After a turbulent year in the fitness equipment industry, 2021 looked more positive for dumbbells. To reflect a few changes in the market, we made two changes to our top ten chart.
We added the Rogue Urethane Dumbbells – perfect for both home gyms and commercial settings – as well as the Gaiam Soft Hand Weights, which prove a great option for cardio purposes.
Dumbbells have been a fitness staple since first arriving on the scene in Ancient Greece. The reason for their 2,000+ year longevity? They are an incredibly effective tool for building strength and muscle, while conditioning the entire body.
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This is why we have put together the ultimate guide to buying dumbbells, to introduce you to the world of these humble weights and how they can help you sculpt the body of your dreams.
Here we will highlight ten of the best dumbbells on the market at the moment, unearthing their features, pros and cons.
Stick around afterwards as we dive into some of your most common questions about dumbbells and how to use them most effectively.
The Bowflex name permeates the fitness world, with the innovative American brand proving experts in everything from home gyms to treadmills. So, of course they manage to impress when it comes to the dumbbell market too.
Their SelectTech 552 adjustable dumbbells set offers 52.5lbs of weight per dumbbell, with 15 weight increments to cater for everything from heavy compound movements to isolation exercises. You basically have an entire dumbbell rack at your disposal!
The distinctive dial system makes switching the weight a simple task, while the included stands are a convenient addition. Using them is a pleasure, with a nicely rounded shape and good rubber handles for a firm grip. Quite expensive, but a worthwhile investment for all abilities.
Total Weight: 143lbs
Material: Metal and rubber
Features: 12 different weight levels, heavy maximum weight, sturdy metal plates, dial system to adjust weight, included dumbbell stands
If you want a real challenge but still crave the convenience and compactness of an adjustable set, the high-end Merax Deluxe 71.5 set is a good choice. This pair provides up to 71.5lbs of weight per dumbbell for a combined 143lbs – more than enough for even the most experienced lifters.
While not as flexible in increment changes compared to our top pick, you can still select up to 12 different weights, in 5lb increases. The intuitive dial system allows you to turn the knob on the end to achieve your desired weight.
It’s a well-made set with durable metal plates paired with comfortable rubber handles for a pleasant experience, even as the weight increases!
Total Weight: 5lb to 150lb
Material: Steel, urethane
Features: One-piece welded dumbbell, shock-absorbing urethane coating, knurled 6” steel handles, clear weight markings
For a heavy-duty gym-grade dumbbell, it’s no surprise that Rogue is where we shop. These Urethane options boast everything we want from a dumbbell – such as a no-nonsense aesthetic and a robust build.
They feature solid steel heads coated in a shock-absorbing black urethane, making them durable and safer to drop. These heads are welded to a 6” steel handle, with a fine knurling to enhance grip.
These dumbbells are sold in pairs and range in weight options from 5lbs right up to 150lbs, with each weight clearly marked on the side of the head. As you may expect, these dumbbells are far from cheap, but they should last a lifetime and will enhance any home gym.
Total Weight: 100lbs (extension weights available)
Material: Metal and rubber
Features: Distinctive shape, 15 weight levels available, rubber handles, made in America, expandable design, 10-year warranty
One of the most versatile – and oddest looking – dumbbell sets on this list is this Elite pair from PowerBlock. With an included 50lbs of weight per dumbbell and 16 weight increments (from 2.5lbs), these boxy dumbbells are perfect for both beginners and seasoned lifters alike.
They feature an old-school design with a selector pin that is reminiscent of a gym weights machine. It’s a heavy-duty set, made in America to last – with a 10-year warranty backing up this sentiment!
While the shape isn’t as compact as others, the rubberized handles make them easy to grip whether you are performing dumbbell squats, deadlifts or bicep curls. The bonus is that you can add additional weight plates (sold separately) to each dumbbell, taking the total load to either 70lbs or 90lbs per hand!
Total Weight: 50lbs
Material: Steel and cast-iron
Features: Steel handlebars, cast-iron weight plates, knurled handles, adjustable weights, cogs to prevent weight slippage
Another relatively no-nonsense pair of dumbbells is this option from Yes4All. It’s not as sleek as some of the adjustable pairs on this list, but neither is it as expensive!
Along with a pair of steel handles, the set comes with a variety of weight plates. There are four 3lb plates and four 7.5lb plates, allowing you to create loads ranging from 10lbs to 25lbs (including the handles). This variety is light enough to cater for both beginners and more experienced lifters.
With cast-iron weight plates and steel handles with knurled grips, it’s a very rugged and durable set. Perhaps it’s a little fiddly to adjust the load, but well worth the extra few seconds for the affordable price.
If neoprene dumbbells tickle your fancy, a pair of 3lb dumbbells from Crown Sporting Goods is a great starting point for weightlifting routines, as well as incorporating into cardio activities.
The appeal of these quality dumbbells is the finish, with a contemporary pastel sky-blue neoprene coating and ergonomic handles. The curved oblong ends help prevent them from rolling away when set down, while clear weight indicators on either side make it easy to distinguish the load.
If 3lb per dumbbell is too lightweight for you, this brand offers pairings of up to 20lbs (10lb per dumbbell) – all color coded (in equally attractive pastel finishes). This allows you to create your own set tailored to your requirements.
Total Weight: Varies
Pairs: Single dumbbell
Material: Cast-iron heads, steel handle
Features: Sturdy construction, multiple pairs available, knurled handle, hexagonal heads, smooth enamel coating
If you’re a fan of old-school designs and want something more macho than a neoprene-covered set, a pair of these cast-iron hex dumbbells from CAP Barbell will be right up your street.
With individual dumbbells ranging from 5lbs to a staggering 120lbs, these weights will cater for everybody from complete beginners to experienced bodybuilders. Depending on the weight, you can purchase them as both singles or pairs. Therefore, building your own gym-worthy set is a cinch, although the cost will start to add up!
Each dumbbell features a rugged cast-iron/steel build with a durable black enamel coating. Features such as hexagonal heads, clear weight markings and rugged handle knurling makes these the perfect choice for the no-nonsense weightlifter.
There’s nothing better than finding a bargain as you hunt for dumbbell sets – and that’s exactly what this offering from AmazonBasics is!
This is an affordable no-frills set comprising three pairs of dumbbells at 3lbs, 5lbs and 8lbs each, for a total of 32lbs. While this will be too light for more experienced users, it’s a perfect selection for beginners working on their form and first muscle gains. This is an ideal weight set for yoga, Pilates and cardio too.
Each pair is comfortable to hold and rather attractive, with their vibrant neoprene finishes. Store them on the floor and they won’t roll away thanks to the hexagonal heads, although they also sit nicely in the included plastic rack.
Total Weight: 32lbs
Material: Iron/steel core, neoprene finish
Features: Different color for each pair, mixed weight levels for light and heavier exercises, hexagonal dumbbell ends
This colorful collection from j/fit is another solid option if you’re looking for an affordable dumbbell set. We have reviewed the 32lb set, which is ideal for beginners, as well as yoga and cardio activities. However, other sets in heavier weights (up to 74lbs) are also available.
Comprising dumbbells weighing in at 3lbs, 5lbs and 8lbs per pair, each one features a chunky but comfortable design, with an iron/steel core and smooth double-dipped neoprene coating. This hardwearing finish is color coordinated with end markings, so you can easily tell which weight is which at a glance.
The hexagonal heads stop the weights from rolling away, although you can also store them in the plastic tree/rack when you are finished your workout.
Perhaps this is a set to avoid if you are looking to build significant strength and muscle, considering the dumbbells only come as either 1lb or 2lbs each (sets of 2lbs or 4lbs).
However, if you want to add a little resistance to spice up your walking, running or dancing, these soft hand weights from Gaiam are a worthy contender. With an attractive design, they feature a soft neoprene shell with a pliable sand filling.
These materials combine to make the dumbbells comfortable and easy to grip, while the hand strap enhances the feeling of security as you move. What’s more, the price of a pair is very affordable indeed, making these a smart choice if you want to explore adding resistance, but don’t fancy investing in an entire set of dumbbells.
A dumbbell is a dumbbell… right? Wrong! As you may have discovered by browsing our top ten chart, there are many different dumbbells on the market, all catering for different users.
Here is a quick breakdown of the individual categories they fit into. Remember, you can click on the heading to go straight to that page, which will give you an in-depth guide to that specific section.
Everybody has to start somewhere. If you’re just picking up a dumbbell for the first time, this is the category for you. Here you will find a series of dumbbells that offer the right kind of loads for beginners, as well as the most convenience.
Neoprene dumbbells make up the majority of this market, although you will also find a few old-school metal dumbbells, catering for those who prefer the feel of steel!
The most important thing in this category is the weight – which should be relatively light. Ultimately, a beginner will want to sacrifice a little weight to be able to lift the dumbbell with correct form. But you should also have options to progress to heavier weights as you become more confident.
This is why this category has several dumbbell sets (with multiple pairs) as well as adjustable dumbbells, allowing you to tweak the load to build your muscles.
Standard dumbbells may have been around for a very long time, but fitness brands have continued to optimize them to save space and enhance convenience. The result is adjustable dumbbells.
Here you are given an entire rack of weight ranging from light to ultra-heavy in a single dumbbell. For example, some dumbbells offer you the option to go from around 10lbs to 70lbs in 5lb increments.
These dumbbells are obviously more expensive than those you would find in the beginners’ section, but if you are serious about weightlifting at home, they can save you a lot of money and hassle in the long run.
While dumbbells are most often associated with bodybuilders and – let’s face it – men in general, they are equally popular with women. While women may not be chasing huge muscle mass, the addition of load-bearing exercise is excellent for muscle tone and general fitness.
The weights in this category are lighter and solely neoprene-covered, which is kinder to skin than knurled metal (not many women want unsightly calluses on their palms, right?!).
It is popular to add dumbbells to yoga and Pilates routines, as well as cardio including walking and running. These lighter weights are ideal for these activities as they add a little resistance, but nothing excessive.
Reading this far, you will have discovered that there is no one-size-fits all dumbbell. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter; a man or a woman; have your own home gym or live in a tiny apartment, there is a different dumbbell for you!
While budget will play a part in your decision making, it shouldn’t be the only consideration. In this section we uncover some of the most important issues you should look at ahead of buying a pair of dumbbells.
Whatever price range, weight range or category you shop in, the dumbbells will share the same core design.
Fundamentally, a dumbbell will feature two equally-balanced end pieces, where the majority of the weight is distributed, along with a short handle. After this, dumbbell design can differ quite dramatically!
Regardless of the design, the shape of the end pieces is worth paying attention to. Usually this will either be a rounded end or a hexagonal (or ‘hex†) shape.
Hexagonal ends are beneficial as they don’t roll around. You put it down on the floor and that’s where it stays. It also proves easier to perform certain movements, such as the renegade row (a cross between a plank and a single-arm row). Without hex dumbbells, performing a prone movement such as this would be too unstable.
Another thing to look at on the end pieces is whether or not the dumbbell offers weight markings. If you have two or more pairs, it’s much easier to determine which weight you are picking up at a glance if the ends are labelled.
This is one reason why people like neoprene weights, as they are often color-coded by weight. The bonus is that they are also quite attractive, with either vibrant neon or bright pastel finishes!
The material a dumbbell is made from is also well worth considering, as it can affect your overall experience. You can find metal, plastic, neoprene and even wood used to craft the modern dumbbell!
Of course, the classic dumbbell material is metal – usually cast-iron or steel, or a mix of both. There is certainly something appealing about a metal dumbbell, as it conjures up images of old-school weight rooms and vintage lifters.
Metal dumbbells are also very effective. Because of the density of metal, they pack a lot of weight into a smaller space. Compare a pair of cheap sand-filled-vinyl dumbbells to a metal pair. While those filled with sand are still a decent affordable solution, a 20lb metal dumbbell will be much easier to maneuver and store than a 20lb sand-filled weight.
While the heads of metal dumbbells will be smooth, the grips should be textured or knurled. This process adds a cross-etched pattern to the handle, which offers a secure feel no matter what weight you are lifting and how sweaty your hands become.
Another plus is that metal dumbbells are built to last. Sweat on them, clank them together, drop them – they are pretty much guaranteed to last a lifetime. In fact, they are some of the best things you can have in a good home gym!
Metal dumbbells do have some drawbacks though. Firstly, they are more likely to damage things like furniture, walls or wooden floors if you accidentally ding them with a metal dumbbell.
Some manufacturers add protective rubber coatings to the ends, but if the dumbbell is purely metal, expect some scuffs and dents here and there.
You will also find that, unless you use a good pair of weightlifting gloves, knurled metal grips may result in you developing calluses on your fingers and palms.
Of course, this is the sign of an experienced weightlifter and some lifters wear their calluses with pride! However, not everybody likes the look or feel of calluses on their hands, so be aware.
Finally, metal weights can clank together if you are doing movements such as chest flyes and shoulder presses. It’s a small issue, but if you live somewhere where you don’t want to disturb others with the sound of your workout, you will want to avoid metal weights. Or, at least, go for those with rubber-coated ends.
If coated dumbbells sound appealing to you, neoprene is a material to check out. This synthetic rubber coating is used on the majority of the lightweight dumbbell sets primarily aimed at beginners.
The main benefit of neoprene is that it provides a soft and comfortable coating that protects both your hands (goodbye calluses!), and your floors and furniture. The material even stays quite grippy when you sweat. For this reason, neoprene weights are ideal for using in cardio activities.
The problem with neoprene is that you are unlikely to find heavy weights – any more than 20lb per dumbbell is quite rare. So, while you can indeed build a decent set, but you probably won’t be building epic muscle with neoprene dumbbells.
More important than both the design and material is the weight of the dumbbell. At the end of the day, you can have something that looks and feels great – but if you can’t pick it up, it’s not much good to you!
Even if you can pick it up, you will not want to use a dumbbell that is too heavy for you. This goes for both beginners and experienced lifters.
Using a dumbbell that is too heavy for purpose will result in poor form and potential injury as you attempt the swing the weight up using the rest of your body.
For example, have you ever seen somebody in the gym trying to bicep curl a weight that is way too heavy for them? It’s quite embarrassing.
Now you know not to go for something too heavy, what should you go for? It’s actually quite hard to say, as everybody has completely different fitness levels and goals.
It also depends on the exercise you are doing, because it’s relatively simple to squat while holding a pair of 25lbs dumbbells, yet performing a set of bicep curls with that weight is much tougher.
If you are completely new to weightlifting, a lightweight set containing a total of 32lbs of weight is a decent option. If there are three pairs in the set, you will inevitably find that one pair weighs 3lbs, one is 5lbs and the final set is 8lbs.
For complete beginners and women, this is a good starting point as it offers light enough weights to develop correct form and a bit of muscle stress, with no risk of strain or injury.
However, users who want to actually build considerable strength and muscle will find these sets too light. In this case, aim for a set with a heavier total load of 74lb – which will provide a 10lb pair, a 12lb pair and a 15lb pair.
This is more substantial, and would give a beginner to intermediate male lifter enough of a load to see some gains. However, if serious mass and strength is your goal, you will need to look towards the heavier end of the spectrum.
This is where adjustable dumbbells come into the picture. Some adjustable dumbbells will offer sets of 200lbs (that’s 100lbs per dumbbell), which is enough to build a chest like Arnie!
The beauty of the adjustable dumbbell is that you can dial it back, removing plates so it becomes a 10lb dumbbell. Then you can increase the load as you become stronger. Of course, a 200lb adjustable dumbbell set can cost you around $300 to $500, so these are only worth buying if you are serious about weightlifting.
If you are still confused about what weight to go for, it may be worth investing in a single session at your local gym.
Here, you can head over to the dumbbell rack and pick up a few weights to see which feels the most comfortable. If you can perform a set of between 8 and 12 repetitions with the weight, that’s the right one for you.
It’s worth considering where you are going to store your dumbbells when they are not in use. Many times, ‘under the sofa’ or ‘in the closet’ will suffice, especially if you are buying just one pair or lighter weights.
However, if you have purchased two or more, you will definitely benefit from a storage rack of sorts. These triangle-shaped devices allow you to stack dumbbells into a small space, while leaving them easily accessible.
A rack like this will usually be included with the purchase of a dumbbell set and will often be made of plastic. These do the job but can be a little flimsy. Some brands will provide a more durable metal rack, although the cost of these sets tends to be higher.
Instead of racks, some manufacturers offer storage cases, either for neoprene dumbbells or traditional screw-type adjustable dumbbells. The benefit of these cases is that they are slim, so you can neatly store your dumbbells and then slide the case under the bed or into a closet.
They are sometimes advertised as being good for travelling, but – in reality – how many people are taking dumbbells with them on the go? Still, they remain a good option for storage.
The most important thing for a beginner is to learn proper form, because nobody makes muscle and strength gains by flinging weights around incorrectly.
Correct form is imperative to a point that it’s actually worth sacrificing some muscle gain. It is therefore crucial that you start light before building up in weight.
So, what is the best weight to start with?
Beginner dumbbell sets vary in weight, but often come in at around 20lb to 40lb for a set of three dumbbell pairs. For example, a standard 32lb set will include a pair of 3lb, 5lb and 8lb dumbbells. If you have never picked up a dumbbell before, this is a good weight range to start with.
However, your body will soon adapt to this weight. If you are happy keeping your muscles small but toned, there is no need to increase this weight. However, to further develop your muscles, you will need to challenge them with heavier loads.
You have three options to progress. First, you can bypass the beginners set and start with a heavier set that gives you room to develop – for example a 60lb set with 5lb, 10lb and 15lb dumbbell pairings. This is a decent option, although you will eventually outgrow 15lbs too.
Alternatively, you can simply buy a new set or pair when you are ready – for example, just buying a pair of 20lb and 25lb dumbbells when you have outgrown your beginners set. Of course, this way will be more expensive in the long run.
Finally, you could buy an adjustable dumbbell. For example, this Bowflex option gives you a dumbbell of 5lbs, 7.5lbs, 10lbs, 12.5lbs and so on, right up to 52.5lb – all in a single dumbbell.
This is an excellent choice, although adjustable dumbbells are certainly more expensive that their individual dumbbell counterparts.
Buying a pair of dumbbells grants you access to hundreds of exercises – way too many to list here. However, there are a few that prove the most popular, and are well worthy of knowing from the start.
These are easy to perform – just take a quick look at YouTube videos or ask a personal trainer for some advice.
Working your legs, the classic dumbbell squat is a must. Have your dumbbells in your hands hanging at the side of your body or resting on your shoulders, then perform a squat as usual. Take this a step further by performing a thruster – as you reach the top of the squat, push the dumbbells above your head.
Using dumbbells to perform a stationary or walking lunge is another great movement that targets the muscles in your entire leg.
You can work your back with dumbbells by performing a single-arm dumbbell row. If you have a good wall-mounted pull-up bar and like a challenge, you can also put a dumbbell between your legs and perform a weighted pull-up. However, make sure you can already perform a handful of regular pull-ups with correct form before attempting this.
Meanwhile, if you have access to a bench, the dumbbell bench press is ideal for building your chest strength, while chest flyes are another pec-building classic.
An overhead press with dumbbells is effective for building your shoulders, while you can also perform side and front raises for targeting specific deltoids.
As for your arms, the bicep and hammer curls are gym staples and essential for building boulder-like biceps. Finally, you can also perform triceps kickbacks or overhead triceps extensions using either a single or pair of dumbbells.
The most certainly do! In fact, dumbbells are arguably the best muscle-building tools around (perhaps only second to the barbell). You can hit your entire upper and lower body with dumbbells, as well as your core.
However, to effectively build muscle, you will need to follow the concept of progressive overload. In its most basic form, this means you must gradually increase the volume, intensity or frequency of work you are doing with the dumbbells to constantly challenge your body.
In other words, as often as you can, you will need to either gradually increase the weight of the dumbbells you use, or the number of reps, or the number or sets, or the amount of weights sessions you actually perform.
For example, on week one, you perform three sets of 10 bicep curls (10 + 10 + 10) with a pair of 8lb dumbbells. If, by week three, you are still performing the exact same sets and reps with the same weight, you can’t really expect to see any progress.
In this instance, your biceps will have adapted to this weight and won’t need to grow. They are comfortable.
So, make them uncomfortable! For example, on week two, you do the same sets (three) and reps (10), but you now increase the weight of the dumbbells to 10lbs. Then on week three you do the same sets and reps again, but increase the weight to 12lbs.
By doing this, you are progressively overloading your muscles. You are giving them a reason to wake up and grow! This is also a good example of why a pair of adjustable dumbbells is so useful. The multiple increments these dumbbells offer is second only to an entire gym-grade weights rack.
As touched upon, you can also progressively overload your muscles by upping the reps (from 10 to 12) and sets (from three to four). You could also train the specific muscle group more frequently (say, arms twice a week instead of once).
This has been a very brief outline of a topic that deserves more attention. If you are serious about building muscle, you should follow a structured training plan to ensure you are increasing the weight and volume in the correct way. If you try to progress too quickly, you open yourself up to the risk of overtraining or injury.
There are plenty of articles and videos on progressive overload on both this site and elsewhere online – take a good look! You will be building muscle with dumbbells in no time at all!
While cardio activities such as running, cycling and HIIT all have the deserved reputation of being great fat burners, weightlifting using dumbbells can be just as effective.
As you may be aware, to lose weight – or, more accurately, fat – you must be in a calorie deficit. This is achieved by burning more calories than you consume. Diet is the most important thing when it comes to creating a calorie deficit, but exercise certainly helps.
To good news is that lifting dumbbells burns calories, although some dumbbell exercises are more effective than others.
For example, a bicep curl is not much good when it comes to calorie burning as it takes up very little energy. On the other hand, a full-body movement, such as a dumbbell thruster (squatting with dumbbells positioned by your shoulders then pressing the dumbbells up overhead as you stand) will burn a lot more calories.
Combining some of these exercises into a high-intensity circuit is an effective method to torch fat. A circuit isn’t an enjoyable form of exercise – you should hate every moment of it. But that’s why it’s so effective!
While there are countless guides to circuit training out there, at its most basic you can put together around four different exercises that you perform in quick succession. For example, you could perform 10 lunges, 10 thrusters, 10 jump squats and 10 pushups consecutively, before taking a one-minute break.
Do this circuit a couple of times and your heartrate will increase, your muscles will be begging you to stop, and you will be blitzing calories! In fact, a short high-intensity dumbbell circuit can burn as many calories as a longer run or cycle. Give one a go and see for yourself!
As this guide will have reinforced, dumbbells are one of the best fitness tools you can have in your home gym. They are affordable, versatile and capable of working your entire body – what’s not to love?
Our top ten chart is full of worthwhile dumbbell sets and pairs to get you started. However, remember that this chart is a selection of our favorite dumbbells, selected by the Fitness Verve team.
You may find other dumbbells are more suitable for your needs. This is why we always recommend browsing the marketplaces yourself to find something that really works for you, your budget and your ambitions.
Whatever your goals – muscle size, strength or fat loss – use your dumbbells often and you are guaranteed to see results. Good luck!