbell in each hand, arms outstretched to the ceiling. Keep your upper arm straight while bending your elbows and lowering the weights to either side of your head. Repeat until you reach muscle exhaustion.
Increase resistance by coupling dumbbells with your own body weight, which, no offense, weighs a whole lot more than 3 pounds. For example, perform side-lying leg lifts with the weight held on your top leg. To work your arms, hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms directly to your side and perform small arm circles. Don’t scoff at the exercise after just a few repetitions; keep going and you will feel it. Incorporate light dumbbells into your core workouts as well, holding them on your chest for crunches or on your hips for a glute bridge.
Slow down each move to speed up your results. Perform the lowering portion of the move for three seconds, hold an isometric contraction for one second, then contract for another three seconds followed by a one second hold. This slowed-down form of training increased muscle size when compared to the same volume of exercise performed at quicker speeds among participants in a study published in the April 2006 issue of the “Journal of Applied Physiology.”
Concentrate on the exercises you’re performing and the muscles you’re working to make the most out of each move. Sure, you might have to take your eyes off the cute guy pumping iron next to you, but you'll look better if you focus on your own workout. Don’t recruit other muscles or use momentum to assist with each exercise. If you just “go through the movements” you won’t see the results of your workouts.
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: Muscular Adaptations in Response to Three Different Resistance-Training Regimens: Specificity of Repetition Maximum Training Zones
- PLOS ONE: Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Effects of Low-Intensity Resistance Exercise With Slow Movement And Tonic Force Generation On Muscular Function In Young Men
- Couple the dumbbells in one hand to increase the resistance.
Pamela Ellgen began writing in 2000 for "The Asian Reporter" newspaper. She is an award-winning journalist and writes on religion, culture, health and fitness. Ellgen graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in writing from Washington State University and is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.