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What are some things you have to look for while buying dumbbells? Even though they’re quite simple, there are some aspects you should be aware of.
What should you know before buying dumbbells for a home gym? Here are the 9 things you should check when shopping for dumbbells;
- Do you need dumbbells?
- Fixed or adjustable?
- Weight range
- Brand, Warranty and customer service
- Where are you going to put them?
That list might leave you wanting for some more information to make the right decision when buying a pair of dumbbells. Keep reading to find out the fine print of what to look for.
Have no interest in reading everything? Here are my favorite dumbbells for home gym use.
1. Do You Need Dumbbells?
Before you blindly buy the first set of dumbbells you can get your hands on, the most important thing to think about is if you actually need them. What are your goals and how do you plan to get there? It also depends what other equipment you’ve got already or are planning to get.
If you’re just planning to do some cardio exercise, bodyweight exercises and stretching, dumbbells might not be necessary. Also, if you only want to focus on heavy barbell exercises, you don’t strictly need dumbbells.
That said, I think most people have a use for at least a small set of dumbbells. Dumbbells are probably the most versatile piece of gym equipment you can get for a home gym after resistance bands. Anybody who wants to do some kind of muscle building/toning will be well served by a set of dumbbells.
Dumbbells allow you to exercise pretty much every muscle in the body, especially if you combine it with a bench. Even if you’ve already got a rack and barbell setup, dumbbells add a lot to a gym. Dumbbells target muscles a little differently and you train both sides separately which helps prevent imbalances. Dumbbells also help train the small stabilizing muscles around the joints which help reduce injuries.
Of course the range of the set of dumbbells you need is different for different people. For aerobics or some other light exercises, a small set of dumbbells 2.5 lbs. to +-15 lbs. is good. For people that want to build some muscle mass, a set of 5-50 lbs. is better.
2. Fixed or adjustable dumbbells?
For home gym owners/builders, this is going to be the most important decisions to make regarding dumbbells. There are two main types of dumbbells.
Here’s what that means.
Fixed Dumbbells (DB’s) are the normal ones everyone knows if you’ve ever set foot in a commercial gym. On a fixed dumbbell the handle and weight are mated together and there is no way to change the weight. If you want to use a different weight, you’ll have to grab a different set of DB’s.
If you’re still wondering if you should get adjustable or fixed dumbbells, click here to learn more.
They’re simple and effective. The fixed construction also makes them very sturdy. It’s possible to drop these on the floor many times and not much will happen. Maybe you’ll even damage your floor. That makes them great for heavy use in commercial settings or the more enthusiastic home lifter.
They also take up a lot of space. You need a different set for every weight you want to use. Different exercises require different weights and when you progress over time, you’ll use more weight for all of those exercises. That means the average person needs a whole range of dumbbells with different weights since you can’t just use one weight for all exercises.
That makes fixed dumbbells take up a lot of space and it gets pretty expensive to buy a whole rack of them. That’s where adjustable dumbbells come in.
Adjustable DB’s are, as the name suggests, weight adjustable. You can change the weights in a certain range without grabbing another pair of dumbbells. This means you don’t need 15 pairs spread out through your gym. It’s a fantastic space saver that’s necessary for some smaller home gyms. 15 pairs of dumbbells in the space of one pair of big ones is a huge difference.
Adjustable dumbbells come in two varieties;
- Plate loaded with threaded collar
Many people will be familiar with the threaded collar adjustable dumbbells. This is a handle with threaded ends on both sides. You can load up the weight plates to your desired weight and screw on the collar to lock them in place.
The other type is much fancier and more expensive. This type allows you to adjust the weight with a simple selector (when put down on the base plate). This can be a dial system but there are a few others out there.
The threaded collar type is the cheapest way to get a full set of dumbbells in your home gym. For under $200 you can find sets that allow you to have dumbbells that adjust from 5 to 100 pounds per side. The drawback of this type is that it takes a long time to change weights. I personally found that they’re uncomfortable to use as well.
The selectorized adjustable dumbbells are much nicer pieces of equipment. The weights are super easy to change because you just turn a dial. They are more expensive but about the same price as you would pay for a full set of fixed dumbbells. The biggest drawback is that they are more vulnerable. The selection mechanism is the part that damages the easiest and dropping the DB can break it.
That said, there are people that have used these selectorized DB’s for more than 10 years and they’re still working fine so it’s not a huge concern if you treat your stuff well.
So in the end should you choose fixed or adjustable dumbbells? Fixed for greatest flexibility and longevity at the expense of space. Threaded collar adjustable dumbbells are the cheapest option but that comes at the expense of user comfort. Selectorized adjustable is great for space saving and a tidy look but isn’t the sturdiest option. Choose which one fits your needs the best.
3. Weight range of dumbbells for a home gym
Ok, it sounds obvious that you should pay attention to the weight of a dumbbell. That’s the whole point of those things. What is worth paying attention to is if a certain type of dumbbells you want, goes up and down to the weights you use. The full range of weights you need should be available.
I hate having a rack with different types of dumbbells, it drives me crazy. Maybe I’m crazy but if I’m spending hundreds of dollars on something, I want it to be what I need and it has to look nice.
Most models of dumbbells have a range that goes from 5lbs to 60 lbs. with 5lbs. increments. For some stronger people under us, 60lbs. isn’t enough. If that’s you and you don’t like different types of dumbbells in your rack, it’s something to pay attention to.
Dumbbells less than 5lbs are usually a different type anyways so it’s difficult to avoid a different look with the lightest dumbbells.
Do you need all weights of dumbbells?
No, you don’t need all of them at the same time. But over an extended period of time, you’ll need almost all of the dumbbells in a range of 5 to +-60 pounds. Because you’ll use different weights for different exercises. But you’ll also get stronger, meaning you’ll need all of those starting weights and the one or two weights above your starting point in just a few months’ time.
E.g. you start working out like this;
- Shoulder press -> 15 lbs.
- Bicep curl – 10 lbs.
- Lateral raise – 5 lbs.
- DB row – 25lbs.
- DB bench press 35lbs.
In one month time, you’ll need all those dumbbells and the ones that are 5 pounds heavier. And in three months you’ll need the ones that are 10 lbs. heavier. Than you suddenly need all of these;
- Shoulder press -> 20, 25 lbs.
- Bicep curl – 15, 20 lbs.
- Lateral raise – 10, 15 lbs.
- DB row – 30, 35lbs.
- DB bench press 40, 45lbs.
It’s just an example but it shows how many of the dumbbell range you actually need if you’re serious about working out and getting stronger.
With adjustable dumbbells this is not a problem since you get the whole range in one package. With fixed ones, you’ll have to buy a lot of them at once. Although you could buy them as you need them since delivery times are usually less than three days. This way you can spread out your costs a little bit.
4. Dumbbell shapes
All dumbbells are a handle with weights at both ends. The weights or “heads” of the dumbbell can have different shapes. While there isn’t a huge difference, there are a few things you should know.
There are two common shapes for dumbbells:
The main differences are that round dumbbells are slightly more comfortable in some situations since they don’t have any edges. Hexagonal dumbbells do have some pointy bits that can be slightly uncomfortable but the difference isn’t huge.
Hexagonal dumbbells don’t roll away when you put them on the floor. This can prevent the weight from rolling into your toes or mirror and hurting either. This makes hexagonal dumbbells the best choice of many people. The benefit is bigger than the drawback.
5. Dumbbell materials
Under the hood, all dumbbells are steel. It doesn’t really make sense to fabricate them out of something else. What can differ is the outside.
There are three common outer layers for a dumbbell
- Bare steel
Chrome dumbbells should be sent back to the 80’s where they belong. I’m not a fan for a few reasons. They might look nice when they’re new but dumbbells get dropped, rolled and used. After a while they won’t look so nice anymore. And who will polish their dumbbells? Not me. Also, tastes differ but I think they don’t look good new either.
The main choice is between rubberized vs. “naked”. There are benefits to both;
Rubberized dumbbells have a rubber layer on the outside (not the handle). This makes them safer for your floor and equipment and also makes less noise when you drop them. An added benefit is that the rubber is quite grippy which I personally really like and can be useful in some situations.
With heavy use the rubber can wear off or start tearing. However, I’ve seen them last for many years without problems in a commercial gym.
“naked” dumbbells have no such coating on the outside. It’s just hard steel with some rust protection. They last forever but are missing the benefits the rubberized ones have. They can also be a bit less comfortable to use. They look industrial and rough. Some people like that look. If you do, there is nothing wrong with that of course.
For the vast majority of people, rubberized dumbbells are the right choice.
6. Dumbbell handles
One part of a dumbbell that many people overlook is the handle. But since it’s the part you’re always touching, it’s quite important. There are four aspects to a handle of a dumbbell;
Let’s take a deeper look at all those aspects and what you want.
The material of most dumbbell handles is metal. This is good. It is hardwearing, easy to clean and has worked perfectly fine for many decades. Another option you see sometimes is a rubberized handle. I’m not a fan of those since it is often the first thing to start wearing off on dumbbells like that. Besides that it’s a bit more difficult to clean and can get pretty nasty.
On the other hand it does usually provide good grip and is slightly easier on your hands.
Metal handles on dumbbells are the best choice in the long run.
The metal handle should have a slight cross-hatch pattern cut into it. This is called knurling. It provides extra grip so dumbbells don’t slide around in your hands. Especially when you’re sweaty this gets important.
Almost all dumbbells will have this pattern but if it doesn’t, don’t buy it.
The knurling can be shallow or deep. Deeper knurling will give you more grip but it’s also tougher on the skin of your hands and vice versa. The heavier the weights you’re using, the more important the knurling becomes.
Diameter of a dumbbell handle is a surprisingly hot topic. For most people a handle diameter of 1” to 1.4” is good. This allows you to have a good secure and comfortable grip without asking too much of your hands.
Some high-level and professional athletes are known to use thicker handles of 2” and above. There seems to be strength benefit you get from training with thick handles. It’s also a comfort thing. With heavy dumbbells, the 25mm handle can feel like it starts cutting into your hands because all the weight is focused in one spot. With thicker handles, the weight is spread out over your hand more evenly. This makes thicker handles more comfortable with heavy weights.
Even with those heavy weights it’s not necessary to go up to 2” or even 2.5” inch for comfort though. 1.5” seems to be what most people find comfortable.
Dumbbell handles can be straight or slightly bulbous in the middle. The ones with bulbous handles offer slightly better comfort and grip but the difference isn’t huge.
But with heavy weights all the little bits matter. So if you’re expecting to get strong and lift heavy, an ergonomically shaped handle is a definite plus.
7. Dumbbell looks
Like it or not, looks matter. It’s not a super important point but it’s certainly something to look for. Let’s say you’ve got the choice between two pairs of dumbbells. They’re functionally the same but one looks better. You will likely go for the one you think looks better.
A better looking gym is a place you want to go more often. Working out more often means you’ll get into a better shape, you’ll be stronger and healthier. That’s the whole reason for building a home gym in the first place. So why not just get the set that looks that little bit better and makes you want to work out more often and get yourself in a better shape.
Dumbbells come in several different shapes and finishes the most common ones;
- Cast iron with enamel finish
- Cast iron with rubber finish
- Cast iron with chrome finish
What you like is obviously up to you.
8. Brand, Warranty and customer service
Ok, dumbbells are simple and don’t usually break. But if they do, it’s better if you can deal with a company that has a good warranty policy and customer service you can actually reach. Depending on the construction of a dumbbell they might not be easily repairable.
In a situation like that, it’s good to have peace of mind that you can (probably) count on the customer service of a reliable brand. With the cheap Chinese weights you got off EBay, that’s going to be a problem.
Of course customer service costs money. You’ll have to pay for that when buying a product. That means that dumbbells from a reputable brand will cost quite a bit more than the cheapest ones you can find. If you’re willing to take the risk and the savings are worth it, you’re of course free to take the risk that you won’t get any service. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself.
9. Where are you going to put them?
This partly goes back to the first question of fixed vs. adjustable. Do you have the space to store the dumbbells you intend to buy? For adjustable dumbbells, you don’t need a lot of space. Some of them are even available with their own rack that fits perfectly.
If you’re going for fixed dumbbells, you’ll need a pretty big rack to store all of them neatly. If you’ve got the space, no problem. For people whose space is a bit limited, it’s important to find a dumbbell rack that fits your space.
Of course you could also just buy a complete set of dumbbells that comes with a rack. Check out here which ones I recommend.
You want to be able to see easily which weight you’re grabbing. Grabbing one dumbbell and having to search everywhere for it’s twin brother isn’t a fun activity in the middle of a hard workout.
That means the weights should be on the dumbbells clearly. It’s something simple but important. The numbers should be embossed and preferably in a contrasting color so you can see which weight you’re grabbing in one quick look.
Many people often forget a few important pieces of their home gym that isn’t directly gym equipment. Here are my favorite home gym tools.
- Interval timer: To time your intervals and all types of other workouts, the GymNext Flex is easily the best and easiest to use.
- Mirrors: Fab & Glass (Amazon link) makes the best large mirror sheets so you can see your exercise form.
- Flooring: American Floor Mats gym flooring (Amazon) or equipment mats make your gym quieter, easier to clean and keeps your floor and equipment safe.
- Fan: The Rowenta VU5670 (Amazon) is a great way to stay cool while working out.