Although most gyms are functioning normally again, at-home workouts are still a popular option for many people: According to a 2021 survey by McKinsey & Company, a little more than 10% of the population set up home gyms during the pandemic, and more than 60% of those who exercise regularly say they prefer a mix of going to the gym and working out at home. For those who rely on at-home workouts, getting the right equipment can be crucial — in addition to stationary bikes, treadmills and ellipticals, basic fitness equipment like dumbbells can be a worthwhile investment to help you maintain a workout routine at home while building strength and muscle.
Experts told us that dumbbells can be extremely versatile since they can be incorporated into many different types of workouts. But with so many options on the market, finding the right one for your home gym can be daunting if you don’t know what to look for. We spoke to personal trainers and fitness experts to help break down the different types of dumbbells and what to consider when shopping for them. We also compiled a list of some expert-recommended and top-rated options to shop.
What are the benefits of dumbbells?
Dumbbells are considered free weights, which means they’re not attached to another piece of gym equipment and can be picked up and moved around. All of our experts noted that they can be a great workout tool for just about anyone — whether you’re a beginner or an experienced weightlifter — because you can easily determine the weight that’s most comfortable for you.
“If you are just starting to exercise, dumbbells can help you add intensity slowly so you don’t get injured as you are getting stronger,” said Traci Thompson, associate professor of health and kinesiology and director of PEAK Health and Fitness at the University of Utah Health. “Dumbbells come in progressively higher weights, so you can continue to get stronger,” she added.
Dumbbells can also be more shoulder-friendly for upper body exercises — “the shoulder joint seems to self-select a path that’s most comfortable when using dumbbells [and] this isn’t as achievable with a straight bar,” according to Mike Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning.
Both fixed and adjustable dumbbells (more on that below) can also provide some variety to your weight training since you can utilize them for practically any weighted exercise, ranging from bicep curls and overhead presses to lunges and squats. They can also encourage more range of motion within the exercises and help challenge your joint stabilizer muscles — muscles like the gluteus medius and triceps that help stabilize your body while performing different exercises — by requiring more balance to control two weights versus one, explained Jordan Rowe, a certified personal trainer and founder of NOEX Fitness in Richmond, Virginia.
Rowe added that dumbbells — especially adjustable dumbbells — can be useful for those building a home gym because they don’t take up as much space as other popular gym equipment. “Dumbbells tend to take up less space versus a barbell and plates — you can easily stack a couple of dumbbell sets even in an apartment,” she said.
But keep in mind that you will need to lift the dumbbells into position when you work out, which can be an issue if you suffer from back pain. “I often caution those with lower back issues to be careful with heavy dumbbells as the back stress of lifting them into position can be significant,” Boyle said.
The best dumbbells to shop
To help you determine the best dumbbells for your home gym, we consulted fitness pros about their favorite fixed and adjustable dumbbells. Each of the following options — which we broke up into two categories for fixed and adjustable — are highly rated and made from durable metal, rubber or neoprene material in line with our experts’ guidance.
Best fixed dumbbells
Rowe said she’s been “very pleased” with the workout equipment from REP Fitness, including these fixed rubber hex dumbbells. “They have been continuously putting out quality home gym equipment at an affordable price in comparison to other companies,” she said. The dumbbells — which have rubber-encased ends that the brand says can minimize noise and limit wear and tear to both the dumbbells and the floor — come in pairs, with weights ranging from 2.5 pounds up to 125 pounds. The handles are also fully knurled, meaning they contain ridges that can provide a more comfortable and sturdier grip when working out, according to the brand.
Rowe recommended Amazon Basics dumbbells as an affordable rubber-coated option, noting that they can be “a great investment for a beginner.” Amazon Basics offers single hexagonal dumbbells that range from 10 pounds to 50 pounds — they have rubber-encased ends and equip a solid cast iron core with a non-slip textured surface for a more secure grip, according to Amazon. Amazon Basics does not offer these dumbbells in pairs, which means you’ll have to buy two if you’re hoping for a set.
“Any chrome-plated handle with a hex rubber grip is a perfect choice — lots of companies offer this style when it comes to a fixed dumbbell,” Rowe said. She noted that CAP Barbell, which makes both fixed and adjustable dumbbells, “offers a standard, quality dumbbell that is a great fit for anyone.” The rubber-coated hex dumbbells from the brand come in singles and are available in a range of weights from 3 pounds to 115 pounds. If you’re willing to splurge on a set, CAP Barbell’s Dumbbell Set comes with five pairs of weights ranging from 5 pounds to 25 pounds as well as a rack to store them in your home.
These rubber-coated dumbbells from Titan Fitness are “reasonably priced for home gym users,” Rowe said. They feature a hexagon-shaped head that deadens the sound when they’re dropped to the ground and ergonomic chrome handles for comfort, according to the brand. You can purchase them either in singles that range from 5 pounds to 100 pounds (with limited availability for each) or as sets of 10 dumbbells with multiple weight options that go up in increments of 5 pounds, including a 5-pound to 55-pound set and a 55-pound to 100-pound set.
Best adjustable dumbbells
Both Boyle and Craig Levergood, a personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist, recommended the PowerBlock dumbbells, noting that they both use them in their respective gyms. “PowerBlocks are some of the best adjustable dumbbells you can get in the fitness industry,” Levergood said. These dumbbells have durable urethane-coated steel plates and the attachments allow them to go up to 90 pounds per dumbbell. You can adjust the weight by inserting a pin into the plate of your choice, according to the brand. These dumbbells also include an auto-lock lever on the handle that can help make micro-adjustments in 2.5-pound increments, PowerBlock says.
Rowe recommended these Nuobell adjustable dumbbells for those looking for a wider weight range — you can adjust the weight from 5 pounds to 80 pounds. She called out their easy-to-use adjustment mechanism, which involves twisting the handle instead of using a dial. These dumbbells come as a pair and include a portable cradle to store both dumbbells and avoid damaging your floors, according to the brand.
Bowflex’s adjustable dumbbells can be great if you “just want the basic stuff,” Rowe previously told us. These SelectTech 552 dumbbells have circular weights and can be adjusted from 5 pounds to 52.5 pounds — you simply need to place the dumbbells on the included resting tray and twist the selection dial to adjust. Select editor Morgan Greenwald said she’s used these weights in the past and loves how much they resemble normal dumbbells. Bowflex’s SelectTech dumbbells also work with the Bowflex SelectTech app, which lets you manually keep track of your reps. If you’re looking for more heavy lifting during your workout, the Bowflex SelectTech 1090 goes up to 90 pounds.
What to consider when shopping for dumbbells
Not all dumbbells are created equally, and certain factors can affect the quality of your workout. As you’re shopping for dumbbells, experts recommended considering the different dumbbell types, materials and shapes available.
Fixed versus adjustable dumbbells
Dumbbells usually offer either a fixed or adjustable weight, each of which our experts said can be beneficial for specific types of workouts and personal preferences.
Fixed weights are sold either individually or in pairs and offer one set weight — in other words, “a 15-pound dumbbell can only be and will always be a 15-pound dumbbell,” Rowe said. Experts told us 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 considering buying multiple fixed weights, you’ll need to consider storage space and will likely need to invest in a storage rack to keep your dumbbells together.
Adjustable weights offer multiple increments of weights that can be adjusted using a rotating dial or a removable pin. They can provide variety without taking up as much space as a full rack of fixed dumbbells, according to Levergood. Adjustable dumbbells can also be good for people who like to lift heavier weights and weight train since weight increments tend to go higher.
Rowe noted that adjustable dumbbells can ultimately be a more affordable option than investing in a whole set of weights. “Not only do [sets of weights] take up space, but it’s going to cost you a lot of money in comparison to some of these [adjustable dumbbells],” Rowe previously told us in our guide to adjustable dumbbells. “In an ideal situation, fixed dumbbells will always be better when it comes to durability, convenience, functionality and simplicity, but the price difference between the two options can be substantial for many,” she added.
Dumbbells can be made using several different types of material, including rubber, neoprene and metal. You’ll typically see dumbbells with cast iron or steel heads that are rubberized or coated in neoprene, but some are made entirely of cast iron or other types of metal. The material “[makes] no difference in exercise — this just comes down to personal preference,” Thompson said. However, she noted that metal is more durable, while rubber and neoprene are softer and less prone to damaging floors.
Fixed dumbbells come in two shapes: hexagon and round. Dumbbells with hexagonal ends (which our experts said they typically prefer) are much less likely to roll away when placed on the floor compared to round dumbbells and typically run a little cheaper, Rowe noted. Either shape can be made of any material.
Our experts agreed that the shape of your dumbbell doesn’t typically affect the type of workout you’re doing. “The shape is really going to be dependent on what you find and how you use it, but in my experience, the dumbbell shape doesn’t really matter whatsoever,” said Levergood. In some instances, you can benefit from using one shape over the other — for example, if you’re using your dumbbells as platforms (for something like a renegade row), you’ll likely want a hexagon shape.
How to safely use dumbbells during your workout
For anyone just starting out with weights, Thompson noted it’s important to develop a proper lifting technique. “If you have not lifted weights or are unsure how to lift weights safely, you should meet with a certified personal trainer to help you dial in the technique so you don’t get injured,” she said.
Once you nail down the technique, “it’s important to increase weight gradually — a good rule to follow is to lift a weight that’s challenging by the time you reach the recommended number of repetitions, but you can still complete with proper form,” Thompson said. For example, if you’re doing 12 repetitions of a biceps curl, you should choose a weight that’s heavy enough to make the last repetition hard, but not to the point where you’re compromising your form just to finish.
Thompson added that if you can do your weight lifting exercises very easily, you probably need to increase the weight. “Muscles need to be challenged; If it doesn’t feel challenging, you may not be using enough weight to receive benefits,” she explained. However, “if you’re unable to do 12 [repetitions] without ‘cheating’ by letting your form deteriorate — arching your back or swinging your arms, for example — you need to reduce the weight,” she added.