It would be difficult to find a commercial or home gym without at least one set of dumbbells in it. They are a staple piece of equipment in strength and conditioning training, and there are three main reasons why they are so popular:
Dumbbells are among the most versatile pieces of workout equipment you can find and are often seen in circuit training, workout classes, HIIT workouts, strength training, and rehabilitation exercises.
2. Natural range of motion
When you are weight training, it's essential to keep the movement as natural as possible. With dumbbells being a lot smaller than barbells and weight machines, it means you can move more naturally and in a broader range of motion.
3. Corrects muscle and strength imbalance
As they come in pairs, it’s easy to use one to correct any muscle or strength imbalance you have by training either side of the body individually.
This comprehensive guide will take you through the different dumbbells on the market and make it easier than ever to choose the right one for you. There are three primary categories that dumbbells fall into: fixed, adjustable, and studio (often referred to as neoprene) dumbbells. Continue reading to see the most common variations you are likely to see on the market.
Out of the three, fixed dumbbells are the most commonly used. They range from 1kg to 100kg and are the ones you often find in large commercial gyms. They are typically stored on a multi-tiered, horizontal rack. Smaller dumbbells are held using upright or vertical dumbbell racks.
Smaller gyms will have a more limited range going from anywhere between 2.5kg to 30kg, although this depends on the type of gym it is. If you are going to a smaller gym, but it caters to serious weightlifters and bodybuilders, their range will facilitate that. So when you are thinking of signing up for a gym, the best course of action is to ask them their weight range.
While there is currently a wide variety of fixed dumbbells on the market, we have narrowed it down to the most popular and frequently used.
Rubber dumbbells are made for daily use and are highly durable and robust. Ideal for a busy commercial gym, the quality of these dumbbells will ensure they last years, making them a perfect addition to a home or commercial gym.
There has been a rise in popularity with these dumbbells in the past ten years as they have a durable rubber outer coating that protects against rust and corrosion. The rubber protects them from scratches, chips, and dents while helping reduce the noise. In addition, rubber dumbbells display their weight on the side, making them an excellent grab-and-go option.
A drawback many have with rubber dumbbells is that they have a distinct odour. It is not long lasting but be aware that the smell comes from the rubber around the dumbbell.
Urethane dumbbells may look similar to their rubber counterpart to the naked eye yet there some distinct differences which increase their performance benefits, justifying the higher price tag for these premium dumbbells.
Urethane or polyurethane is a more robust material that fills the gap between rubber and plastic. They are harder than rubber but softer than plastic which gives it better impact resistance than a rubber dumbbell. It is much more difficult to cause any type of damage to them as the outer layers of urethane dumbbells are much more rigid and resistant to scratches and marks. In addition, urethane is non-marking, which means you don’t have to worry about dropping it on wooden or vinyl floors.
Unlike rubber, urethane dumbbells are odourless so if you have a sensitive nose, it is worth paying a tiny bit extra for.
As the title suggests, hex dumbbells got their name for their unique hexagonal shape. Their shape is beneficial if you do exercises that switch between different weights as they will not roll when placed on the ground. Some exercises that benefit from having a hex dumbbell are the dumbbell push-ups as the facets add extra stability.
Compared to their urethane and rubber counterparts, the hex dumbbell is relatively cheap to buy, although there are options for rubber hex dumbbells — giving you the best of both worlds.
Adjustable dumbbells are a great budget-friendly way to get a full range of dumbbells without needing to give up a lot of space in your gym. Usually found in small or home gyms with limited space, these dumbbells allow users to access a broad range of weight options.
There are two main types of adjustable dumbbells. One is a manual version where you have different size weight plates that you can slide off and on the dumbbell's handle, using a spinlock to keep them in place. The newer version uses a dial and a button to lock the weight in place, making it effortless to change between the weights.
The one drawback of adjustable dumbbells is that they are pretty bulky, and it can be challenging to change between weights, which may interfere with your workout. However, if you are looking for an affordable full range of dumbbells without sacrificing space, these are the perfect option.
Cast Iron/Hammertone Dumbbells
Before urethane and rubber dumbbells, it was cast iron that was the most popular dumbbell set to have. They are a classic dumbbell and come in a circular shape. These solid dumbbells are great for heavy lifting, although you must be aware that they are at risk for chips and scratches.
Many gyms still use these as a standard as they are made with a toughened metal, although they are not as robust as rubber or urethane dumbbells. There are several different types you can get including an adjustable option with a spin lock mechanism. However, they have fallen out of popularity in recent years so they don't get as much use as their fixed weight counterparts may.
Studio & Neoprene Dumbbells
Studio dumbbells are fully covered (including the handle) in either textured rubber or a neoprene material. They are lightweight and used for resistance work. They are popular for studio classes, especially since they are colour-coded by weight, making them easy to identify during a workout.
They are fully coated to protect them from the daily abuse they will endure during studio classes, making it easier to grip the dumbbells during a cardio-heavy workout. In addition, they have an anti-roll shape for extra stability and safety during the workout, ensuring that they do not become a hazard by rolling away from the user.
They are available in weights between 0.5kg to 10kg and are budget-friendly for those that want a varied workout without the extra cost involved.
Want to know more about neoprene/ studio dumbbells? Check out our blog on the benefits of neoprene dumbbells!
Dumbbell racks and stands
You can’t forget about the accessories when you are thinking of buying dumbbells. Depending on which option you choose, you may need a storage rack. They are usually stored on a horizontal or vertical stand if you are getting rubber, urethane, or cast-iron dumbbells. Investing in a rack will help avoid injury that may happen from leaving them lying around. A horizontal and vertical rack can hold 10-12 dumbbells, while studio dumbbell racks have separate vertical places for each weight.
What to consider when buying a dumbbell
Now that we’ve brought you through the different options of dumbbells you can purchase, here are a few things to consider before you choose. It is best to know what you are using the dumbbells for before deciding which ones to buy, as buying the most expensive doesn't always mean the best for you.
This seems obvious, but many don't realise that setting a budget at the beginning will help you choose the right option. For instance, if you want a full range of dumbbells for your training but only have a budget of €800, then going for the full range of rubber or urethane is not the way to go. Instead, you're better off getting an adjustable dumbbell.
The same rule applies to the exercises you will be doing. There is no point in getting adjustable dumbbells if you are using them for a cardio-heavy workout. Using a neoprene or studio dumbbell, in this case, is the best option as they are lightweight and compact—which will benefit a cardio workout much more than a bulkier dumbbell.
Think of how much space you have in your home gym or studio, then consider how much you are willing to give up. If you don't want to dedicate ample space to your dumbbells, then you need to think of either buying a small number of them or getting an adjustable option. Studio dumbbells are also a good option in this case as they take up less room than other fixed or adjustable dumbbells might.
Make sure you know how much space you can dedicate to them before making your decision.
This is a significant factor to consider when choosing dumbbells. If you are using your dumbbells for push-ups or any other exercise that involves leaning your weight on them, then the hex dumbbells are the way to go as they have added stability. A round dumbbell may roll and lead to injury.
The handles are another aspect to consider when purchasing. Avoiding dumbbells with smooth rods is best if you are prone to sweaty palms when working out. Having a heavy dumbbell fall out of your hand can be dangerous to you and others, so it is something to consider before purchasing a set.
At the end of the day, we can give you all the advice in the world but what it comes down to is your personal preference. This guide is to help you know the difference between the dumbbells, but which one you choose is up to you. They are a good investment, and you'll never out-grow your weight either. Even if you start to use heavier weights, there will still be rest days where you need a lighter workout. Why not start with a lower weight and build your collection slowly? Whatever you choose, make sure it’s the right one for you. Happy shopping!