PowerBlock dumbbells

What Kind of Dumbbells Should I Buy?

In Equip Your Gym, Guides by Tim Steward

Last updated on February 28th, 2021 at 06:28 pm

One of my favorite additions to my home gym has been my set of dumbbells. A nice set of dumbbells moves you miles closer to never having to use a commercial gym again. They can be used for a tremendously wide array of exercises and for me, are even more important than the Olympic bar and bumper plates (see my article on bumper plates here).

I work out mostly on my own and dumbbells are a safer option than larger weights and bars. They also take up a lot less room. There are many types of dumbbells out there, but for me and the limited space I have in my home gym, there was really only one viable solution.

Adjustable dumbbells were the easy choice for my home gym. The question is, are adjustable dumbbells the right choice for you too?

3 Kinds to Choose From

When you start looking at your dumbbell options, you’ll soon see that there are 3 basic choices. Once you decide which to go with, selecting your particular set becomes much easier. The 3 options you have are interchangeable (the original adjustable option), fixed, and adjustable. Let’s take a look at each of those a little more closely.

Interchangeable Dumbbells…

First, there is what I had in high school. I’ll call them interchangeable plate dumbbells. When shopping, you will see what’s pictured below labelled as adjustable. For the sake of clarity, I’ll call them interchangeable plate dumbbells. These have a small bar or handle, two collars, and different plates you can put on or take off. It’s a small version of your larger Olympic bar and weight plates. I can tell you from experience, I absolutely hate these.

adjustable dumbbell

Old school adjustable/interchangeable dumbbell

It’s hard enough to motivate myself to work out some days. To add the extra work of removing collars and plates for dumbbell work doesn’t make sense. Also, who needs pieces and parts laying around everywhere? The only benefit I can think of for these is that they are, by far, the least expensive option. You can often find these at a local Play it Again Sports or on Craig’s List for somewhere close to free. If you are on a tight budget, and this is your only option, it’s definitely better than nothing. But it’s also not my top recommendation.

Traditional Fixed Dumbbells…

If money and space were no object, this is what I would buy without a second thought. I love working out with this type of dumbbell. They are well made, fit great in my hand, and it’s really easy to pick up a different weight when needed. They look amazing and lend a very cool feel to your home gym. There’s something about seeing a big rack of dumbbells that makes me want to work out.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the room. Even a compact rack for dumbbells takes up 33″x 22″ or more. Space is often at a premium for most home gyms. And that space is often taken up by larger equipment. Things like squat racks, treadmills, and rowers all take up significant space. There is often no room left for a rack of dumbbells. My own garage space is no different.

rack of dumbbells

A full set of traditional dumbbells

A full set of nice dumbbells can be a significant investment. Even a basic, budget-minded set like this one one runs over $800. The really nice sets can be as much as $10,000!!! Even used, this type of dumbbell can be outside of many people’s budgets.

One option would be to buy only the weights you need. If it’s money and not space that’s restricting you, this is a great idea. You can piece a set together over time and spread the investment out over a longer period. Most of us won’t use the full spectrum of weights available in a set anyway. Starting with the most used weight and going from there would be a nice way to start building your set.

Another option would be to buy a smaller set. You may not need every weight from 5 to 150 lbs. A smaller range may be all that you need based on the exercises you do and the strength level you currently have.

Depending on the route you want to go, I have a few recommendations for you…

If you are buying them singly and are on a budget, I’ve used these CAP hex dumbbells quite a bit and they work well.

If you are more budget minded, check these out in the Amazon basics line. I like these because they are not rubber. The rubber tends to smell, rub off on your hands at first, and mark things up. If you do want a basic set coated in rubber (good if you plan on dropping them a lot), check out the CAP dumbbells linked above.

If you want the whole set at once, I really like these by Body Solid. Again, these are all metal, but that’s my personal preference for dumbbells.

And if you want the mac daddy, best of the best, make all your friends jealous set, these Watson custom dumbbells are just amazing!

If those options aren’t for you, and space and/or money are restricting your purchasing options, you are in luck. This is where your third option comes into play.

Adjustable Dumbbells…

There are two primary benefits of adjustable dumbbells. Cost and size.

For what it would cost for 2-3 pairs of individual fixed weight dumbbells, you can have a set of adjustables. Prices on a set of adjustable dumbbells range from $129 to $600. Far less than you would spend on many other options.

Adjustables take up almost no room. In fact, they literally take up the same amount of space as a single pair of fixed weight dumbbells. You can set them in a corner, under your bench, or anywhere else you have a bit of space. I can think of few home gym layouts that wouldn’t accommodate a set of adjustable dumbbells.

It’s for these reasons that when it was time for me to add dumbbells to my own home gym, I went with an adjustable set.

Power Blocks Dumbbells

My 90 lb set of Power Block adjustable dumbbells on their stand

Which set???

When shopping for adjustable dumbbells, you’ll find quite a few different varieties out there. In the end, there are really only 3 popular options. Ironmaster, BowFlex, and PowerBlock.

I’ve written a full review of all three sets here. The short version is that I went with the PowerBlocks. I am thrilled with them. I tried all three and for my uses the PowerBlocks were the right choice. That said, all three have their own distinct benefits and customer base. Check out our full review to help make the best decision for your needs.

A Final Tip

One last point is that I also bought the PowerBlock stand (check current pricing here on Amazon). At first I was skeptical, but I can’t tell you how happy I am that I have it. Having the weights up off the floor really helps protect me from injury. The less bending down I do, the better (unless it’s a specific exercise, of course). At one point in my life, I had 4 bulged discs. Every day I work to prevent that from happening again. This stand has been a great help with that!

How About You?

If you take the plunge and invest in dumbbells for your home gym, let me know which set you got and how you like them here in the comments. Your feedback could help a lot of other people make a great decision on what to put in their home gym!

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