Last updated on October 31st, 2022 at 04:18 pm
Have you ever wondered, “Why Do Some Dumbbells Feel Heavier?”
You know what I mean, you smash out set after set with dumbbells in the gym.
But, when it comes to using the exact same weight at home you find it a real struggle to get anywhere near as many reps.
Then again, perhaps you go from gym to gym.
At one gym the weights feel easy, whereas at another the same size dumbbells feel near to impossible to lift.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Why Do Some Dumbbells Feel Heavier?
The reason some dumbbells feel heavier than others is usually more psychological than physical. The difference between training at home and the gym is that you’ll typically have a better warm up and feel more enthused to workout at the gym. Plus, the limited space you have at home can also be a factor. From gym to gym, a difference in handle thickness will work the forearms more, thus making a dumbbell seem heavier. However, depending on how the dumbbells were made there could be an accuracy tolerance of up to 15%.
1. Working Out at Home vs. The Gym
I’ll admit that some dumbbells may actually be heavier than others, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
However, by-and-large the main reason that some dumbbells “feel” heavier is due to psychological factors.
This is especially true when you train with dumbbells both at home and in the gym.
Firstly, the atmosphere in the gym is very different from when you’re at home.
You typically feel more pumped and have more adrenaline coursing through your veins.
The simple fact that there’s music blasting out of the speakers, the gym is packed, there’s lots of noise, and maybe even that your gym buddies are there to train with you.
All of these things have a way of really getting you into the mood to train.
Now I’m not saying that you won’t be as enthusiastic to train at home.
But the mind is a powerful thing, and these small psychological tricks can make all the difference.
Your Workout is Slightly Different at Home
I’ll also say that we all tend to warm up a little better at the gym.
You’re probably used to spending a good 10 minutes or so warming up, the blood is flowing through your body, and the muscles are alert and ready.
Whereas, your home warm up may only consist of a few quick bodyweight exercises and youre good to go.
I don’t know about you, but I know I’m normally ready to start lifting within a minute or two when at home.
Basically, the more mobile and flexible the body, as well as having the muscles engorged with blood, will typically lead to you lifting better.
Finally, the limited space you generally have at home can also make those dumbbells feel just that slight bit heavier.
You’re worried about hitting the light fittings with your overhead press.
You don’t want to scrape your elbows or the dumbbells against anything while you bench.
Plus, you definitely don’t want to drop the weights onto the floor in the same manner that you do in the gym.
As weird as it sounds, this nervousness can impact your training session.
In other words, you tend to feel far more relaxed about the equipment in the gym.
So, the difference in your state of mind can certainly make the dumbbells far easier to lift in the gym environment.
As I say, the mind is a powerful thing.
2. Is There a Difference in Handle Thickness?
Okay, so a different environment can play tricks on the mind.
But what if the dumbbells feel different from gym to gym?
One of the first things that I always look at is the thickness of the handles of dumbbells.
Realistically, irrespective of what material a dumbbell is made from, the weight should be the same.
Dumbbells are typically made from either metal, rubber, or neoprene.
So, whereas the metal dumbbells make look heavier due to their appearance, this obviously shouldn’t be the case.
Let’s face facts, a 10kg dumbbell should be a 10kg dumbbell regardless of what material it has been constructed from.
However, something that isn’t always the same is the thickness of the handles.
In effect, a thicker handle almost turns the dumbbell into a fat gripz.
So, for the vast majority of exercises being performed with a thicker handle the forearms will be getting more of a workout.
This could lead to the forearms tiring quicker, thus making it seem as though the weight is heavier.
I know in my own gym we have two different types of dumbbells.
Firstly, there is the chrome dumbbell set and then the standard commercial gym dumbbells, typically made from steel with polyurethane coating on the actual weight plates.
The chrome dumbbells definitely have thinner handles and they certainly feel slightly lighter than the other dumbbells.
Plus, the standard gym dumbbells also have knurled handles.
This ensures that you can also get a firm and comfortable grip.
So, it makes no difference how sweaty your hands get, those dumbbells aren’t going anywhere.
The same cannot be said for the smooth handles on the chrome dumbbells.
3. It Depends on How the Dumbbells Were Made
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for.
An answer that tells you that you’re not going crazy.
And that actually some dumbbells of the “same weight” can actually be heavier than others.
The actual “weight” of a dumbbell can vary depending on who manufactured it and exactly how it was made.
And this difference can actually be fairly significant.
The vast majority of rubber coated dumbbells are made with sand casting.
This means that the only part of the dumbbell that is machined is the hole.
It is the hole that is used to either fill up or reduce the sand held inside the weight.
Unfortunately, it has been said that the rubber coated dumbbells that are manufactured can have an accuracy tolerance of up to 15%.
Now that’s huge.
This could mean that the 100lb dumbbells you’re trying to bench could in effect be as heavy as 115lbs.
I’m sure you’ll agree that you’ll typically notice this immediately.
However, most other types of dumbbells are machined and casted in exactly the same way, so they should be as near as possible to the exact weight.
With that being said, they still have an accuracy tolerance of anywhere between 3-5%.
So, once again, one dumbbell could actually be heavier, but the difference probably isn’t as noticeable.
I have personally read of a gym owner telling his clients that the heaviest dumbbells of 145lbs were probably nearer to 165lbs in weight.
In reality, you probably won’t find such a huge discrepancy from gym to gym, but it can obviously happen.
Personally, I wouldn’t expect most gyms to have a difference in weight of much more than 3lbs.
However, it’s interesting to note that occasionally some dumbbells of the “same weight” could actually be heavier.
Making The World’s Heaviest Dumbbell (420lbs)
So, as you can see it is possible that some dumbbells may indeed be heavier than others.
And this will depend on who made the dumbbells and how they were made.
However, in truth, any perceived difference is usually down to psychological reasons.
And this is especially true when you’re training at home compared to the gym environment.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.