Dumbbells are a workout classic. When used at home, they save time and money, and the right set makes a difference in your ability to maximize results and challenge your body. The best dumbbells can push your muscles to get stronger or tone them for better definition. Different dumbbell designs can save space or challenge the muscles in new ways. Dumbbells bring diversity to your workouts, so that you can work both the upper and lower body.
- EST OVERALL: Merax Deluxe 71.5 Pounds Adjustable Dial Dumbbell
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Day 1 Fitness Rubber Hex Dumbbell
- BEST FIXED: CAP Barbell Coated Hex Dumbbell Weights
- BEST DUMBBELL PLATES: Unipack Pair of Adjustable Dumbbells
- BEST KETTLEBELLS: CAP Barbell Cast Iron Kettlebell
Types of Dumbbells
Dumbbells come in several types, including fixed, adjustable, studio, plates, and kettlebells. Each type has its pros and cons. Depending on your goals and fitness level, one type might be better for you than another.
Fixed dumbbells have a fixed weight that cannot be adjusted with dials or extra weight plates. They range in weight from 2 or 3 pounds up to 100 pounds.
A basic dumbbell shape has two equal-sized weights with a handle in the middle. However, weight shapes vary. Circular weights are common because the shape evenly distributes the weight. However, they tend to roll away when placed on the floor. Hexagon-shaped weights are another popular option, even more so than circular. They don’t roll away in between sets, yet the hexagon shape still evenly distributes weight.
The downside to fixed dumbbells is that unless you only need one or two different weights, say a 20 and a 30-pound set, they take up a lot of space. Some manufacturers design their weights to be stacked, but a weight rack is usually the easiest way to store them.
Adjustable weights save space and let you speed through workouts. These weights have a dial on both ends of the dumbbell that allows you to adjust the weight in 2.5 to 5.5-pound increments. With a single set of dumbbells, you can get many weights. These models are much easier to store and with the right dialing system, they can be quick to adjust. Weight ranges vary from 5 pounds up to 75 pounds in a single dumbbell set. However, other sets may only have between 5 to 30 pounds.
Adjustable dumbbells save space and provide access to a wide range of weights with a single set of dumbbells. However, they can be pricey, and sometimes the adjustment mechanisms are finicky and difficult to use. Some adjustable dumbbell designs limit your range of motion, too.
Studio dumbbells are fixed dumbbells in low weights, like two, five, eight, and ten. They’re often used by beginners or to add resistance to aerobic exercises in a studio setting. Studio dumbbells may come as a single set or two or three sets stored in a tree rack. Typically, these weights are covered in neoprene or vinyl to make them easier to hold in sweaty hands and less likely to damage flooring. Their protective covering also makes it easier to clean them after each use.
Dumbbell plates straddle the line between a dumbbell and a barbell. They consist of a bar with clips to hold weight plates. Plates are added and removed based on how much weight you want to lift. Most sets come with several weight plates of different weights.
These dumbbells offer versatile weight options and are easier to store than fixed dumbbells. They also offer a wide weight range, as you can always buy heavier plates. However, they’re not as convenient to store as adjustable dumbbells, and the process of changing weight plates adds time to your workout.
The unique design of a kettlebell challenges the body in ways a typical dumbbell cannot. Kettlebells have a central weighted ball with a flat bottom and a handle on top. They’re not balanced like a typical dumbbell, forcing the user to work harder to balance the body throughout each exercise. Kettlebells are used for more dynamic movements to challenge joints, balance, and muscles.
Kettlebells come in fixed and adjustable models. Many kettlebell moves rely on the ability to adjust the position of one or both hands on the handle to target the right muscles. Consequently, the handle’s angle plays a role in how comfortable the kettlebell is to use.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Dumbbells
Several factors go into finding the best dumbbells. Your goals, fitness level, and available workout space influence which set will work for you.
Building muscle mass puts different requirements on a set of dumbbells than muscle toning. If your goal is to build muscle mass, you need dumbbells in higher weights. However, if your goal is to tone the muscles rather than bulk up, you need low to mid-range weights. In this case, you still want to challenge the muscles, but maxing out might not be part of your workout plan. Fixed dumbbells or studio dumbbells may work better if toning is your ultimate goal. Or, you may want a kettlebell to diversify your workout. By defining your goals, you get a better idea of what you need from your dumbbells.
As we’ve already discussed, round dumbbell plates or weights tend to roll. Hexagons are a favorite because they evenly distribute weight but remain stationary when placed on the ground. Octagon-shaped weights aren’t as common, but some adjustable dumbbells have this shape. However, octagons aren’t as stable as hexagons and these weights are more prone to uneven weight distribution.
Cast-iron is the dumbbell classic. It’s heavy and durable but needs a protective paint, coating, or chrome to prevent rust. Protective coatings may be made of neoprene or vinyl.
Studio dumbbells are usually wrapped in vinyl or neoprene because of their use during fitness classes. The coating helps sweaty hands maintain a tight grip, while also making it easier to wipe off the dumbbells between uses. Vinyl or neoprene protects the floor if the dumbbell gets dropped, while at the same time protecting the iron within the dumbbell from indentation.
Dumbbells can be found in weights as high as 130 pounds per dumbbell. For the home gym, if you want to push those higher weights, consider an adjustable model. They can go up to 75 pounds per dumbbell but take up far less room than a set of fixed weights. If you want to go above 75 pounds per dumbbell, consider a dumbbell plate for their sturdiness and durability.
A textured grip helps you safely hold the dumbbell through a variety of exercises. Texture also helps maintain your grip as the hands become sweaty. However, for some people, a textured grip can be rough on the skin. Some manufacturers sell dumbbell grip covers that maintain grip but don’t dig into the skin. Other people apply tape to prevent the texture from tearing the skin or they wear weightlifting gloves.
Rubber, neoprene, or vinyl grips are gentler on the hands but may not be enough to maintain grip at higher weights.
Space is at a premium in the home gym. Some people have the luxury of a workout room or even a corner of the garage, while others are limited to storing weights under the bed.
If space isn’t an issue, fixed weights offer the best durability, weight distribution, and ease of use. Adjustable weights and dumbbell plates are good options if you’ve got limited space. Both of these options provide multiple weights within a single dumbbell design.
Our Top Picks
A sampling of some of the best dumbbells, these recommendations include a range of dumbbell types to accommodate diverse fitness goals, workout styles, and home space availability. These dumbbells have easy-grip handles, good weight ranges, and materials that last.
The space-saving Merax Deluxe Dumbbells offer a wide weight range that starts at 11 pounds and goes up to 71.5 pounds in 5.5-pound increments. This provides enough of a range for a whole household. Each set includes a dumbbell stand in which to store the weights. However, you can buy them with a rolling rack for use with a bench or for easier access.
One of the Merax dumbbell’s best features is the dialing system. It’s simple to use, with each plate clicking into place with each adjustment. The simplicity of the design lets the user challenge themselves while cutting minutes off of workout times.
Day 1 Fitness makes an affordable fixed dumbbell in weights that range from 5 to 40 pounds in 5-pound increments. The rubber coating on the weights saves the floor if they get dropped. Genuine rubber has a stronger scent than other common materials, but it will dissipate as the dumbbells air out. A chrome-covered, textured handle adds grip and stability. The dumbbells come as singles or as part of a set.
Strong ASTM A48 class grey iron and a 90 shore plastic coating come together in a dumbbell designed to last. (Shore refers to the strength of the plastic coating and how well it resists indentation.) The coating protects both the iron in the dumbbell and the floor of the workout space.
A hexagon-shaped head keeps the dumbbell in place between sets, while the chrome handle provides a durable and comfortable grip with strategically placed texture. This extra texture allows users to maintain their grip through dynamic exercises.
Unipack’s dumbbells feature weight plates rather than an adjustable dumbbell design. These dumbbells feel more like you’ve stepped into the gym because they look more like a barbell. Each dumbbell holds up to 100 pounds to challenge even serious weightlifters.
A threaded collar secures the weight plates to the bar, so there’s no shifting through the lifts. The plates are made of coated cast-iron and provide balanced weight distribution. The only downside is the traditional round shape of the weight plates, which makes them prone to rolling.
The CAP’s seamless design protects the kettlebell from a breakdown at a seam and a protective coating prevents rust.
Kettlebell exercises require different grip positions on the handle. The angle and width of this model’s handle feels comfortable during swings, lifts, and floor exercises with one or both hands. Kettlebells have a different balance than a typical dumbbell, and this model will challenge multiple muscle groups with each move.
This kettlebell comes in twelve different weights, so people of different sizes and fitness levels can find a comfortable weight.
Tips for Using Dumbbells Safely
Dumbbells pose a safety hazard if they’re not used carefully and correctly. Even the dropping of a lightweight dumbbell on your toe could break a bone. You also need to be careful not to start too heavy. It’s best to give the muscles time to strengthen and build as you learn the correct form of each exercise. A few more tips to keep you safe while working out with dumbbells includes:
- Keep your back straight while picking up the dumbbells.
- Clear your workout space before you begin, so you don’t trip over any equipment.
- Lift slowly as you learn new exercises to increase the muscles’ work time and ensure you have the correct form.
- Warm-up your muscles with 5 to 10 minutes of cardio before lifting.
- Cool down and stretch after the workout is over.
- Wear shoes to offer some foot protection should a dumbbell get dropped.
FAQs About Dumbbells
If you’ve never used dumbbells before, read on for more tips. It’s fairly simple to get the hang of using them, especially if you start with a lightweight set. We’ve answered a few common questions to help your workouts along.
Q. What are dumbells?
Dumbbells are free weights that have a short handle with equal weight on both ends. They’re often used to isolate muscle groups like the biceps and triceps. However, they can also target multiple muscle groups through dynamic, multiplanar exercises.
Q. Which dumbbells are best; rubber or steel?
Dumbbells are typically made of iron plated in chrome but may have parts made of stainless steel. Rubber coatings protect the iron from dents while also protecting the workout space from dropped dumbbells. Rubber, vinyl, or neoprene coatings are also easier to grip and keep clean if you sanitize the dumbbells between uses.
Q. What dumbbells should I start with?
Start with a weight that challenges you but doesn’t push your muscles to their limits. If you need multiple weights, consider an adjustable dumbbell or dumbbell plates. Men typically start at higher weights, like 25 to 30 pounds depending on the type of exercise. Women usually start at lower weights between 10 to 15 pounds and work their way up to higher weights as they gain strength. However, every person is different. Try to gauge a weight that’s comfortable for you, but makes the muscle burn after seven or eight reps. You can try two or three sets at that weight or go lighter if you want to add reps to each set.
Q. Is it OK to use dumbbells every day?
As long as you’re using good technique and varying your exercises, you can use dumbbells every day. However, you don’t want to work the same muscle group day after day. Muscle tissue builds during resting periods. It’s fine to use dumbbells to work the biceps one day and then use them to add weight while lunging the next. However, you don’t want to use them to work the biceps every day because then the biceps can’t fully recover and build new muscle tissue.