We gave our article on the best dumbbells for women an overhaul as we entered 2021. In particular, our top seven chart was subject to a lot of change.
Four dumbbells were removed and replaced with options such as the soft hand weights from Gaiam, the RBX Neoprene hand weights, and – our new top pick – a full stack of neoprene dumbbells from Fitness Alley.
Whether you’re a seasoned fitness pro or just want to build some muscle for the first time, dumbbells are one of the most versatile and cost-effective tools you can find.
Table of Contents
However, not all dumbbells make a good fit for women – particularly women who don’t have lots of experience with lifting weights. If you’re struggling to find a high-quality pair, the plethora of available options can be both confusing and discouraging.
Don’t worry! The dumbbells on this list are all suitable for women to use in a home gym environment. Their shape, finish and weight make these ideal options for beginners and advanced users alike.
In this article, we are going to break down each one of our top seven picks to help you evaluate the similarities and differences. We’ll also discuss the features you should look for in a good dumbbell set for women and answer a couple of frequently asked questions on the topic.
Gaiam is a popular name in yoga and female fitness, with well-designed gear to suit activities of any kind. Their cheap and cheerful soft hand weights prove to be a dumbbell with a difference.
With a soft neoprene shell and secure hand strap, these dumbbells are more comfortable to hold for longer periods, while the malleable sand filling makes them easy to grip. Sold as a pair, these affordable weights come in sets of either 2lbs or 4lbs.
Such a light weight probably won’t be suitable for building strength and muscle, although these dumbbells are excellent for burning a few extra calories when used for walking, dance fitness classes, and similar cardio activities.
If you are prepared to invest a little more than some budget sets, this five-pair option from Fitness Alley is a great choice for both beginners and more advanced users.
It offers a total of ten dumbbells including pairs of 2lb, 4lb, 6lb, 8lb and 10lb weights. This is ideal as you have a choice of resistance to suit your activity, whether that’s cardio, HIIT or building strength and muscle.
The dumbbells are comparable to many others we showcase on this chart, with all the right features, such as neoprene coating for enhanced grip and comfort, and hexagonal heads to prevent rolling. The ten dumbbells can be stored neatly in the included A-frame rack with plastic inserts on the holders for better durability.
This popular choice from Nice C features a pretty unique design, looking more like a traditional weight than an adjustable dumbbell. This is due to the fact that the removable weights are hidden inside the handles.
Simply unscrew the end cap, remove one of the steel bars (that weigh either 0.4lbs or 1.25lbs), return the end cap and go. Each dumbbell offers a total 11lbs of weight to play with, allowing you to adjust from the smallest load (2.3lbs) up to the full 11lbs in small increments. This gives you great flexibility, allowing you to adjust the weight to your ability.
Adjusting the dumbbells can be a little fiddly, but the system works well. The shaft is made from a non-slip neoprene and feels comfortable to hold and use.
If you’re looking for an accessible entry point into the world of dumbbells, this pair from Crown Sporting Goods is a perfect option. They’re a great starting point to use for targeted lifts and as a part of any cardio fitness routine.
These dumbbells are finished in a stylish sky-blue neoprene, with smooth grips and comfortable handles. The softer edges won’t damage your floor and, thanks to the curved heads, they won’t roll away while you use them either.
Although we have highlighted the 3lb pair, you can also buy Crown pairs weighing up to 10lbs each. This flexibility is a major bonus. You can easily assemble a custom weight rack tailored to your exact needs. However, be aware that the cost can add up quickly!
These vibrant hand weights from RBX prove to be one of the most popular dumbbells for women on the market at the moment.
They are available in pairs and in options of either 2lbs, 3lbs or 5lbs to cater for whatever your ability and activity. Being lighter in weight, these are best suited for cardio purposes and endurance work as opposed to building muscle and strength.
The design is pretty distinctive, with an attractive modern style sporting softer edges than other dumbbells. Talking of soft, the metal weights are covered in a non-slip neoprene, which is comfortable in the hands and easy to grip, no matter how sweaty your workout becomes!
Total Weight: 16lbs
Material: Iron core, neoprene finish
Features: Lightweight, double-dipped neoprene finish, color coding, hexagonal heads, weight markings on ends, plastic stand
Though all of the sets listed here will accommodate beginners to weight lifting, j/fit’s Dumbbell Set is the most accessible set for women who have never lifted a dumbbell before.
With pairs weighing 2lbs, 3lbs and 4lbs each, the j/fit set works great in targeted weight training. It’s also versatile enough to use in cardio, yoga, aerobics and circuit workouts. The neoprene finish is double-dipped for extra durability – j/fit boasts that these dumbbells won’t chip, flake or peel during use. The solid iron core is another quality feature.
Like many other sets, these dumbbells are color-coded based on their weight. The triangular plastic stand keeps your weights neatly organized. At under $30 for the whole set, these dumbbells are also a great bargain!
Total Weight: 20lbs
Features: Color-coded weight pairs, three levels of lighter weights, hexagonal ends, comfortable handles, weight markings on ends
Another 20lb set on our list is this one from AmazonBasics, which includes three pairs of weights and a stand for an outstanding price. These are the best choice for women looking to lift weights on a tight budget.
The dumbbells, organized in 2lb, 3lb and 5lb pairs, are easy to use and versatile. They make an accessible starting set, but still offer enough resistance for light weightlifting. Like the other models on our list, they’re finished with neoprene – it’s smooth, comfortable and won’t callus your hands.
A plastic rack comes with the dumbbells. It takes minutes to assemble and only requires a screwdriver. Though it’s rather flimsy, the stand organizes your weights in pairs for when you’re not exercising. If you’d prefer a sturdier option, you can always upgrade to a metal rack instead.
Shopping for your first set of dumbbells can be difficult – there are so many options available! To make sense of everything, you need to look at the features these dumbbells share to be able to effectively compare them.
Below, we have listed some of the features worth considering before diving in and buying a set. Keep these in mind while you shop.
If you’re looking into buying dumbbells, you’ll first need to establish how many pairs you want. Certain models on this list are sold as individual pairs, while others come as part of a three-pair set.
Each type has its own advantages and drawbacks, and you may find that one or the other is better suited to your fitness goals.
Beginners tend to prefer larger sets with multiple weight levels for one price. They’re a great way to experiment and find out which weights work the best for you as you train.
Compared to purchasing individual dumbbells by the pair, these sets are also more cost-effective. For example, a three-pair package may cost the same as two pairs bought individually.
However, these weight sets force you to use certain pre-specified weight levels in your training. That isn’t a major problem if you’ve never held a dumbbell before – the standard weight levels are easy to handle even without any prior experience.
Yet, if you want to build muscle or perform large compound exercises, three-pair sets may not provide enough resistance.
Certain sets may also hamper your improvement as you adjust to lifting weights. It can be difficult to make the jump from using, for example, a 5lb dumbbell to an 8lb one. Pre-determined dumbbell packages oftentimes don’t feature any smaller subdivisions to help you build up strength without large leaps in weight.
That’s where stand-alone dumbbell pairs come in. Though it may be more expensive to assemble a dumbbell rack entirely out of these pairs, they make great additions to a basic set. If 3lbs feels too light with a certain exercise but you can’t go up to 5lb dumbbells, you could buy a 4lb pair to bridge the gap.
You might notice that, after reading through this list, all of the dumbbells are made of one material: neoprene. Neoprene tends to be the best dumbbell material for women thanks to a few key factors.
Primarily, neoprene offers a smooth finish that’s easy to grab for beginners and advanced lifters alike. When compared to other dumbbell finishes, such as iron and steel, neoprene is often easier to hold and carry.
As an added bonus, the smoother finish won’t dent or damage hard floors if dropped like metal-finished dumbbells often do.
Neoprene finishes are also powder-coated, which makes them naturally sweat-resistant. It can be very unpleasant to hold a sweat-coated dumbbell during a workout and this prevents that problem.
The powder coating also means that you don’t need to worry about the dumbbells falling out of your hands or slipping around as you move. Many women enjoy using dumbbells in cardio, yoga or Pilates routines, and neoprene is an outstanding choice for combo work such as this.
Because they are so smooth, neoprene dumbbells also do a better job at preventing calluses from building up than other dumbbell materials.
Steel and iron dumbbells are often knurled to alleviate issues with sweat. However, that knurling – a cross-hatched pattern of grooves in the bar – is far rougher on the hands than standard bars.
Neoprene dumbbells don’t need knurling and won’t scratch against your skin during your workout. If you’re interested in lifting weights but don’t want to develop unsightly calluses on your hands, neoprene dumbbells are the best solution by far.
A word of warning – when you buy neoprene dumbbells, don’t just pick the cheapest option. Though quality neoprene finishes are very durable, cheap coatings may flake off or peel with repeated use. The metal (usually iron) underneath the neoprene finish will damage your floors and can hurt if you accidentally bump into it. Do some extra research to avoid purchasing a subpar set.
Most of the pairs on our list range between 3lbs and 8lbs per dumbbell. These weights are light enough for beginners to handle without problems, yet also provide enough resistance for more advanced lifters to continue improving.
When you consider which weight sizes to buy, it’s important to think about how you’ll use the dumbbells.
Women looking to build up some muscle should consider heavier dumbbells to provide the proper resistance. Though a couple of light weights (in the 3lb to 5lb range) are good to get started, heavier weights will help you reach failure on each set and strengthen your muscles more effectively.
Whatever set you buy, make sure it has a pair of dumbbells that weigh 8lbs or more each. Even if they’re too heavy for you to lift on small exercises at first, you’ll be able to use the heavier weights for large exercises like squats and lunges.
As you build greater strength, you’ll begin to use them for presses, curls and other more targeted lifts as well.
On the other hand, many women start using dumbbells to increase the intensity of their cardio workouts. If you’re not planning on training to muscle failure, lighter dumbbells will be more comfortable and practical.
With steady-state activities like walking, running, yoga and Pilates, you’ll need dumbbells that are easy to hold and grip for sustained periods of time.
Dumbbells which weigh between 2lbs and 5lbs work best for use during cardio. They’re light and simple enough to grip that they won’t destroy your arms over a long session, but they’re heavy enough to make a significant difference in your calorie burn.
If you’re not sure which way you’ll use your dumbbells – or if you want to use them for both types of exercise – you should consider a set with mixed weight ranges. For example, a 32lb set with three pairs (weighing 3lbs, 5lbs and 8lbs per dumbbell) is versatile enough to handle both dumbbell-specific exercises and broader cardio training.
We have mentioned how neoprene sets make up the majority of the market for female users. Note that it is relatively uncommon to find neoprene dumbbells above 15lbs (a 30lb pair).
The Yes4All Non-slip Neoprene Dumbbells on this list are offered in pairs up to 20lbs each, but that’s about as heavy as you’ll be able to find a neoprene-finished set.
This isn’t a major concern for beginner weightlifters – women and men alike – though it is something to consider for down the line when you improve.
If you want to lift heavier weights to develop your muscles and find that neoprene dumbbell sets are just too light, you may need to switch to a different material. Beyond 20lbs each, most dumbbells are made of steel or iron. If you’re worried about the heavy weights scratching or marking your floors, buy a set with rubber heads and metal handles.
While the basic features may guide your decision when you’re searching for new dumbbells, it can still be difficult to hone in on one specific option. These secondary aspects are often the things that set two similar pairs apart from one another. Make sure not to neglect these as you search.
The majority of the pairs on this list come with a stand or carrying case included. This is a common feature with sets that contain multiple pairs – without some sort of storage solution, it’s difficult to find an organized space for all of the dumbbells!
Plastic racks are the standard for budget sets. Most have three tiers that easily store all of your dumbbells in pairs.
While they get the job done, the plastic on these racks is often flimsy and may not hold up in the long run. This is particularly true if you change the weights in the stand. Most plastic racks are designed for 20lb or 32lb sets and will struggle to support more weight.
Higher-end racks are often made of metal. These stands are much sturdier and won’t need replacing if you ever switch out the weights. The metal tiered stand in our top pick – the WF Athletic Supply Dumbbell Set – is a perfect example.
Other sets use a carrying case for storage. While cases require you to remove the weights every time you want to use them, this method gives you extra portability if you want to take your dumbbells on the road.
Whether or not you decide to place the dumbbells in a rack or case, it’s worth considering the shapes of the ends of the dumbbells. Some of the dumbbells on our list feature round ends, while others are hexagonal.
If you place the dumbbells down during exercise, the hexagonal ends will stay put, where round ones may roll away. Though it’s admittedly a minor feature, the end shape could come in handy if you’re strapped for space or want to leave your dumbbells without worrying about them moving.
Finally, you should also consider the design of your dumbbells. While all of the choices on our list are fixed dumbbells – dumbbells with one pre-set weight – you can also find adjustable dumbbells on the market. Adjustable models come with multiple weight plates which you can add or remove to change the weight of the dumbbells.
While adjustable models save you from needing to buy multiple pairs, they take some time to assemble and may slow you down in the middle of your workout. They also tend to be wider than fixed dumbbells, which can be annoying if you prefer a more compact shape.
Many women first pick up dumbbells in an attempt to get rid of flabby arms – it’s a common aesthetic complaint!
Because dumbbells are often used to work out the upper body, it’s easy to assume that using them for arm exercises will naturally melt away extra fat on your arms.
As great as it would be if dumbbells could burn through your arm fat, sadly the answer isn’t quite a clear-cut yes or no. In reality, the science of fat loss is a tad more complex.
If you’re trying to lose fat, you’re probably already familiar with the basic tenets of weight loss. Simply put, your body stores excess calories you consume as fat, and empties out those caloric reserves if burn more calories than you take in.
The problem is that your body doesn’t store or burn fat in a targeted manner. That is, you can’t trigger your body to burn fat from one area while leaving other fat reserves untouched. Unfortunately, many people think that exercising a certain part of your body will prompt your body to burn fat there as a result.
At times, this idea of ‘spot reduction’ for burning fat has gained widespread popularity. The theory that you can create six-pack abs by doing thousands of crunches without any other effort is a prime example. However, there’s very little actual evidence to back up the claims.
If you’re looking to get rid of fat on a certain area of your body – such as your arms – it’s important that you don’t zero in on those few muscles alone. Working out muscles that you want to develop obviously has its benefits. However, the most effective way to lose body fat is to burn more calories overall.
Arm exercises, for example, work smaller muscles and don’t burn as many calories as larger compound lifts. This is particularly true when compared to full-body exercises like squats, push-ups, or pull-ups.
Make sure to incorporate plenty of these more demanding activities into your exercise routine. Though emphasizing your arms alone may feel more intuitive, the extra calories you burn via full-body workouts will help remove fat from your arms as a byproduct.
Combining dumbbell lifts with cardio activity or interval training can also spike your heartrate and increase the number of calories your workout demands. Even if you don’t love intense, chest-pounding cardio, incorporating dumbbells into relaxed cardio like walking, yoga or Plates will help you burn more calories over the course of your workout.
Muscle is also denser and more metabolically active than fat, which creates a helpful snowball effect for fat-loss purposes. The majority of the calories you burn each day come from your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy your body uses while you’re at rest).
As you begin to exercise and replace body fat with muscle, your body will require a couple of extra calories each day to maintain and support the heavier muscle. While it’s not a massive increase (and studies differ on the exact number of extra calories you’ll burn), it certainly doesn’t hurt.
To summarize, dumbbells can’t help you specifically get rid of arm fat – no exercise tool can promise that. However, dumbbell routines can help you burn calories, which will drive down your overall body fat, including any fat on your arms.
It’s common knowledge that hardcore weightlifters don’t lift every day. The extreme stress on their muscles requires them to take days off to build those muscles back up before they work them once again.
But for those who don’t use such demanding weights, are off days really necessary?
Surprisingly, the answer is most likely yes. If you train your muscles to fatigue during your workouts – meaning that you cannot physically do more repetitions at the end of each set – they may still take a day or so to get back to full strength.
While lack of exercise is a serious issue for many people today, overtraining has its own host of associated health problems. It’s therefore better to wait until your muscles have recovered (a day or two) than to risk injury or ruin your muscle gains by rushing back.
The major exception to this rule is a rotating workout schedule. If you use dumbbells or other weights to work different muscle groups each day, there’s no harm in using the weights every day. Just avoid training the same muscle groups over and over without any rest time built into your calendar.
For example, train your lower body with dumbbells on a Monday, your upper body on a Tuesday, then rest on a Wednesday.
Another exception is dumbbell exercises used for cardio. These may not be stressful enough to prevent you from working out the following day. Taking a light pair of dumbbells with you as walking weights shouldn’t require you to take days off.
Use your discretion to determine whether or not you feel comfortable working out with dumbbells every day in these circumstances.
If you’ve never picked up a dumbbell before, it might be tempting to go all-out during the first few days. Make sure that you establish a safe and consistent routine. Ultimately, commitment is more important than intensity to help you achieve your fitness goals.
Muscle toning is one of the primary reasons many women first pick up dumbbells. However, there’s a lot more myth than fact surrounding toning – and debunking the false information is crucial to help you get better results from your training regimen.
‘Muscle toning’ focuses on the idea that you can make your muscles firmer or shapelier with a combination of many repetitions, low weight and substantial rest time in between sets. However, there’s no evidence to support the idea that you can change the composition of your muscles from softer to harder.
Most scientific research shows that it’s only possible to build muscle and to afterwards maintain what you’ve built. Many of the gains that people attribute to proper toning are actually due to slightly increased muscle mass and lower body fat.
Unfortunately, many women regard lifting heavy weights and building muscle as a male-only endeavor. The truth is that women need to lift heavy weights during their workouts in order to build muscle. This is perfectly safe and won’t make you bulky.
If you want your muscles to grow at all – even just to make them stand out a bit more – you will need to use enough weight to stress them.
Don’t do endless resistance exercises with barely any weight, like many magazines advise for a classic ‘lean and toned look’. Instead, find a weight level that induces failure after eight to 12 repetitions. This means that you physically cannot lift the weight for a 13th time in each set.
The extra weight will induce your muscles to grow, and will save you time during your workout.
While muscle growth is part of traditional ‘toning’, fat loss is another important piece of the equation. The key, as we mentioned above, has to do with the number of calories you take in versus the number of calories you get rid of each day.
If you operate from a state of caloric deficit, you’ll force your body to burn fat stores and assimilate them back into your bloodstream. With less fat to shield them, your muscles will become more prominent and appear to ‘pop’ more.
You can also use dumbbells to melt more calories during your workout. Keeping your rest periods short between exercises and doing large compound movements with your dumbbells will elevate your heartrate.
Maintaining that high heartrate throughout your workout will increase the number of calories you burn. When done properly, dumbbell workouts can burn as many calories as cardio sessions in a shorter amount of time.
Whether male or female, advanced lifters probably know which weight levels they want to use when they begin searching for a new set of dumbbells. If you have never tried lifting weights before, though, some additional guidance may be helpful.
The amount of weight you can lift depends on each exercise. A quick rule of thumb: the more muscles a certain exercise works, the more weight you can accommodate. The extra muscles distribute the load more effectively. This is why it’s much easier to squat 50lbs than it is to bicep curl the same weight!
Many dumbbell workouts incorporate both compound movements (like squats and lunges) and isolation lifts like bicep curls, overhead presses and shoulder raises.
Women who have never touched a dumbbell before can generally lift 3lb or 5lb dumbbells on the smaller exercises and more weight on the larger ones. You may even be able to handle a pair of 10lb dumbbells for the movements that work the most muscles, like squats and deadlifts.
To determine how much weight to use, aim to reach muscle failure between eight and 12 repetitions of each exercise. Weights that are too heavy may cause injury. Choose a pair that’s too light, however, and you won’t build any muscle.
As you improve, you will need to increase the weight to remain within the target bracket of eight to 12 reps.
Mixed sets that offer multiple weight levels, like the WF Athletic Supply Dumbbell Set (see our chart above), can cover your entire workout on their own. The WF Set weighs 32lbs total – to build new muscle, it will work much better than other 20lb or 16lb sets.
As we mention above, many women also prefer to incorporate dumbbells into other exercise routines like yoga, Pilates, running and walking. If you plan on using your dumbbells to amp up other exercise, any pair that weighs more than 5lbs will probably be too heavy to begin with.
Depending on the intensity and duration of your cardio exercise, try using 2lb or 3lb dumbbells to begin with. Even though they’re light, the effect is noticeable over the course of a lengthy session. If those weights don’t offer enough resistance, you can move up to 5lb pairs and beyond.
After evaluating the options, we settled on the WF Athletic Supply Dumbbell Set as our top pick for women.
Though it might have a higher sticker price than some of the other dumbbell sets we featured, it more than makes up for the expense with its flexible weight levels, high-quality neoprene coating and sturdy metal rack. It’s a durable and versatile set – the perfect combination for a set of dumbbells.
However, you may have different needs depending on your own fitness goals. All of the dumbbells featured on this page have different pros and cons, and each one is tailored to a certain subset of women.
Make sure to evaluate every option before you buy, and read through our buyer’s guide and frequently asked questions to inform your purchase. Best of luck in your search!