It doesn't make any sense. I did 7 sets of 4 reps with 45 lb dumbbells each hand yesterday and today I tried to do a set with 50 lbs each hand for 2 reps and I couldn't do 2. I could only do 1 before getting stuck on the second (midway if that matters).

What am I doing wrong?

2 Answers 2


Overhead work does tend to be more difficult to progress in than anything else. First thing you'll need to understand is the concept of equivalent effort. It's one way that many lifter's track progress, and decide if that 8 RM (Rep Max) was really a better effort than last month's 5 RM.

All of these are roughly equal effort to a 1 rep max:

  • 95%, 2 reps
  • 90%, 3 reps
  • 87.5%, 4 reps
  • 85%, 5 reps
  • 80%, 8 reps
  • 75%, 10 reps
  • 70%, 12 reps

Now, if we do the math on the increase of weight we find:

45 / 50 = 0.9 = 90%

You've just jumped up with roughly a 10% increase. When we account for the reps, we see that what we can best expect for a new 1 RM is:

45 / .875 = 51.4 lbs

(when figuring out an expected 1RM, divide by the percentage for equivalent effort).

Most of the time we do better with a 5% increase or lower. As the weights get heavier the jumps are a lower percentage. For example, jumping from 85 lbs to 90 lbs is just over a 5% increase and won't feel as incredibly difficult.

Dumbbells are a challenge because above 10-15 lbs the increases are all 5 lb jumps.

Recommended change

Until you can work with much heavier dumbbells you are probably going to have to push your reps more.

Go for at least 5 reps in a row if you want to be able to hit 50 lbs by 2. Personally, I find pushing my reps out to 8 before going up in weight works out better for me.

50 / .95 = 52.6 lbs (target max)

45 / .85 = 52.9 lbs (should barely be able to get 2 at 50)

45 / .8 = 56.2 lbs (should easily make that 2 at 50)

Overshooting your effort with a lower weight gives more room to work with a heavier weight. It also helps build momentum that will keep you more motivated.

Also Review Your Technique

Video yourself. You'll find you can put more weight in your hands by getting better than you can just by working harder.

  • I definitely agree with pushing the reps out to 8 for at least dumbbell presses. I personally find high(er) volume per set works best for dumbbell progression after a while.
    – Alex L
    Nov 24, 2015 at 21:44

Your first mistake was expecting progress after 1 day.

Your second mistake was doing the same exercise two days in a row.

After that, I can only guess about your form, but standing overhead press is usually something that doesn't come very naturally, so you will most likely have some mistakes there if you haven't recieved any guidance.

  • I try to use Pavel's GTG program with weightlifting... At what one point can I consider myself ready for heavier dumbbells? How important is for dumbell overhead presses?
    – moh abdi
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:49
  • I'm sure it's a great program, but how long do you think you can expect to have 5lb progress every day?
    – Alec
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:51
  • I think there's a misunderstanding. I started with sets of 2 reps(45), for about 4 days , then sets of 3 reps for 4 days and then progressed to sets of 4 reps for about a week. Yesterday was supposed to be the last day with sets of 4. I certainly don't expect 5lbs progress each day.
    – moh abdi
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:55
  • 2
    Then you've not given us a lot of information. You say you're following the program, and you ask what you're doing wrong. Obviously, you've stagnated, or you're not giving your muscles enough rest between workouts.
    – Alec
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:58
  • 1
    But my point stands. You don't get measurably stronger over the course of one week.
    – Alec
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:59

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