# Can I use slightly unbalanced dumbbells?

Let's say on one side of the dumbbell I got 12 pounds, and on other I got 16 pounds. (I got dumbbells with 2 extra weights of 4 pounds...)

Is it bad to add those 2 extra weights to 2 dumbbells on one of their sides?

• Is there any particular reason you're considering this? I can't think of any benefit you'd get from doing exercises with unbalanced dumbbells. It just seems like it would make them harder to balance, make it more difficult to perform exercises correctly and increase your risk of injury. Oct 25 '13 at 9:47
• @AnthonyGrist I guess because this allows for smaller increments. Oct 25 '13 at 15:41
• As I'm reading this, your dumbbell is four pounds heavier on one side. If that's correct, I am thinking you'll mess your wrists up trying to balance the weight. May 19 '20 at 17:53

## 4 Answers

Sounds like a variation of unilateral work. The important aspect of unilateral work, or uneven loading, is that you switch hands and perform the same amount of work with the other side.

Let's say you are doing shoulder presses with those weights. You'll want to make sure of the following:

• Even number of sets with the same number of reps for each pair of sets.
• Each set you switch the hand that has the heavier dumbbell (or that has a dumbbell in unilateral work)

So if your goal is 3 sets of 8, you will end up doing 6 sets of 8. First set the left hand has the heavy dumbbell, the second set the right has the heavy dumbbell.

In the end, it's preferable to do true unilateral work than use uneven loading.

If the dumbbell has uneven weight at each end, the applications are a bit more limited. It can work for exercises like hammer curls, but presses of any sort may be thrown off.

Any exercise where the orientation of the dumbbell is perpendicular to the floor should be mostly unaffected (total weight of the dumbbell is pulling the same).

Any exercise where the orientation of the dumbbell is parallel with the floor will be affected (total weight of the dumbbell is pulling differently). This can affect balance issues, and potentially put more strain on your joints that wouldn't be there with a balanced dumbbell.

• I interpreted it as using two dumbbells of equal weight, but for each of the dumbbells the amount of weight on either end of the handle was different. From your answer I think you've interpreted it a different way (two dumbbells each of a different weight, but an equal amount of either end of the handle)? Oct 25 '13 at 15:04
• True. That's how I read it at first. All add to the answer to address the other interpretation. Oct 25 '13 at 15:26
• This answers a question I wanted to ask, so I upvoted. Nov 18 '20 at 8:18

I wouldn't advise you to exercise like that. Even if you switch hands on each set it will still be uncertain what results you will get out of it.

The only proper solution to your problem would be to use only one dumbbell during your workout. Go for one hand at a time and then do the other. For the first 2 years of my training I had only one dumbbell at home before I started going to the gym and that's how I would workout. Yes it would take a little bit more time to finish a workout but there won't be any negative side effects.

Yes, you can. It is called Offset Loading, and you can read more about it on T-Nation

In summary (direct from the article linked above):

• Offset loading is using a higher load on one side of the body. The greater the difference in resistance from one side to the other, the greater the offset and the greater the demands on stability.
• Breakdowns occur when a weak core prevents you from applying all the force you can generate to the bar. The use of offset loading can help place a higher demand on core function.

When you miss a rep or find yourself not being able to push more weight, energy is not only lost anteriorly and posteriorly, but also laterally and rotationally. Your trunk rotates and your knees buckle, causing energy to be lost and force to be dissipated before it can reach the bar.

These lateral and rotational breakdowns aren't fully addressed through typical loading, but using offset loads can help by developing greater core stability and strength, which provides a base for more force transfer, more strength, and ultimately what we're all chasing – bigger numbers with our main lifts.

Setting Up Offset Loads

At its simplest, offset loading is using a higher load on one side of the body. This can be accomplished by holding a heavier weight in one hand compared to the other, holding weight only on one side of the body, or loading a bar more on one side. The greater the difference in resistance from one side to the other, the greater the offset and the greater the demands on stability.

How to Program Offset Loads

You should still have the main lifts as your base when implementing offset loads into your program. You can decrease the intensity of the main lifts slightly and move the weight quicker (less weight, more speed), or at least not try to push a new PR right away as you introduce the offset loads.

The exercises in which you use the offset loads should be the second or third exercises in your program (i.e., your B1, B2, C1, or C2 exercises). They're not meant to replace the main lifts but supplement them, and are best performed with reps in the 6-12 range.

Sample two-day full body program

Day 1

Exercise / Sets / Reps

A1. Trap-Bar Deadlift / 4 / 5-6

A2. Incline Barbell Bench / 4 / 5-6

B1. Single-Arm Dumbbell Walking Lunge / 3-4 / 8^ - Hold the dumbbell in one hand and complete 8 reps, then switch hands and complete 8 more reps.

B2. TRX Inverted Row / 3-4 / 8

C1. Glute-Ham Raise / 3 / 10

C2. Single-Arm Bent Over Dumbbell Row / 3 / 8^^ - Hinge at the hips and maintain a neutral spine as you row a dumbbell with one hand for 8 reps before switching to the other. Don't allow yourself to rotate or side bend.

D. Offset Dumbbell Farmers Walk / 3-5 / 40-50y. - Hold the heaviest weight you can in one hand and one roughly 25% lighter in the other for 40-50 yards and then switch hands and repeat for another 40-50 yards.

^ per hand

^^ per side

Day 2

Exercise / Sets / Reps

A1. Front Squat to Box / 4 / 5-6

A2. Pull-Up / 4 / 5-6

B1. Offset Single Dumbbell Leg Deadlift / 3-4 / 8^ - Hold a heavier dumbbell in the hand on the opposite side of the down leg and a lighter dumbbell (roughly 25% lighter) in the hand of the same side of the down leg.

B2. Single-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Press / 3-4 / 8^^

C1. Offset Step Dumbbell Step Up / 3 / 8^^ - Hold a heavier dumbbell in the hand on the opposite side of the down leg and a lighter dumbbell (roughly 25% lighter) in the hand of the same side of the down leg.

C2. Single-Leg Push Up / 3 / 6^^

D. Offset Dumbbell Farmers Walk / 3-5 / 40-50y. - Hold the heaviest weight you can in one hand and roughly 25% lighter in the other for 40-50 yards. Switch hands and repeat for another 40-50 yards.

^ per hand

^^ per side

• Can you explain and summarize the article here, so that if the link goes away the information remains?
– JohnP
Oct 30 '13 at 18:43
• Yes, done. If someone would like format it better, please feel free!
– pook
Oct 31 '13 at 7:43

I think it would depend on your goal of the training session. Uneven weight on the dumbbell can create a bias towards certain movements. You can use it to work a muscle harder, activate a muscle that you have been neglecting. It can be a good way to train the neuromuscular connection. For example, in the case of a standing bicep curl, an unbalanced dumbbell can work the biceps more. The side of the dumbbell nearer to your body (medial side) will be heavier than the side further away from your body (lateral side). You will try to perform a normal Bicep curl (palms facing forward or towards your body at the start of the movement, and then curl with palms facing up). This can work your biceps harder as they supinate your forearm (rotate your forearm away from your body). So the heavier weight on the medial side of the dumbbell can further work your biceps more.

I guess uneven weighted dumbbells are pretty alright as long as it is safe. I wouldn’t recommend for barbell work on compound lifts. Seems a little dangerous, your muscular control have to be pretty good. Another common way to train muscles that are not performing is to use resistance bands to apply an opposing force to the muscle’s function - e.g. bands around the knees during a squat to activate the glutes