Last updated on August 28th, 2023 at 03:55 pm
One of my favorite additions to my home gym has been a set of dumbbells. A nice set of dumbbells moves you miles closer to never having to use a commercial gym again. In my opinion, they are even more versatile and important than your barbell and plates.
Dumbbells are a safer option than larger weights and bars, especially if you train alone with no spotter. They also take up a lot less room. There are many types of dumbbells out there. And that leaves many people asking the question, “What dumbells should I buy?”.
What types of dumbbells are available?
There are 3 basic types of dumbbells on the market. Loadable consists of a small bar and separate plates. Fixed has an individual dumbbell for each weight. Adjustable allows you to change the weight on the fly. All 3 types can cover a weight range of 5 lbs to 90 lbs and more.
Loadable dumbbells are what I trained with in high school. They are what came in my very first weight set that my parents bought me from Sears for Christmas one year. These have a small bar or handle (kind of like a mini barbell), two collars, and different plates you can load on the bar.
It’s a small version of your larger Olympic bar and weight plates. Some people like this option as it takes up minimal room in their home gym and also allows them to use plates that they already own.
Personally, I hate this option and don’t recommend it to any garage or basement gym owner that asks. Back in the day, this was the only option. Because the other two options I’ll discuss below are available, this type of loadable setup just doesn’t make sense to me.
First, you have the extra effort of removing collars and plates. That extra time means I’m just not going to do it as often as I should. Also, who needs pieces and parts laying around everywhere? While they can be a smaller footprint, they absolutely introduce clutter into your gym.
Second, I don’t want to do math while I’m working out. It may sound silly to some of you, but to have to try to figure out how many of each type of plate I need to add to the bar is something I don’t want to do. It’s enough of a pain for me on the big barbell, I don’t want that chore on my dumbbells too!
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. You can also buy them new. This set that Rep Fitness makes is reasonably priced and of good quality.
Loadable Dumbbell Pros & Cons
- Small footprint
- Can sometimes use existing plates
- Takes extra time to use
- Have to calculate weights
- Adds clutter to your gym
- Limited weight potential
- Uncomfortable on knees when setting up to press
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 space. 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 usually 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 garage space is no different.
The benefits of this type of dumbbell set are many. It’s the fastest way to change weights between exercises and sets. It allows you to superset without having to adjust or change out your weight. Their form factor allows for movements you can’t do with loadable or adjustable dumbbells.
Fixed Dumbbell Pros & Cons
- Easy to change between weights
- Comfortable form factor
- No adjustments needed
- Take up a lot of space
When it comes to buying a set (or even individual pairs) of fixed dumbbells, you can’t beat the sets available from Rep Fitness. They have a few different types to allow for different budgets. You can buy full sets at a discount or just buy them in the weights you need. And, most importantly, they have the absolute best quality level for the price you pay of any dumbbells I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot of them!).
Adjustable dumbbells, depending on which brand and type you are looking at, allow you to quickly and easily change the weight you are using. While the loadable dumbbells described above are also technically “adjustable”, the ease and speed with which you can change the weight on an adjustable pair set them apart.
Aside from this ease of use, 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 adjustable. Prices on a set of adjustable dumbbells range from $249 to $900. Far less than you would spend on most other options.
Adjustable Dumbbells Pros & Cons
- Price per pound is low
- Easy to use
- Expandable (depends on the set)
- Easy to pick the best ones (PowerBlocks)
- Some people don't like the form factor
Adjustable dumbbells 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’t think of any home gym layouts that wouldn’t accommodate a set of adjustable dumbbells.
While there are a ton of different types and brands of adjustable dumbbells on the market these days, the undisputed best choice is Powerblock dumbbells. They are the most durable, most flexible, easiest to change, and the best design of any adjustable on the market. I usually find the best pricing for Powerblocks on Amazon, and you can see their current pricing and assortment here.
If you are on a budget, there are two more great solutions for you. First are these 55lb adjustable from Nordic track (see my review here). Second, it’s always a great idea to check eBay for preowned sets too!
So, what type of dumbbells should you buy?
If, after seeing the three types of dumbbells available for your home gym, you still find yourself asking the question, “What dumbbells should I buy?”, it all comes down to space and budget. If you have the space and budget for a full set of individual, fixed-weight dumbbells, go for those.
If budget or space constraints are in play, then the easy choice is adjustable. Specifically, PowerBlocks (I can’t emphasize enough just how much better these are than any other competitor).
If budget is a serious consideration, I can’t recommend the Nordic Track 55lb adjustable set enough. I wrote a complete review of them here. The short version is that they are a fraction of the price of other adjustable dumbbell sets, and if you can live with them topping out at 55 lbs, they are an amazingly good choice!
What weight dumbbells should you buy?
Beginners should start with a fixed or adjustable set of dumbbells that goes to at least 30 lbs in 5 lb steps. Stronger lifters should look at a dumbbell set that ranges from 5 to 55 lbs. For anyone building a gym for long-term use should buy a set that expands up to 90 lbs or more over time.
If you are going to start by buying just a couple of dumbbells, it’s best to start on the lighter side. For women, it’s recommended to start with 5, 10, 15, and 20 lb pairs. For men, I recommend starting with 10, 20, and 35 lb pairs. This is one of the benefits of adjustables, though.
If buying an adjustable set, I recommend starting with the set of PowerBlocks that tops out at 50 lbs but can be expanded up to 90lbs. One of the many benefits of the PowerBlocks system is that on some of their dumbbells, you can add additional weight without having to buy all new dumbbells. This is one of the many reasons they are superior to the options from Nuobell & BowFlex.
For many people, topping out at 50 lbs will serve them for a lifetime. If that’s you, save some money and go with a non-expandable 50 lb set. If you think you’ll grow past that, make sure you buy a set that can be expanded down the road. Check the details in the description of the set you are buying to ensure this.
What dumbbell accessories do you need?
There are two key accessories that anyone training with dumbbells should have. The first is a rack or stand. The second is a set of Plate Mates.
The rack is important for safety and injury prevention since it keeps you from having to bend to the floor anytime you pick up a dumbbell. I use this stand made by PowerBlocks (check the current price here on Amazon) in my gym and love it.
If you go with a full set, make sure to pick up a matching rack that will hold your full set like this one that Rep Fitness sells.
You’ll also want a set of Plate Mates. Most dumbells, both fixed and adjustable, go in 5 lb increments. Plate Mates allow you to add 1.25 or 2.5 lbs to your dumbbell so that you can progress in smaller steps. I like them so much, I made a video about them on the GymCrafter YouTube channel!