Many exercisers refer to small dumbbells as hand weights.
Hand weights and dumbbells are both exercise tools that you can lift with one hand. They come in a variety of sizes, as well as two basic configurations. The variety makes the weights versatile tools for any exerciser, whether you're a beginner or an experienced lifter. Deciding which tool is best for you depends on your definition of dumbbells and hand weights.
Technically speaking, dumbbells and hand weights are the same thing. But lighter weights are more commonly referred to as hand weights. Popular hand weights come in 1-, 3- and 5-pound sizes. Although there's no universal demarcation between hand weights and dumbbells, 10 pounds is a rough dividing line. Weights designed for one hand that weigh more than 10 pounds are typically considered dumbbells.
Both dumbbells and hand weights can be constructed as a single unit, or they may come in multiple pieces. Hand weights typically feature one-piece construction, but a few contain detachable plates. Multi-piece dumbbells and hand weights include a central bar, a variety of plates and a locking mechanism for each plate. If you keep dumbbells at home, the multi-piece variety can save space. Using a variety of one-piece dumbbells saves time, however, because you don't have to change any plates. This is important if you're doing a dumbbell circuit and wish to proceed quickly from one exercise to the next.
If you prefer to work out with free weights rather than machines, dumbbells and hand weights boast some advantages over barbells. Dumbbells are safer for beginners in many exercises. If you perform squats or lunges, for example, holding a pair of weights in your hands is safer than balancing a barbell across the back of your shoulders. Some exercises, such as flyes and lateral raises, can only be performed with dumbbells or hand weights. Additionally, a barbell limits your range of motion in some exercises. When you perform a barbell bench press you must stop when the bar reaches your chest. But you can drop your hands farther by using dumbbells or hand weights. Additionally, hand weights are beneficial for anyone who can only lift very light weights.
The list of dumbbell and hand weight exercises is almost endless, but common dumbbell upper-body activities include the biceps curl, lateral raise, chest fly and one-arm row. Lower-body exercises include squats, lunges and calf raises. You can use a hand weight for any dumbbell exercise. Additionally, many use hand weights during combined exercises. For example, you can hold a pair of hand weights to perform chest flyes and front lunges simultaneously, or to do overhead presses while you're squatting. Some exercisers carry hand weights while walking or doing other cardio activities to increase the intensity, although doing so runs the risk of chest or shoulder injuries.