When you're looking to tone your muscles, lifting weights is a good idea. Lifting weights helps you build muscle, and on top of that, muscle burns calories more efficiently than fat, according to MayoClinic.com. That means the more muscle you have, the faster you'll burn fat, which can make those toned muscles show even more. If you choose to use dumbbells to tone your muscles, take some time to figure out the most effective amount of weight for each type of exercise, which can help you achieve your fitness goals faster.
You can use your dumbbells for a number of different exercises for both the arms and legs. For arms, you'll be able to do biceps curls, hammer curls, triceps extensions, bench presses and lateral side raises, to name a few. For the legs, you can hold a set of dumbbells while you do lunges and squats, as well as during shoulder lifts or toe raises. Since you're going to be using different muscle groups for each of these exercises, each one may require a different amount of weight to get the best possible results. If you're not pushing your muscles each time and are using light weights, you're not going to continue to build muscle over time. That's where strength testing for each exercise comes into play.
Method 1: One-Rep Testing
A common method of determining how much weight you should lift for each exercise is called the "one rep" test. The idea is to find out the maximum amount you can lift for one repetition, and then base your regular lifting schedule on a percentage of that. For toning, you should be lifting about 70 percent of your maximum, according to BodyBuilding.com. At your local gym or fitness center, pick up a set of dumbbells that seems pretty heavy; if you're used to using the 5-pound weights for biceps curls, pick up a 30 pounder. Try to do one repetition with that dumbbell; if you can do it, but it's really tough to finish, you've found your max. If it seems easy, take a short break and then try a heavier weight. When you find the dumbbell that is really tough to lift, but you can successfully do one rep, you've found your one-rep max. Multiply that number by 0.7 to find the ideal weight you should lift for toning.
Method 2: Multiple Sets
Another option for finding your ideal dumbbell weight is to complete two sets of an exercise -- which could take more trial and error and more time than the one-rep test. Pick a weight that seems heavy, but that you feel you can lift a number of times with effort. Do one set of eight to 12 repetitions -- which should feel difficult to do but not impossible -- and take a 30-second break. Then do a second set. The second time, you should feel very fatigued on the last few repetitions, and possibly not able to complete the last rep. When you're working your muscles to fatigue like this, you've found your ideal weight -- for now.
Once you've determined how much weight you should be lifting, complete two sets of eight to 12 repetitions with those dumbbells, two or three times a week. As you get stronger and start to see improved muscle tone, you're going to need to challenge your muscles even further to continue seeing results. After a few weeks, add a third set into your routine. When you're able to complete three sets and you've started to lose that sense of fatigue at the end of the set, it's time to move up in weight again, adding 1 pound, 2 pounds or 5 pounds each time.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.