What to Consider When Buying Dumbbells

What to Consider When Buying Dumbbells


I was asked the other day by a client, "Why are dumbbells called dumbbells?" I did not know, but it intrigued me so I did some research. Back in the 1700s, a British poet named Joseph Addison used church bells with the clapper removed to silence them during his exercise routine. This made the bells dumb so they were called dumbbells. (Johnson, 2018) Dumbbells have been around for a very long time, dating back all the way to ancient Greece. They have just evolved and upgraded into what we use now.  Dumbbells have been a fundamental part of fitness for hundreds of years. 

I have been in the health and fitness field for over twenty years and I have used and purchased a lot of equipment through the years including dumbbells. I would say I have a very in depth knowledge on the subject. As I started researching I even became overwhelmed at the amount of technical details in a lot of the information out there. For instance, I do not care to know the amount of nickel or chromium in dumbbells. Granted some are more durable, but why bore someone with uninteresting facts. Simplicity is the best approach to gaining a basic knowledge of something. 

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Why Are Dumbbells a Great Pick for a Fitness Routine? 

Dumbbells are a great addition and in fact, should be a requirement for any home gym. Here are a few benefits of dumbbells: anyone can use them-beginner, intermediate, and advanced; large variety of exercises for each part of the body; less risk for injury compared to a barbell; ability to isolate muscle groups more effectively using unilateral movements; convenient and are cost-effective compared to paying a monthly gym membership.  Here is a list of considerations and recommendations when buying dumbbells for home use.  I'm going to list what I consider to be the most important and keep it simple and easy to understand.

The first and I feel the most important consideration is space. Where are you planning on using the weights and how much space do you have? Depending on the size of the space will likely determine if you should purchase fixed or adjustable dumbbells. Fixed is one weight and it never changes and adjustable is just that-adjustable. 

What to Consider When Buying Dumbbells?

Fixed weights take up much more space than adjustable because you have to purchase several fixed weights to equal the adjustable.  Fixed is the most common form, especially in commercial gyms. Also, factor in how you plan to store the weights. The dumbbell rack is not usually included unless you are buying a complete set of weights. This becomes very expensive and requires a substantial amount of space because a full set can range from five to one hundred plus pounds in weight. Also, the place where you decide to put the rack becomes fixed because you probably will not be moving it very often. Do make sure that your floor can hold the weight of a full set of fixed weights.

I use adjustable weights in my house because I have hardwood floors and it was built in 1929. I did not want to damage the floor with the purchase of fixed weights. Honestly, if I had a large budget, substantial space, and proper flooring, I would have a full set of fixed weights. They are built to last and can take the abuse of being dropped. They are more convenient especially during high intensity target training (HITT) workouts when changing weight and speed are important. There are many retailers that range from top-of-the-line to more budget-friendly. Some brands include LivingFit; Rogue; Titan Fitness; CAP; TRX; Weider; Fitness Gear and Amazon Basics.

How Much do Dumbbells Cost?

The second consideration is cost. If your budget and space are small, purchase adjustable. There are large weight ranges on adjustable weights and they do not require much space. The ones I use have a weight range of 5 to 52.5 pounds. This weight range is more than enough for me and my clients. These weights have endured seven years of  daily training. They are very durable if you take care of them, so don't drop them or abuse them.  There are many options for adjustable weights like Bowflex SelectTech; NordicTrack Select-A-Weight; PowerBlock; NUOBELL, CAP, and Marcy. They either have loadable plates, a dial, a button, or a slide pin to adjust the weight. 

Dumbbells from brands like Bowflex, Powerblock, and NordicTrack use selectorized weights that you turn to click or slide a pin in the desired weight. The weights are all together and you just choose the weight you want on each dumbbell. These dumbbells are space savers but have a lot of parts that can break easily. They will not last forever.

Some other brands have a weight bar with plate weights that slide on and off. These are more durable but will require a little more space than the selectorized weights. The weights are kept in place by collars on each end.  Plate weighted adjustable dumbbells have a wide weight range. It helps to research and read reviews of the products you are considering purchasing and pay attention to the details like how many weights are included in the price and the shipping costs. Sometimes when buying a set of weights online, the price is just for one weight.

Grip the Dumbbells Tightly 

The third consideration is grip.  I suggest dumbbells with a knurling grip or textured grip. They will not slip as much during workouts. Also, take into consideration the size of the handle. Women typically have a better grip if the handle is thinner. I have a pair of fixed dumbbells with a thick handle and it is difficult to get a good grip especially if my hands are sweaty.

What is Good Dumbbells Material?

The materials from which the dumbbells are made are the fourth consideration.  This will affect the price, quality, and reaching your fitness goals. I'll go over the most common materials and give the pros and cons of each.

  • Plastic/ Vinyl:

    • Pros-cheaper than other dumbbells; do not rust; comfortable grip        (probably won't get too many callouses); great for beginners.

    • Cons-not very durable; weight range is limited and can be damaged by the elements.

  • Cast Iron: 

    • Pros-they have been around for the longest; very popular; wide range of weight; different shapes; very durable and versatile; the cost is more reasonable than rubber dumbbells.

    • Cons-they can do damage if dropped on a surface or a foot; are not rust resistant and can chip if dropped. 

  • Steel:

    •  Pros-very durable; rust-resistant; wide weight range, and versatile; the "gold standard" of dumbbells.  

    •  Cons-expensive                                                                                                        

  • Rubber/ Urethane: It is worth noting that rubber or urethane dumbbells are encasing another metal such as steel or cast iron. The rubber or urethane is either encasing the whole dumbbell or just the ends.

    • Pros-visually appealing; quieter when racking them; if dropped they won't damage the floor like cast iron dumbbells; wide weight range; durable, and versatile.

    • Cons-expensive; strong rubber smell; some people an allergic to rubber.

  • Neoprene:                                                                                         

    •  Pros-rust resistant; will not cause damage if dropped; durable, comfortable grip; good for beginners and studio classes; priced reasonably. 

    • Cons-limited weight range.

  • Chrome: 

    • Pros-visually appealing and you will get your cardio in keeping them shiny.

    • Cons-Not very durable; prone to rusting, can't be dropped; and weight range doesn't go extremely heavy, and pricey.

The fifth consideration is the shape of the dumbbells. Two of the most common shapes are round and hexagon or Hex.

  • Round: 

    • Pros-the weight is evenly distributed no matter how you hold and move the weight; available in a wide range of weights and handle diameters. This is the most common shape.

    • Cons-will roll across the floor or off a bench, it is advisable to have a dumbbell rack to store them, harder to find. Most brick-and-mortar stores do not carry round rubberized dumbbells.

  • Hexagon (Hex; six-sided): 

    • Pros-by design they will not roll across the floor or off a bench; stable especially when doing renegade rows and dumbbell pushups; fairly affordable, and easily available in brick and mortar stores.

    • Cons-prone to chipping and rusting if they are not rubber-encased on the ends of the dumbbells

Dumbbells are a great investment in your fitness goals. Even if you have only one or two pairs or a complete set of fixed or adjustable, your exercise options are endless. There are not too many pieces of exercise equipment that allows you to do multiple exercises that work every muscle group. Here are some examples:  When researching and looking to buy dumbbells, try them out first. I have purchased items on the internet and I was disappointed when it wasn’t what I had expected. I suggest going to Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy Sports or any retail store that sells fitness equipment. Going to a gym is also a good option  to get a feel of the dumbbells. After doing your research and getting what you want, you will be satisfied with your investment towards achieving your fitness goals. Happy Lifting!!


Kathy Bateman

BS Health Education

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

Owner of Kat’s Ironclad Fitness


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