Dumbbells are undoubtedly one of the most popular pieces of fitness equipment ever made. They are one of the basic tools of the strength training trade and form part of millions of people’s workouts around the world on a regular basis.
We’ve created this dumbbell buying guide to simplify the process and set out the basic factors you should consider whether you’re buying for your home gym or commercial facility.
To help explain every available dumbbell type that is currently available on the market, we’ve split dumbbells into 3 top level categories; fixed dumbbells, adjustable dumbbells and studio dumbbells.
A fixed dumbbell is probably the most common type of dumbbell found in a commercial facility. Fixed dumbbells are normally the kind you would see on a horizontal or upright rack. They are usually sold in pairs and weigh anything from 1kg to 100kg each.
It really depends on the client base or individuals strength, but small gyms or home users will typically look at a 2.5kg-30kg fixed dumbbell sets. Larger more commercial gyms with a wide member base might look at 2.5kg-50kg but the higher end of 50kg-100kg will probably only be relevant for facilities that cater for serious weight lifters and bodybuilders.
There are a wide variety of fixed dumbbell styles that we could touch on, but we’ve narrowed it down to the ones our fitness advisors are most frequently asked about:
Fixed Rubber Dumbbells
Fixed Rubber dumbbells tend to best meet the needs of someone looking for a hard wearing, robust dumbbell for their commercial gym which will withstand the daily abuse of a busy facility. They would also make a great addition to a premium home gym because the quality and feel you get from these dumbbells is exceptional.
One of the main benefits of a rubber dumbbell over bare chrome or cast iron is that the rubber offers a protective outer coating that protects both the dumbbell, the storage stand and the surrounding lifting area. Scratches, chips and dents are easily noticeable on metal weights, but are far less common on rubber dumbbells. Rubber dumbbells also help to reduce noise when they are dropped by the user.
Rubber dumbbells tend to have more attractive, colourful designs and clearer numbering of weight denominations. They are also readily customisable so you can display a company or team logo on each end.
Fixed Urethane Dumbbells
Fixed urethane dumbbells are another very popular, more premium commercial equipment option. Although, to the naked eye urethane (technically polyurethane or PU) doesn't exhibit a huge difference to rubber dumbbells there are numerous performance benefits which command it's slightly more premium price tag.
Firstly, urethane products are stronger than rubber. It's much harder to cause cosmetic damage to these products because the outer layers are much tougher and resistant to the scratches, chips and marks that can occasionally occur on rubber weights products. PU dumbbells also have the benefit of being non-marking, which is often sited as an issue with new rubber dumbbells when they are dropped on a new wooden or vinyl floor. Another benefit of PU over rubber dumbbells and other fitness products is that urethane doesn't produce the signature odor rubber is known for.
Fixed Chrome Dumbbells
Metal dumbbells have been popular in the past and are often a cheaper alternative to more modern rubber or urethane dumbbells. Cast iron weights are often found in older, more old school gyms and are readily available for great value second hand. These also come in classic and ‘hex’ shapes and are strong, solid products which stand up to a heavy lifting environments, the risk of chips and scratches is still there.
You will see many gyms using steel, chrome plated dumbbells which are very stylish products. They are all made with toughened metals and anti chip chrome but they are not as robust as dumbbells coated in rubber or urethane. Having said that, for home gyms and facilities which don’t see enormous footfall through their free weights area chrome dumbbells can look great and deliver their function perfectly well.
Adjustable dumbbells are a great product for buyers who want a variety of weights but either don’t have the space, storage or budget for a full set of fixed dumbbells. The technology behind this type of dumbbells has been developing quickly and one of the current market leaders, Power Block boasts that some of their products replace the need for up to 34 pairs of dumbbells with just 2.
In addition to Power Block, various brands such as Bowflex offer similar adjustable dumbbell solutions but with different, shapes, sizes and designs. Bowflex dumbbells work more like a traditional dumbbell bar and plate set, where the weight increases as additional discs and combinations of discs are selected from the storage unit. Power Block products work by inserting a pin which selects the number of weighted cases you pick up, not dissimilar to a weight stack on a fixed resistance machine.
The difficulty with adjustable dumbbells is that they are normally quite bulky because of the ways in which the weight needs to be segmented. It can also make life quite difficult if you are trying to do drop sets where you need to be able to change weights very quickly.
Adjustable dumbbells do make great products for home use and are exceptional value compared to buying a full set of fixed dumbbells, especially if you are looking to save space and don’t have a need for multiple sets.
Dumbbell Plate Sets
Another popular dumbbell solution for home users is a dumbbell set, consisting of small bar with plates which attach on either end. These are a very cost effective option for people looking for a range of weights and to save on space.
Plate sets will normally utilise a spinlock collar, which isn’t always the most secure method of fastening plates to the bar, but it is quick and easy to fasten and remove. Plate sets allow you to adjust the weight of the dumbbell by adding or removing weight plates to the bar, which normally come in weights between 0.5kg to 2.5kg. This kind of plate can’t normally be used on a barbell and is predominantly a home solution. It’s highly unusual for a commercial gym to use these as fixed dumbbells are a more convenient alternative. However, you can get Olympic sized dumbbell handles, which use larger collars and weights. The only issue with this is the handles are wide and restrict some movements. Fixed dumbbells allow you to be far more dynamic.
Many popular studio classes use light resistance work as part of their programme of activity. These are cheap to buy in large quantities and normally include a studio storage unit. They also tend to be colour coded by weight for easy identification during classes.
Studio dumbbells are fully coated; meaning the whole dumbbell (including the handle) is covered in a layer of textured rubber or neoprene to protect the product against the regular use and abuse it will be subject to. The full coating makes the dumbbells easier to grip especially during cardio-heavy group exercise classes. Studio dumbbells have an anti-roll shape, to ensure that during classes, equipment on the floor doesn’t cause a hazard.
Studio dumbbells are usually sold in pairs and are a perfectly good home dumbbell solution if you are looking for very low weight denominations. Studio dumbbells typically range from 0.5kg – 10kg and for commercial purposes can normally be purchased in sets of between 40-50 pairs.
Dumbbell Racks & Storage
A sure fire way to irritate a gym manager is to leave the weights room with dumbbells and plates strewn across the floor, so to avoid this it’s important to have adequate storage and dumbbell rack facilities. Rubber, Urethane and cast iron dumbbells are normally racked on either horizontal or vertical stands. Horizontal racks will normally be able to hold 10-12 pairs of dumbbells over either two or three tiers and upright racks can often hold a similar number. Studio dumbbell racks hold pairs of dumbbells in separate vertical slots for each weight.