I wonder what verb should be used with the word "dumbbell". Some sources suggest the verb "to lift". But my point is "lifting and lowering a dumbbell repeatedly as an exercise". It seems to me that "lifting a dumbbell" means "lifting it for once, not repeatedly lifting and lowering it", like when weightlifters lift weights.

It seems like that English doesn't use a well-established verb for this concept. Does anybody have an idea?

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    to lift weights, to lift dumbbells. There is no other verb.
    – Lambie
    Sep 14, 2021 at 13:12
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    Often a more specific verb is used for particular exercises: "curl a dumbell" or "press a dumbell". But just like with "lift", only the positive motion is specified and the negative (and the repetition) is implied. Sep 14, 2021 at 13:23
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    Or exercise/work out with dumbbells What goes up must come down.
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 14, 2021 at 13:24
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    Colloquially, it's "pump iron", even when you're not pumping, and it's not iron.
    – jimm101
    Sep 14, 2021 at 17:38
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    "It seems like that English doesn't use a well-established verb for this concept." - Yes it does, and that verb is "lift". The word "weightlifter" is very well established, so why would you think that what a weightlifter does is not "lifting"?
    – nnnnnn
    Sep 15, 2021 at 1:24

4 Answers 4


"Lift" really is right. It's what we generally do with weights, even though lowering under control is an important part of the exercise. Used alone, "lift" implies a number of reps and even sets suitable for the activity (which can vary, a 1-rep max weight might be more common with barbells, but makes sense here).

In fact, "lift" can be used in context without an object, as in "do you even lift".

If you were lifting a dumbbell to carry it back to the rack, you'd probably use "pick up" instead of "lift". Other verbs may be used for specific movements , like "curl", "press", or even "row" (rare, but used as a verb towards the end of that link).


“to train with ~”

It is true that many activities that use dumbbells are not strictly “lifting”, so if you want to be more general, and say simply that you are using dumbbells in a variety of physical activities, you can say:

  • I train with dumbbells
  • I work out with dumbbells

The verbs here are “to train”, and “to work out”.

  • to train (v): 26. undertake a course of exercise and diet in order to reach or maintain a high level of physical fitness.
  • to work out (v) to exercise in order to improve the strength or appearance of your body

Both of these are intransitive (i.e., they take no object).

“to lift”

But, if you want a transitive verb, then the best verb is indeed “to lift”

In English, the activity of using weights for muscle training is most commonly known as weightlifting, or sometimes just “lifting weights”. As a result, if you say “I lift dumbbells”, people will understand your meaning.

Avoid specialized terms for general writing

Within the fitness world, the act of lifting and lowering a weight to build muscle could be called “pressing” (raising up and down) or “curling” (bending at the elbow), depending on how you are using the weight, but I would not recommend these words because they are specialist terms, and would not be widely known to people who are not interested in weight-training. (Particularly “to press” is a verb which has many other meanings in English)

  • curl is not a specialist term. People know what an arm curl is in an exercise class. There are also leg curls. How do you train with a dumbbell without lifting it? Swing it?
    – Lambie
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:34
  • @Lambie you could, though more often you'd swing a kettlebell
    – Chris H
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:41
  • Ok, but you see my point, I guess.
    – Lambie
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:42
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    “to curl” is a specialist term. In the context of an exercise class, it has a known meaning, but if I ask someone who has never been to a gym to “curl that weight”, they will have no idea what I’m saying. The point I’m making there is that the OP should be careful about looking for a “perfect fit” verb, because that answer may not be the one that has meaning to the greatest number of readers. I always try to use the most general, widely-understood terms when I do not know the context or audience of the discussion.
    – KrisW
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:46
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    Confirming, as someone who doesn't go to the gym, if someone said to."curl a weight" Id have 2 mental images, both wildly wrong: 1) curling, they want me to throw it at ground level towards some object? 2) move it in a circle somehow, like a pendulum bob moving in a horizontal circle. Which also makes no sense. I'd look blankly and say "What?" -- and I'd expect I had misheard the key word of the request. Lift would be the main term that I had a reference for. If it needed a specialist term - which does add realism - I'd expect that term somehow introduced as part of the narrative.
    – Stilez
    Sep 14, 2021 at 21:27

If the context implies that the activity persisted over a time interval, then just “lift(ed)” conveys the repetitive nature just fine. “He spent thirty minutes lifting dumbbells.”

Incorporating “repetitions”, often shortened to “reps” along with do/did might be useful if you want to explicitly convey the repetitive nature of the activity. A group of reps comprise a set; there are typically short rests between sets. “He did a set of reps with some dumbbells.”


Exercise is the word.

DjinTonic had it right. Exercise is the unambiguous word describing anything you can do with a dumbbell to use as it was designed to be used. This includes lifting, lowering and swinging. Anything to take advantage of its weight.

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