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Considering equipping your living room with a set of dumbbells or investing in adjustable dumbbells to save some room? You're certainly not alone. With COVID-19 back on the rise in the United States and parts of the country turning back to restrictions, we're continuously left finding creative ways to resume our normal daily routines inside our homes. Home gym equipment paired with virtual workouts has become increasingly popular as a way to stay in shape and as a good mental break during a stressful time, long before coronavirus was on our minds and with renewed vigor since, from exercise bikes and treadmills to under-desk ellipticals and TRX-like trainers. Fitness studios are offering instructor-led workout classes via Zoom and Instagram Live so you can still break a sweat in your sweats — which has prompted people to turn their living rooms into makeshift gyms fully equipped with yoga mats, kettlebells, and resistance bands.
SKIP AHEAD Best dumbbells to shop
The unexpected and sudden peaking of at-home workouts can take some time getting used to especially if you normally like to do circuit training or prefer to do your workouts on a treadmill. However, the good news is you can still get a good workout at home and build muscle at the same time by investing in basic fitness equipment like dumbbells. Are dumbbells a good investment? They’re versatile, extremely effective in building strength and can be used in many different types of workouts. A seemingly simple purchase can be a daunting task if you don’t actually know what to look for, though. With so many options on the market, we decided to reach out to fitness experts to provide their recommendations for the best dumbbells in each category.
How to shop for dumbbells
It’s important to note that not all dumbbells are created equally. Jillian Michaels, health and fitness expert and creator of the My Fitness app, explained the most important factors to consider when shopping for dumbbells.
Fixed or adjustable weights
- Fixed weights are eponymously named because they are a fixed weight that is usually sold in pairs. These are best for people who are just starting to lift weights, or want to focus on one area of the body. If you’re buying multiple fixed weight sizes then you’ll also need to consider storage space.
- Adjustable weights use a dial system to adjust the amount of weight on each dumbbell, including a safety lock to prevent the weights from falling off. Saving money and space is another convenience to consider with adjustable dumbbells -- you get the variety without having to purchase multiple dumbbell sets. These are best for people who like to lift heavier weights and weight train (weighted lunges, weighted squats, chest press, etc.)
Dumbbells can be made using several different types of material including rubber, neoprene or metal. Rubber and neoprene are softer and less prone to damaging floors, which makes them more ideal for use at home.
Dumbbells come in two shapes: hex and circle. Dumbbells with hexagonal ends are much less likely to roll away when placed on the floor. The best dumbbell shape for you depends on how you plan on using them. If you plan on doing exercises that use the dumbbells as platforms (like a renegade row), then you might want the hex shape. If you want to use the dumbbells like an ab roller you might prefer the circle.
Best dumbbells to shop
Choosing a dumbbell that’s comfortable for you is a personal preference. You want to pay attention to the grip and the size of the handle, as well as the dumbbell’s shape, material and cost. “Heavier doesn’t necessarily mean better,” said Leyon Azubuike, founder and CEO of Gloveworx. “You have to make the weight work for you and make sure they feel comfortable in your hands!”
Best all-around dumbbell: CAP
1. CAP Barbell 150-Pound Dumbbell Set (limited availability)
Melissa Vogel, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and certified personal trainer and certified group fitness instructor — who mostly works with busy moms — said, “This one is great for a little more advanced and serious client that is looking to take their at-home workout to the next level.” The set includes weights that range from five to 25 pounds, which is convenient for a variety of workouts. The steel handles sport medium-depth diamond knurling meant to provide a secure, non-slip grip when working out. The cast iron heads are also coated with a protective layer not only to reduce damage to the equipment itself, but to your floors, as well.
Best affordable dumbbell: CAP
If you’re looking for something basic and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a big set, Vogel recommends CAP’s Iron Hex model. “They are basic, sturdy, and reliable,” she told Shopping. “They also have a hexagon shape to the ends that allow you to balance on them for planks and other body resistance/isolation moves.” These dumbbells have a baked-in enamel coating for better durability.
Best high-end dumbbell: BowFlex
3. Bowflex SelectTech 1090 Adjustable Dumbbell (limited availability)
Believe it or not, even dumbbells can be high-tech these days. Michaels prefers the BowFlex SelectTech 1090 model which can be used with the free BowFlex SelectTech app that allows you to keep track of your reps. This model also has the largest weight range, from 10 pounds and up to 90 pounds in 5-pound weight increments. “If the sky is the limit here, the Bowflex SelectTech 1090s are awesome. They have the dial system. They have a special shape so they don’t roll around [and] they don’t take up a ton of space. The only downside is they are still metal, but the product is well built and doesn’t clank when you lift them,” said Michaels.
Best dumbbells for smaller hands: Ativafit
Nicole Ferrier, an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer said the Ativafit adjustable dumbbell is her top choice for an at-home gym, noting typical hand sizes she's come across. “Women should look for dumbbells with smaller grips on the handle. This is because a female’s hand is smaller than a male’s hand. Having a firm grip is essential to lift safely and comfortably.” The space-saving design takes seven sets of weights and puts them into one plastic tray, and makes it easy to switch to your desired weight.
Best dumbbells for comfort: Bowflex and NordicTrack
“Personally I make sure the dumbbells have a short handle so they are far easier to balance when I’m lifting heavy,” said Jillian Michaels. Some handles are also knurled, which means the grip is lined with a raised pattern with ridges that allows for a better hold. The Bowflex SelectTech 552 has a straight handle with extra grip and the coating on the weights allows for a more silent workout. At the end of the dumbbells is a dial so you can easily adjust the weight and resistance to best suit your workout.
NordicTrack appeared in many of our fitness equipment roundups, from exercise bikes to treadmills. This set of adjustable dumbbells are similar to the Bowflex model (and look similar, too), but reach a slightly higher maximum weight per dumbbell: 55 pounds (as opposed to Bowflex's 52.5 pounds). The set comes with a free year of iFit, a fitness subscription that gives you access to live and on-demand workouts and classes (normally $468). To adjust the weights, you can remove a simple notch at the top of the dumbbell to the proper spot for your desired weight.
Best dumbbells for beginners: SPRI
Beginners will require less weight range and won’t need any of the fancy bells and whistles (like Bluetooth capability) so the options are more affordable. Michaels recommended these light hand weights — which you can get in either 3-pound or 8-pound version. They also have a hex cap and vinyl cover for protection.
Best dumbells for durability: Weider
Dumbbells can be costly, but if you invest in a high-quality pair of weights and they are stored properly they can last for many years. Certain materials like metal can show signs of wear and tear sooner than other materials so if you’re looking to invest in weights for the long haul, consider dumbbells with a protective rubber coating. It not only lasts longer but doesn’t make as much noise when dropped on the ground. Azubuike recommended Weider Fitness dumbbells and said they are cost-friendly and have a good range. “I’ve been trusting these since my collegiate athlete days [and] they are durable! They won’t tear your hands up and they have a good grip,” he said.