Dumbbells have been used as far back in history as ancient Greece, though they had a different shape. They’ve been used all around the world since then, and even Benjamin Franklin swore by his dumbbell routine for staying strong and living a long life.
There are a few good reasons why they’ve stood the test of time: they’re effective and versatile. But how to find the best dumbbells for your needs, in modern times, when there are so many options available?
That’ll depend on your needs when it comes to budget, space, current strength levels, training goals, and personal preferences.
In general, you’ll at least want a light, medium, and heavy set of weights, though you could certainly pick up a larger range than that if you’ve got the budget and serious strength goals.
- 1 What are the Best Dumbbells?
- 2 Best Dumbbells If Your Goal Is to Lift Heavy
- 3 Best Dumbbells for High Reps or HIIT
- 4 Best Dumbbells for Social Media Aesthetics
- 5 Best Dumbbells If You Don’t Have a Lot of Extra Space
- 6 Best Dumbbells on a Budget
- 7 Best Dumbbells for Beginners
- 8 Major Differences Between Dumbbells and Machines
- 9 Major Differences Between Dumbbells and Barbells
- 10 Will Traditional or Adjustable Dumbbells Be Best?
- 11 Advantages of Dumbbells
- 12 Disadvantages of Dumbbells
- 13 Safety Tips
- 14 My Top Dumbbell Recommendations
- 15 FAQ
- 15.1 Question: Where can I buy good quality dumbbells?
- 15.2 Question: What should I look for when buying dumbbells?
- 15.3 Question: How do I choose a dumbbell weight?
- 15.4 Question: Are 20-lb dumbbells enough?
- 15.5 Question: Why are dumbbells so expensive?
- 15.6 Question: Which dumbbell is best for beginners?
- 15.7 Question: How much does a full set of dumbbells cost?
- 15.8 Question: Do dumbbells reduce belly fat?
- 15.9 Question: Should I buy 1 or 2 dumbbells?
- 15.10 Question: Is it worth it to buy dumbbells?
- 15.11 Question: Can 5-pound dumbbells build muscle?
- 15.12 Question: Do heavier weights make bigger muscles?
- 15.13 Question: Will 10-lb dumbbells do anything?
- 16 Conclusion: How to Find the Best Dumbbells
What are the Best Dumbbells?
The short answer to this question is the dumbbells you’ll actually use. If you’re trying to follow along with a workout video and can’t switch between weights on your adjustable dumbbells without pausing and restarting the workout, that can be frustrating and discouraging.
If you have a weight range that’s too light or too heavy, that’s also not motivating. What that weight range needs to depend on you, your current strength, and the types of workouts you’ll be doing (low reps and heavy weights, or high reps and lighter weights, for example). We’ll talk more about this soon.
If you like to post about your fitness journey on social media and connect with others in the health and wellness community to hold yourself accountable and inspire others, maybe it’s as simple as choosing a beautiful pair of dumbbells to pose with during or post-workout.
There are the functional aspects to consider when you’re learning how to find the best dumbbells, of course, but don’t discount or override the emotional ones.
Best Dumbbells If Your Goal Is to Lift Heavy
You’re going to want something with a good grip, rubber coating (ideally, to protect the floor), and/or adjustable up to higher weights with add-ons available when you’re ready. If you’re not using adjustable weights, you’ll want to look for a dumbbell brand that extends into the higher weights you see yourself lifting in the future.
- Ironmasters are top-of-the-line and have a lifetime guarantee. They’re expandable even beyond what most lifters will need. They’re expensive, but if you’re comfortable dropping the cash, you probably won’t ever regret your purchase.
- PowerBlocks are a less expensive alternative that will also work well, but they won’t give you the same extensive weight range or traditional dumbbell feel.
- As far as traditional dumbbells go, CAP coated dumbbells offer a good range, knurled grip, and the coating on the ends makes them more durable and easier on your floor.
Best Dumbbells for High Reps or HIIT
If you’ll just be doing workouts that require high reps, there’s a good chance you’ll be staying in the lower weight range. That means you’ll be spending less and your options are wide open.
Neoprene-coated dumbbells or knurled handgrips will make it easier to hold onto your weights during sweaty, intense workouts with high reps.
Vinyl-coated dumbbells may not be the best choice here, as they can get slippery when you’re sweating, and some of the moves may be faster-paced. Nobody wants to accidentally throw a dumbbell across the room mid-workout.
Best Dumbbells for Social Media Aesthetics
If you already have a color palette picked out, you may be able to find neoprene-coated dumbbells to match (you’ll end up with a variety of colors in this case, since most dumbbell manufacturers don’t create whole lines in one color and give each weight its own color instead).
There are also rose gold dumbbells, like the ones by Blogilates, that could complement your color scheme. Of course, you could always keep your options open with the trusty black rubber and chrome dumbbells that go with everything and come in every weight.
Best Dumbbells If You Don’t Have a Lot of Extra Space
If you’re not going to be sticking with a handful of smaller weights and don’t have a lot of room, adjustable is the way to go.
You can pick up a relatively inexpensive set that isn’t expandable (or especially heavy), or choose one that’s expandable up to 90 lbs (or beyond). Check out our breakdown of how to choose the best adjustable dumbbells for more information.
Best Dumbbells on a Budget
Don’t forget to check second-hand stores if you’re on a budget because you might be able to score a nice set for next-to-nothing.
If you’re shopping for new ones, though, you’ll need to choose a weight range first, with some room to grow. Then compare the costs of one or two traditional dumbbells from each weight you need to the price of an adjustable pair (or single, since some adjustable dumbbells are sold that way) that encompasses the range you need.
Decide if it makes more financial sense for you to get an adjustable set or a few regular dumbbells, based on the workouts you want to do and your current strength levels.
Here are some good options to start from:
- Flybird Adjustable Dumbbell, which goes up to 25 lbs. Great for beginners and people who lift lighter weights and want a good space-saving option on a budget.
- Amazon Basics Neoprene Coated Dumbbell Hand Weight Set (60 lbs): At the time of this writing, this set comes out slightly cheaper per pound than others we checked. You’ll get two each of 5-, 10-, and 15-lb dumbbells. It also comes with a stand.
Best Dumbbells for Beginners
If you’re really ready to dive in and make a commitment to getting stronger, you may like Powerblocks or the Bowflex SelectTech 552. If you’d rather ease in with a few weights and less of a financial commitment, pick up a set or two of the neoprene-coated or chrome dumbbells with the ends encased in black rubber.
You can find these anywhere dumbbells are sold. These two styles tend to be on the less expensive end of things and come in the lighter weights you’ll want to start with.
Feel free to only buy one weight instead of a set if you really don’t want to spend a lot. You can work each side of your body separately.
Major Differences Between Dumbbells and Machines
Dumbbells and gym machines can both have their place in a lifting routine, but they feel different during the workouts and can affect the body differently.
- Dumbbells require stabilizing muscles to get more involved, whereas machines take on some of that burden.
- Dumbbells are versatile and can be used for the whole body, whereas most machines are designed to work specific muscles.
- Dumbbells take up as much or as little space as you want (depending on how many sets you buy, or if you go with adjustable) and can be moved around for more ideal storage options, whereas the amount of floor space machines require won’t change and it’s harder to move most of those around as your gym area changes over time.
Major Differences Between Dumbbells and Barbells
Barbells have their place in a well-rounded strength training routine and the idea of loading one up, getting in the zone, and lifting heavy certainly has an allure to it, but don’t neglect the dumbbells.
- Dumbbells allow you to simply pick up a new weight and continue working out, whereas barbells require you to add or remove plates, which can take time and energy.
- Dumbbells allow you to work on strength imbalances, whereas barbells generally involve using both sides of the body at the same time (allowing one side to compensate for lack of strength on the other).
- Dumbbells are more versatile and potentially easier to store, depending on your collection.
- Some barbells designed for at-home use aren’t meant to hold as much weight as some users may prefer (some max out at around 100 lbs), whereas dumbbells are available in heavier weights in conventional and some adjustable sets.
- Some inexpensive barbells designed for at-home use have a two-piece design that may make them less safe to use (if shopping online for one of those, always read the reviews to see if other users have experienced any issues, whereas a dumbbell’s shape and design is pretty straightforward.
Will Traditional or Adjustable Dumbbells Be Best?
Do you want the regular style of dumbbell everyone’s familiar with, or should you go with an adjustable set? It depends on how much you want to spend and how much space you have, really. Other than that, it’s really just personal preference and how quickly you need to be able to switch weights for the workouts you do.
If you want to start with a small investment and want to be able to move between weights quickly and easily (especially important if you’re following along with workout videos or doing HIIT), the traditional style is probably the best.
If you’re low on space and hope to significantly increase your strength, however, building a collection of dumbbells over time could become an issue. Adjustable is probably the way to go here.
If you’re already pretty strong, your starter set of traditional dumbbells will be expensive and take up a significant amount of space from day one, and you may be better served by a pair of adjustable dumbbells that work with expansion sets.
However, if you prefer the traditional dumbbells and have the space and budget to go that route, traditional dumbbells will be fine. Do the math to compare prices and then decide which one you’d prefer to have.
Advantages of Dumbbells
There is so much to love about dumbbells, and there are so many reasons to have at least a few at home (even if you still plan to have a gym membership).
- You can train one side at a time to address imbalances.
- Training with dumbbells can help with balance and coordination.
- You can use dumbbells in HIIT training,
- Greater activation of stabilizing muscles to help in some moves.
- You can work in several planes of motion.
- They train the smaller muscles that working out on machines may neglect.
- With a carefully selected weight range for your current strength as well as room to get stronger, you can strengthen your whole body without an enormous financial or space commitment.
- You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get started, but you might if you tried to replicate the gym machine experience at home (unless you went the Bowflex or Total Gym route, for example).
- They’re versatile.
- You can use some as kettlebells instead of buying something else.
- No setup or maintenance required (we do recommend regularly checking adjustable dumbbells for damage)
- You don’t necessarily have to purchase dumbbells in sets if you’re willing to work one side at a time, which could save you money.
Disadvantages of Dumbbells
There are a few downsides to dumbbells, but the pros outweigh the cons, really:
- If you want a very large set of dumbbells just to cover all the bases or you need to purchase different weight ranges to accommodate several family members, you could find yourself spending several hundred dollars, quickly (if this is the case and you’d like to avoid it, check out adjustable dumbbells).
- If you go the adjustable dumbbell route, you still may be spending a few hundred dollars or more right off the bat—no easing into it.
- You’ll also need to store them somewhere. Depending on your collection, that could require more money (for the racks) and take up most of a wall in a room.
- Some moves for lower body will require a certain amount of upper body strength. Getting heavy dumbbells on your shoulders for squats (or even holding them by your sides), for example, is trickier than stepping under a bar in a squat rack and lifting with your legs.
- If you’re purchasing dumbbell sets over time, you run the risk of not being able to buy the weight you need from the brand you’ve decided on when you’re ready to buy.
There’s not a ton to know about the safety of dumbbells once you’ve studied up on the proper form for each move you want to do.
- Don’t throw or toss your dumbbells down, especially if you’re using adjustable dumbbells. Those could be damaged and lead to injury.
- Use a spotter on challenging lifts if you can. It’s nice to work out alone in the comfort of your home gym, and using dumbbells is safer than using a barbell (you can drop the dumbbells to the side, but you can’t really do that with a barbell), but if you’re bumping up your weights or will really be struggling with those last few reps, it’s smart to have a friend or significant other nearby to help.
- Don’t overtrain (but this goes for any type of lifting, whether you’re using dumbbells, a machine, or a barbell). Give your muscles time to rest and either take a whole rest day or just work a different body part (don’t work the same muscles two days in a row).
My Top Dumbbell Recommendations
So how do you find the best dumbbells? It’s a personal preference at the end of the day, but there are a few that really stand out. Here are some of our favorites:
If you’re comfortable spending a few hundred bucks on a pair of dumbbells that you can grow with, consider the Powerblock USA Elites.
You can go up to 50 pounds in each hand, then add expansions to continue up to 90 pounds in each hand. These start at five pounds and increase in 2.5-lb increments, so you can use them for upper and lower body workouts, regardless of whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter.
The Ironmaster adjustable dumbbells are some of the best you can get if you’re serious about lifting weights (especially heavy) and don’t mind spending a lot of money.
They feel like traditional dumbbells in your hands, but you can adjust up or down in weight without sacrificing a whole wall to a rack of dumbbells. These let you expand too much heavier weights than most brands and they have a lifetime warranty. They’re also not likely to get damaged if you do happen to drop one.
CAP Coated Hex Dumbbells
The CAP Coated Hex Dumbbells are available in weights from five pounds to 120. The handles are designed for a good, comfortable grip that won’t tire your hands out over time or slip as you get sweaty.
They won’t roll, they’re not likely to damage your floor, and they’re sold individually, so you only have to buy what you need.
The Amazon Basics weights don’t roll, have a covering that is less likely to damage your floors, are fairly priced, and come in 10-lb weights to 50-lb ones.
They have a comfortable grip with knurling, and they’re built for durability.
The only downside is that you can’t get 3-lb or 5-lb weights, which you may need for some upper body exercises.
Papababe dumbbells look like what you see in most gyms—black rubber on the ends and a knurled, chrome handle.
You can buy them as singles or sets of two and they’re reasonably priced. The hexagon-shaped heads keep them from rolling.
Here are some of the top questions people have when they start looking into finding the best dumbbells:
Question: Where can I buy good quality dumbbells?
Answer: You can pick up quality dumbbells at any sporting goods store, Amazon, or big box store. If you’re looking for adjustable dumbbells, those are less ubiquitous, but check specific sites like Bowflex, Powerblocks, NordicTrack, and Ironmaster.
Question: What should I look for when buying dumbbells?
Answer: First, decide what weight range you need. From there, you’ll want to consider shape (hexagon heads won’t roll around), storage (do you need adjustable weights so they’ll take up less space?), and grip (both the circumference and the knurling or other material that makes them easier to hold on to).
If you’re choosing adjustable weights, see how heavy they will go and if you can expand on that set later with add-ons. If the basic set is heavy enough, adding on may not be an issue, but it’s important to consider it before making a purchase.
Question: How do I choose a dumbbell weight?
Answer: If your budget allows, try to choose a light, medium, and heavyweight. You’ll use the lightweight for things like lateral raises, which work your shoulders. Medium weights are good for biceps, triceps, and chest.
Heavier weights can be used to work your back and lower body. Depending on your training style, you may even use light, medium, and heavy weights for the same body part in different rep ranges.
Of course, you can switch this up as needed using lighter weights for biceps and triceps, medium for back, etc. This is just a general guide to get you started with as few pairs of dumbbells as possible. Feel free to complete the following exercise with different workout moves to branch out into additional weights if you have the budget to expand your dumbbell collection.
To choose the right weight, start with five or ten pounds and see how many reps you can curl. Use an even pace (two counts up, two counts down, not relying on momentum) and go until your muscles are too fatigued to lift the weight again, or until you pass 20 reps.
If your muscles get too tired before 15 reps, go down three to five pounds. If you hit 20 reps with the original weight and feel like you could keep going, increase by three to five pounds. The weight you land on that feels challenging, but not too heavy, around 12-14 reps will be your medium weight.
Add about 10 pounds to that for your heavyweight. The weight you hit 20 reps with could be your light one, or you could choose to go a couple of pounds heavier (as long as you can still hit around 20 reps with it).
Question: Are 20-lb dumbbells enough?
Answer: You can do a lot with 20-lb dumbbells, but if you’re a beginner, that might be too much weight. If you plan to do a lot of exercises that isolate certain smaller muscles (bicep curls, shoulder presses, tricep kickbacks, etc) you should consider lighter weight. If you’re already pretty strong and want to use the dumbbells for squats and lunges, 20 lbs will most likely be a good starting point.
Question: Why are dumbbells so expensive?
Answer: Demand is high right now because of the pandemic (users were creating home gyms instead of going to the gym), so prices have gone up. As things get back to normal, dumbbell prices are likely to decrease as demand goes down.
Question: Which dumbbell is best for beginners?
Answer: Consider a range of three-pound to 20-lb dumbbells. A good starting point for women is 3-10 lbs (so buy 3, 5, 8, and 10). For men, 5-20 lbs (5, 10, 15, and 20) if you’ll be doing compound moves and also isolating some muscles. If you can only choose one weight to get started, women’s best bet will be 5-lb weights, and men will probably be able to do the most with 15-lb dumbbells.
Question: How much does a full set of dumbbells cost?
Answer: As of this writing, you can expect to pay around $2.00/lb. However, there are a number of things that play into the cost: the weight you need (heavier weights are cheaper per pound), type of dumbbells you want, demand (the pandemic has increased prices on at-home fitness equipment), and where you shop.
Question: Do dumbbells reduce belly fat?
Answer: You can’t spot reduce with any kind of workout, but using dumbbells will burn calories and reduce fat all over the body (with the right nutrition and consistency).
Question: Should I buy 1 or 2 dumbbells?
Answer: Either one will work, though if you get two of the same weight, your workouts can go faster because you won’t need to work one side at a time. You will also be able to hold a dumbbell in each hand or put one on each shoulder during lower-body moves, like squats and lunges. You could hole one heavier dumbbell with both hands while doing squats, but having two of the same weight will be the more versatile option.
Question: Is it worth it to buy dumbbells?
Answer: Absolutely. Dumbbells are one of the best ways to build a strong, lean physique.
Question: Can 5-pound dumbbells build muscle?
Answer: Yes. This is a good weight for some upper body moves and can help you sculpt your arms and shoulders.
Question: Do heavier weights make bigger muscles?
Answer: It depends on your definition of heavy. If you’re lifting weights so heavy, you can only do a few reps, yes, you’ll probably see bigger, “bulkier” muscles. If you’re lifting heavy for the 8-12 rep range, you’ll be building muscle, but you could find yourself getting leaner and tighter over time (so ladies, don’t be afraid to advance beyond the 5-lb dumbbells).
Question: Will 10-lb dumbbells do anything?
Answer: Yes, this is a good weight for all fitness levels to have in their dumbbell collection. Beginners can use them for squats and lunges (and maybe even rows and chest presses), while more advanced lifters can use them in all types of upper bodywork.
Conclusion: How to Find the Best Dumbbells
In conclusion, how to find the best dumbbells involves: deciding on a budget, figuring out what your current weight range should be through trial and error, and determining whether you’d be better served by traditional dumbbells or adjustable ones. You’ll also need to think about which types of workouts you’ll be doing in the near future so you can match that up with the design and finish of the weights. Finally, consider how much aesthetics matter to you, if at all.