The best dumbbells for your home gym
Editor’s note: Due to the constant fluctuation of online inventories, we’re doing all we can to keep up with out of stock items or those available in limited supply. We review each product’s availability weekly to assure each guide is properly updated, though sometimes this means one or more of the included items may be sold out, or available via a third party.
I remember my first pair of dumbbells clearly. I was a freshman in high school who just joined the wrestling team and my mom gifted me an off-brand pair of steel handles you loaded with weight plates. I’d stow them underneath the staircase of my basement and, after dinner, I’d curl, press, and row them for an entire episode of Scrubs. Even today, those dumbbells still bring so much value to my fitness routine.
Despite my love for these now-archaic dumbbells, the market’s changed considerably. Brands like Bowflex or Powerblock ushered in a new era of the at-home dumbbell with options that are as effective as they are efficient. Forget loading your own plates, today’s dumbbell design ventures far beyond that — and for good reason, too.
To get a taste of those design changes, I tested a variety of dumbbells from brands like Powerblock, Bowflex, and Titan Fitness in order to find the best currently available. Though the models I ended up choosing as fit for one’s home gym look far different from what I used growing up, they still achieve the same results — and are valuable additions to anyone’s home gym.
Dumbbell shortages and inflated prices
It’s also worth pointing out that dumbbells aren’t exactly easy to find right now. Thanks to stock shortages, back-orders, and shipping delays, chasing down a quality set of dumbbells that won’t break the bank proves to be easier said than done.
I’ve attempted to make the most of that scarcity here by choosing dumbbells I’ve noticed are in stock more often (as well as conducting routine stock checks). However, some of the models featured will more than likely go in and out of stock frequently or be offered by a third-party seller at a higher price point than what is standard. This is vital to keep in mind while shopping.
At the end of this guide, I’ve included some tips on how to properly use dumbbells, as well as a recommended workout from personal trainer, Chris Parnell. You’ll also find insight into what else to consider while shopping, along with the specific testing methodology I used when choosing which dumbbells to feature.
Here are the best dumbbells:
- Best dumbbells overall: Powerblock
- The most comfortable dumbbells: Thompson Fat Bells
Updated on 11/12/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the section on how to shop for dumbbells, added a paragraph about how dumbbells are hard to find right now, included a rundown of our testing methodology, checked the availability of each recommended set, and updated the prices and links where necessary.
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The best dumbbells overall
Powerblock’s dumbbells are highly versatile in that they offer a wide range of weight variation in just one, easy-to-stow form factor — if you can find them for sale, buy them.
The first time I saw these sitting in a weight room, I figured they’d be horribly awkward to lift. The rectangular dumbbells appear large and clunky, but I was surprised by how well they moved during workouts like Romanian deadlifts or chest presses.
Like the Fatbells below, Powerblock dumbbells feature a handle that’s more centered in the apparatus. The weight surrounds your hands on all sides and as a result, they feel comfortable to move. They’re also constructed from steel, making them feel stronger and sturdier compared to other options built from plastic.
My favorite aspect of these dumbbells is that they’re able to load up to 90 pounds, which is enough to ensure you get plenty of mileage out of them as you get stronger. I’ve used these sparingly but they will, without a doubt, be my first purchase when I start building my ultimate home gym.
To be finicky, I’d say the selecting mechanism isn’t as efficient compared to Bowflex’s dial system. With Powerblock, you select the weights directly on the bell with a vertically-set pin. Changing the weight requires you to pull the pin from the side of the bell and move it either up (lighter) or down (heavier). While it’s not as smooth to use as a dial, it’s not a complete dealbreaker.
The weight plates still sit on either end like a standard dumbbell, so despite looking foreign, they feel familiar and aren’t any more substantial than a heavy pair of dumbbells. Overall, these will save you from buying 28 pairs of individual dumbbells — or roughly 2,565 pounds of weights. That’s thousands of dollars of savings on its own.
Powerblock’s Home Rack Stand, which the brand sells for $179, makes it far easier to hoist the weights onto your lap or shoulders for presses. It’s not a necessity but having used the stand myself, I recommend it.
Pros: Max weight of 90 pounds, relatively affordable, sturdy and natural feeling
Cons: Slightly awkward weight-changing mechanism, may be a little long at max weight
The best technology-enabled dumbbells
If you’re a techie, or simply meticulous about tracking sets and reps, the Bowflex SelectTech 560 app-connected bells are for you.
These dumbbells pair via Bluetooth to the Bowflex app which allows them to automatically record lifted weight, as well as all sets and reps per exercise. This is useful for tracking total volume, especially when your progress is smaller.
Other than the Powerblocks, these are the only other adjustable dumbbells on our list. They’re not as sturdy as our overall pick, though they’re a solid pair of dumbbells that look sleek and save a ton of space. They also come with a floor stand for better storage.
The knurled handle provides plenty of grip and the square plates on each end feel secure for even more dynamic movements like snatches and cleans. Also, the squared-off shape of the weights keep you stable while doing pushups.
Compared to Bowflex’s SelectTech 552 dumbbells, which only go up to 52.5 pounds, these adjust to an even 60 pounds. That’s a decent amount of weight for most people and should serve you well for almost any exercise. Do keep in mind that as you get stronger over time, there’s a decent chance you’ll outgrow these weights and need more than 60 pounds in a dumbbell.
Pros: Tracks sets and reps via a companion app, space-saving, easy to change weight
Cons: Max weight of 60 pounds
The most comfortable dumbbells
You won’t find these in any commercial gym but the Thompson Fat Bells are an innovative take on the classic dumbbell.
The handle is inside a spherical weight, which centers the load entirely and evenly around your wrist. This allows the dumbbell to feel more comfortable and natural.
Invented by powerlifting legend Donnie Thompson in 2006, Fat Bells are a unique take on the kettlebell — though, to me, they’re interchangeable with dumbbells, too. As Thompson explains on Rogue.com, “it’s a perfect geometric shape for maximizing optimal performance.” Your hand is an equal distance away from every portion of the sphere for a perfect geometrical design.
What I like about these is that you’re able to become one with the weight. Instead of holding a clunky piece of iron, you have a compact load you’ll hardly notice —other than the fact it’s heavy. They do feel slightly off at first due to the fact you’re not used to where the weight is centered but you’ll get over that quickly. I like to use them for moves such as chest presses and rows, since I typically go heavier, and these feel more secure.
Fat Bells aren’t cheap and you’ll most likely need to buy more than one pair. If you’re looking to splurge on your home gym, I’d say opt for one moderate pair (35-50 pounds for men and 15-35 pounds for women) so you have the most versatility with them.
Pros: Very comfortable, more natural to lift, made from durable cast iron
Cons: Expensive, have to buy multiple pairs, not space-friendly
The best budget dumbbells
Though these dumbbells from Titan Fitness require you to buy weight plates, the handles themselves are one of the best deals you’ll find.
I’d never used this brand personally but the loadable handle on these is very similar to the pair I own. The biggest plus is how affordable they are compared to other options. Of course, you’ll have to buy weight plates but if you’re a home-gym owner, there’s a good chance you have some sitting around already. If that’s the case, these are your best bet. We also recommend investing in a set of barbell collars to stop the weights from sliding off of the handles.
The sleeve, or end of the dumbbell, fits standard Olympic weight plates. If you already own a squat rack and a barbell, then the plates you have should suffice — though it’s worth it to double-check before purchasing. Another plus is that these handles from Titan Fitness are 20 inches, meaning you’re able to load them with a lot of weight. If you’re a stronger lifter, then you won’t be limited to just 90 pounds for moves like rows and chest presses. For reference, many powerlifters and bodybuilders can press and row weights well over 100 pounds.
Lifting dumbbells loaded with Olympic plates can make some exercises awkward. The plates are large enough in diameter compared to typical dumbbells they’re able to disrupt your range of motion. This tends to be problematic for moves like curls, lateral raises, and extensions while chest presses and rows should be unaffected. Another minor nitpick is that having to manually load plates manually isn’t as easy as using adjustable dumbbells.
Pros: Inexpensive, can handle as much weight as you own, great grip, space-friendly
Cons: Requires weight plates, not as easy to load as adjustable dumbbells
The best traditional dumbbells
The CAP Barbell 150-pound Dumbbell set (with rack) is a great starter set for beginners and feels (and looks) the most familiar.
Practically speaking, these aren’t the best dumbbells you can buy but, as the saying goes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. These dumbbells don’t offer any sort of fancy weight mechanism or require a complicated method for use —and that’s their major appeal.
The handles are nicely knurled (i.e. they feature a pattern of angled lines etched into the steel of the dumbbell) so they won’t slip out of your hands, and the hexagonal rubber ends won’t roll around on the floor. From personal experience, I like using this type of dumbbell for heavy chest presses since they feel stable in my hands and the weight is more evenly distributed compared to the modern models in this guide.
Now, the downsides: You have to buy multiple pairs to have access to a variety of weight. This means the cost adds up rather quickly. Plus, the more dumbbells you own, the more space it’ll take up, so you’ll likely have to buy a dumbbell rack to hold your increasing collection.
Many of the most affordable sets, like our pick here, only go up to 25 pounds. This is great for exercises like curls, light presses, or squats, but it’s likely you’ll graduate from that weight quickly. But if it’s familiarity you seek, this is the set for you.
Pros: Feels familiar, great grip, stable when lifting
Cons: Have to buy multiple pairs which can get expensive, takes up a lot of space, included weight only goes up to 25 pounds
How to properly use dumbbells
Getting that toned look most people covet comes down to reducing body fat percentage and gaining muscle mass. The former comes down almost entirely to your diet, while gaining muscle involves a balanced weight-training regimen in addition to the diet.
You’ll want to focus on two things:
- Placing tension on your muscles by lifting weight
- Increasing the total volume (or, amount of weight lifted) over time
To find this, multiply your total reps for one exercise by the amount of weight used. For example, if you do dumbbell chest presses for three sets of 10 reps with 50 pounds, multiply 30 (sets times reps) by 50 to get 1,500 pounds for that exercise. If you were to lift 55 pounds for just one of your sets next week, you’d increase your total volume to 1,550.
Your goal for each workout should be to slightly increase your volume for each move. Add volume by adding weight or increasing your total reps.
A general rule of thumb is to find a weight you’re able to use for three sets of eight reps. Add one rep to each set each week and once you reach 12 reps, add five pounds and start back at eight reps. It’s good to have a light, moderate, and heavy pair of dumbbells if this is your primary source of exercise. That way, you can increase your total volume without having to pump out an insane amount of reps with a lighter pair.
Our personal trainer’s workout
Below, Parnell outlines a workout that you can do with one pair of dumbbells. Complete eight repetitions for each move and rest as little as possible between exercises. After the final move, rest for 90 seconds.
“This style of workout is used to promote blood flow throughout the body, making your system work a little harder and allowing you to burn more calories,” Parnell explains.
Equipment: One pair of dumbbells
Reps per exercise: 8 (per individual arm or leg where noted)
Rest between rounds: 90 seconds
: 8 reps.
: 8 reps.
: 8 reps.
: 8 reps each leg
: 8 reps
: 8 reps each arm
: 8 reps
: 8 reps each arm
: 8 reps
How to shop for dumbbells
Before you start the process of finding a set that’s right for you, it’s important to know what a dumbbell is and why they’re an important investment for your home gym. Put plainly, a dumbbell consists of a central handle with weight on either end capable of ranging anywhere from 5 to 100 pounds.
Dumbbells are a versatile foray into weight training for beginners, too. Anything you’re able to do with a barbell, you can do with a dumbbell — albeit with lighter weight. Lifting dumbbells is a great way to teach yourself moves like the squat, overhead press, and row before graduating to the heavier weight a barbell often affords. They’re also less cumbersome than barbells and much easier to store in your home or apartment.
More advanced trainees benefit from the fact dumbbells allow you to better isolate your muscles unilaterally (one side at a time), as your right and left sides need to work independently to balance the weights. In turn, you’ll strengthen your weaker side, which translates to stronger and more efficient lifts overall.
According to Chris Parnell, a trainer at Soho Strength Labs in New York City, lifting with dumbbells is also a great way to give your abs extra attention. He also asserts that, compared to barbells, dumbbells challenge your body’s stability more. With a barbell, you work with a singular mass versus the dumbbell that uses two separate masses.
“Dumbbells provide the beginner or advanced lifter with an opportunity to exercise using compound movements [moves that move more than one joint at once] with low to high intensity using two separate masses,” Parnell told Insider.
How we test dumbbells
Each set of dumbbells in this guide went through a series of tests to see how well they compared across these four categories: Design, quality, portability, and value. Here’s how each category specifically factored into which dumbbells made this guide:
Design: Dumbbell design is mostly straightforward, though unique innovation from brands like Powerblock and Bowflex have turned the humble dumbbell into a versatile all-in-one gym. What I mean by this is that both of the dumbbells featured in this guide from those brands are designed to be several sets of dumbbells in the form of just one set. This means you don’t have to buy a set of 5 lb weights, a set of 15 lb weights, and a set of 25 lb weights. You buy either of those and you have the adjustability to hit any weight you’d need. The design choices I looked for in standard dumbbells were how well they felt while holding and if they were versatile for a variety of lifts.
Quality: Most steel dumbbells feature a quality that allows them to last literal decades (if taken care of) before you’d even need to think about replacing them. Because of this, it’s easy to spot a dumbbell that’s made of anything other than quality metal. Thankfully, this never was an issue during testing. This category was useful when judging how well the adjustable systems of the Bowflex and Powerblock dumbbells would hold up over time.
Portability: Yet another category where praise heaps onto the adjustable dumbbells is portability. When you’re forced to buy multiple sets of dumbbells in different weights, the problem of how to store them can add up quite quickly. Though some come with their own stand like the traditional set from CAP, not all options are that convenient.
Value: Considering how expensive dumbbells can get when buying multiple sets (and especially when stock is low and demand is high), value is a key component. But it’s also important not to buy an inferior set if it’s your only option. I view value as the combination of the categories listed above as well as its final sticker price — and feel that spending more on a quality product is better than spending less, more often on something that’s second-rate.
This content was originally published here.