A Bad Lifter Blames Their Dumbells: How To Lift Dumbbells Safely And Avoid Injury


woman lifting dumbbell

There is no such thing as a dumbbell injury caused by a dumbbell. Only people are responsible for dumbbell related accidents. In this post, we are going to go through some of the most common dumbbell injuries and how to avoid them. One of the good things about dumbbell safety is that a lot of the advice applies to all circumstances, so you do not need to memorise a long list of health and safety rules. By putting a few reasonable steps in place and treating equipment with respect, you should avoid the majority of gym incidents.

Minor injuries

Thumb injuries are one of the most common minor injuries that people incur when using dumbbells. They generally result from hammer curls, rather than standard curls, because of the placement of the thumb. Hammer curls are also liable to cause forearm and elbow pain. The problem is not the move itself, it is when the dumbbell slips from your control, resulting in adverse pressure on the tendon that connects to the thumb.

This is not to say that the standard curl is any safer. Wrist injuries are more prevalent with standard curls because of the increased weight on the wrist. This can strain the tendon or even sprain it. Whichever move you are performing, the key to avoiding injury is to not rush your reps, to choose your weights appropriately, and to spend time on your form. If you do pick up an injury, stop training immediately – a few weeks off to heal is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Ibuprofen, as an anti-inflammatory, can be used to manage any pain.


A common cause of injury is an overextension of the joint. This can occur after one incidence of overextension, or it can accumulate over time. It can result in damage to a muscle or tendon or damage to a ligament, depending on the area you are training. Injuries caused by overextension are entirely preventable if you pay attention to your form. When performing curls, try to keep your wrist straight and hold it firmly in position throughout the move. If you struggle to do this, go down weight. It is better to perform a lighter safe set than risk hurting yourself.

You can also train your wrist using a dumbbell to build strength in this area. This type of strength training can be a bit boring because, unlike when training your arms or chest, the payoff is not visible. However, the true gains lie in the increased ability to safely perform curls, which will support your overall fitness goals.

To train your wrist, place your forearm on your thigh with your palm facing upwards while holding a dumbbell. Your wrist should be far enough forward that it is not being supported by your thigh. Tilt your wrist to roll the weight forwards towards your fingers, then lift the weight up. An instructional video can be found here.

Another way to build strength in your wrist is to squeeze a grip ball (AKA resistance ball or stress ball). Treat this like any other strength exercise by doing 10-15 reps and multiple sets. A great thing about this exercise is that the balls are easy to transport. You can keep one on your office desk and easily perform a few while reading your emails.

Serious injuries

Bad lifting dumbbell - serious injury

A tendon runs from the bicep muscle of your arm down to the forearm. A bicep tendon rupture can occur if you overload your weight or lose control of the weight causing it to suddenly drop. Tearing a tendon is one of the more painful injuries and it takes a while to heal. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to re-attach the tendon to the muscle.

Prevention, however, is quite easy. Stretch your muscles to warm up before a workout. Be sensible about your weight choices and only even increase your weight in small intervals. Do not rush your reps. When working with heavier loads, have a buddy there to quickly intervene if things go wrong.

A pectoral injury is another one that can be seriously painful. This occurs when the chest muscle, or the tendon which connects to the upper arm, is torn. It typically happens when a person is performing a bench press, or a dumbbell fly, and is overloading the weight or they lose control of it. It is also possible to pick up a glenoid labral tear this way, which results in damage to the surrounding soft tissue of the shoulder socket. The preventative advice is the same as that for a bicep tendon rupture, above.

Safety first

The safety rules of the gym are simple but if you fail to obey them then you can end up seriously injured. Get in contact with us if you have any further questions.

Tom Armstrong

Hey! I've been training in all kinds of places, with all kinds of equipment for the best part of 30 years. I love training with my weights at home and writing about new products and training methods online. Well, with a name like Armstrong, I would have to be into training, right?