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TLDR: I'm significantly shorter than an average man. How should I (or Should I) take this into account when choosing my weights?

I'm an absolute beginner who has recently started exercising with dumbbells at home. I don't have any specific goal in my mind. I just figured that I should do some home exercises in order to stay healthy.

But I'm also a very short man, 161cm (5.1") tall to be specific. This is way shorter than an average man is in my country (179cm or 5.8"). In fact, it's actually even shorter than an average woman is here (166cm or 5.4")! The size difference between myself and an average man is so big that I just find it hard to believe that I should be comparing myself to that standard.

So, what adjustments (if any) should I take, when I read articles about dumbbell weights?

For example, I came across an article which said that a good starting weight for men is around 2.5kg - 5.0kg, then how should I modify this recommendation to make it more applicable to my "rather unique stature"? Does it make sense to me take these numbers with the face value or should I round these numbers down by default?

It has crossed my mind that maybe I should look more into women standards, but I guess the physiological differences (fat percentage, testosterone, etc) are still working for my advantage so this would be a false comparison and I should hold myself up to higher standard.

I guess the absolutely correct answer is that "I shouldn't compare myself to others and I should use the weights I'm personally comfortable with. I'm competing against myself, not against others."

But if I want to check if my body is as strong and healthy as man in his thirties should be, then what adjustments (if any) should I make to the numbers I happened to come across?

Thank you in advance.

  • Do you have any conditions that might cause dwarfism? Apparently the typical definition for it is someone shorter than 4'10" as an adult according to Wikipedia, and you're not too much taller than that. – nick012000 Sep 8 at 4:07
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    No, I'm just very short – TukeV Sep 8 at 6:11
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    You might consider calisthenics. It is much easier for short people to achieve bodyweight strength skills such as one arm chinups, planche, levers, human flag, etc. You might find that it is more fun that weightlifting as well. – Steven Gubkin Sep 8 at 20:00
  • Good advice, I didn't know calisthenics was a thing, although after reading wikiepdia article it seems I was already doing some calisthenic exercies. My goal was never weightlifting itself, but create myself a good home routine to follow. I will look into calisthenics more, but IMHO your suggestions are way, WAY too ambitious for me at least for now. – TukeV Sep 9 at 9:25
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I came across an article which said that a good starting weight for men is around 2.5kg - 5.0kg, then how should I modify this recommendation to make it more applicable to my "rather unique stature"? Does it make sense to me take these numbers with the face value or should I round these numbers down by default?

In other circumstances it may make sense to round down absolute kilogram recommendations. For a starting weight, 5kg dumbbells are already quite light for most adults. This is fine.

You are correct that your hormonal advantages make the use of women's standards inappropriate.

If I want to check if my body is as strong and healthy as man in his thirties should be, then what adjustments (if any) should I make to the numbers I happened to come across?

Search for recommendations based on your bodyweight rather than absolute values. For instance in the world of barbells, being able to squat a bar equaling your bodyweight is a good first goal, and a double bodyweight deadlift is a good medium-term goal. If you're focused on dumbbells then pressing one-quarter bodyweight overhead with each hand is a good near-to-medium goal.

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  • Yes, if the fitness test is against my own weight then the size difference is already baked into the test. A nerd like me might start to speculate if the "square cube law" would kick in, but let's be real, that's a question for philosophers ;) – TukeV Sep 7 at 16:01
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Leverage

Dave Liepmann gave an excellent answer about scaling your resistance to your body weight. Note that doing so most likely gives you an advantage rather than a disadvantage, because:

  1. Your limbs have a shorter distance to travel, unless they are disproportionately long for your height
  2. Shorter limbs == shorter moment arm, for any motion that is cantilevered (like shoulder raises, curls, etc.)
  3. Shorter limbs == better muscle leverage

I have a long torso for my height, with correspondingly shorter legs and arms. I believe this gives me more leverage than the average man my height, which actually makes me appear stronger than I otherwise would be. The difference is probably very small, but quite noticeable compared to my tall, gangly, long-limbed friends.

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    I had already read something along those lines. There's also the fact that muscle strength is directly related to it's cross-sectional area, so the square cube law would also work in my favor. However, while these advantages might make me appear stronger relative to my body weight, it still doesn't make too much sense to compare my absolute strength to the absolute strength of an average man. Hence the question. – TukeV Sep 8 at 7:10

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