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Dumbbells are one of the most versatile pieces of workout equipment around. If your impression of dumbbells is limited to simple moves like bicep curls and tricep extensions, it’s time to revise that opinion. In fact, any at-home workout routine can be leveled up by a pair of dumbbells. Very few of us have room for squat racks, bench presses, and other weight room classics. But dumbbells? Just about anyone can make room for those. And since a little strength training can go a long way, they’re well worth the investment.
We asked fitness expert Kenta Seki, a trainer with FitOn—who says he uses dumbbells in almost all of his strength workouts—how to get the most out of a set. “I have a favorite dumbbell exercise for nearly every muscle group,” he says. “I especially love using them for exercises that involve alternating sides—like chest presses, shoulder presses, bicep curls, walking lunges, and rows.”
Clearly, when it comes to the humble dumbbell, a little goes a long way.
What to Look For in Dumbbell Sets
The Optimal Weight
Seki recommends buying a pair of dumbbells that are challenging enough to leave you fatigued at the end of a workout, but not so heavy that you’ll sacrifice your form. And if you feel yourself outgrowing your go-to pair, Seki says you can always make workouts more challenging by slowing down your exercises, upping your reps, or holding two dumbbells in one hand.
Fixed or Adjustable?
Today’s dumbbell sets come in two main categories. Fixed dumbbells are the basic dumbbells you think of when you hear the word dumbbell: one piece, solid, easy to use. The only downside is that if you want a heavier weight, you’ll need another set of dumbbells, which can be problematic if you don’t have a lot of space.
Adjustable dumbbells, on the other hand, are the simple bar and weight configurations that allow you to add or subtract weight plates to achieve the ideal weight you’re going for. With adjustables, you have to be careful the weight plates don’t slide off, but most models have safety mechanisms to keep everything secure.
Consider Your Budget
No matter how much you spend on your dumbbell set, at the end of the day, a weighted object is a weighted object, and that’s the whole point. While some of the more expensive options come with benefits that certainly warrant their hefty price tags, take a moment to consider what you actually need and don’t let FOMO lead you to click the ‘buy’ button.
Consider Your Storage Space
Despite many gym bunnies being accused of “living at the gym,” nobody actually does, and those of us with small living spaces don’t want our inner sanctuaries to resemble the sweaty weight floor. Thus, when choosing a dumbbell set, consider how much storage room you have and how much room said set actually takes up when not in use. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to stash a bunch of bars and weight plates under a bed.
Read on for the best dumbbells.
Best Budget: CAP Barbell Adjustable Dumbbells
CAP Barbell’s Adjustable Dumbbells may not be as sleek as some of the other adjustable dumbbells out there. But at their budget-friendly price point, we’re certainly not complaining. Each set ships with two handles and eight plates, which you can slide on and lock into place any time you want to scale up your weight. Add on the 3-pound plates for a lighter workout, or load on all the plates at once to make things seriously challenging. Whether you want to level up over time or simply change things up on a day-to-day basis, these dumbbells will easily meet your needs.
Best Luxury: Bowflex SelectTech 1090 Dumbbells with Adjustable Weight
It may seem extreme to spend more than $1,000 on a pair of dumbbells, but Bowflex’s SelectTech 1090 Adjustable Dumbbells are basically 17 dumbbell sets in one. Simply turn the dial on the side of the dumbbell, and select a weight between 10 pounds and 90 pounds that works for you. Another cool feature is that this set comes with a free training program. Download the Bowflex SelectTech app to access trainer-led workouts, track your progress, and to build custom workouts of your own.
Best Set: Fitness Republic Dumbbell Set
Fitness Republic’s Dumbbell Set is a 10-piece set, perfect for anyone who really loves their dumbbells. The set includes five pairs of weights, ranging between 3 pounds and 12 pounds—giving you a total of 76 pounds to play with. Plus, each set ships with an A-frame rack, so it's easy to stay organized. If you’re an avid strength-trainer, the range can ensure your workouts stay challenging over time. Instead of using the same 3-pound weights over and over again, you can graduate to the 8-pound weights—and then the 12-pound weights. With this many dumbbells on hand, there will never be a dull moment in your fitness routine.
Best Portable: Lixada Flexible Fitness Water-Filled Dumbbells
Weights are rarely travel-friendly. No one wants a bunch of dumbbells weighing down their suitcase or backpack—and most of us need all the packing space we can get. Thankfully, Lixada’s Flexible Fitness Water-Filled Dumbbells make it much easier to get a strength-training workout on-the-go. The dumbbells get their weight from water, meaning you can make them as heavy as you want them to be. Once you've emptied them, they’ll fold up for easy storage in your bag—and since they’ll weigh a whopping 1.1 pounds, you won’t have to worry about extra suitcase weight.
Best for Walking: Gold's Gym Walking Dumbbells
Dumbbells can be a great way to add intensity to daily walks. The only problem is that they can be tedious to hold. Thankfully, Gold’s Gym has come to our collective rescue and crafted a pair of dumbbells with walking in mind. Each weight boasts a built-in Velcro strap that you can tighten until it hugs your hand. Simply hold the dumbbell the way you normally would, slide the strap over your hand, and tighten it until it feels snug. This strap should keep your dumbbell in place—even if you open your hand for a moment.
Best for Pool Workouts: Trademark Innovations Aquatic Exercise Dumbbells
If you’ve ever dreamt of using your dumbbells in the pool, this set will be perfect for you. You can swim with them—or more realistically, use them for water aerobics. Each dumbbell weighs 0.66 pounds, so you shouldn’t expect them to wear you out. But they can add a little intensity to water-based workouts. Oh, and in case you were curious—the weights are crafted from buoyant EVA foam, so you don’t have to worry about them sinking to the bottom of the pool.
Best for Small Spaces: NiceC Adjustable Dumbbell Pair
Dumbbell sets can take up a lot of room, and even adjustable dumbbells can get a little bulky. So if you’re low on space, you may want to invest in an even lower-profile option—like NiceC’s Adjustable Dumbbell Pair. The sleek weights are smaller than many standard dumbbells, and they get their weight from little metal blocks inserted inside the hourglass-shaped shell. Everything is contained, so you won't have a ton of pieces to keep track of. The only downside? The weight range is relatively limited—each dumbbell maxes out at 4.5 pounds.
Dumbbells are an easy and space-efficient way to build strength, whether you’re at home or on-the-go. If you’d rather invest in a dumbbell set that’ll keep you challenged as you build strength, opt for an adjustable set, like the Bowflex SelectTech 1090 Adjustable Dumbbells.
Why are dumbbells so expensive?
For one thing, they’re heavy. This means three things: they’re made to be durable, they’re engineered to be easy to use, and they’re expensive to ship. While dumbbells look simple sitting on the floor, it costs a pretty penny to get all that weight from the factory to your at-home gym.
How much does a good dumbbell set cost?
According to our list, a great set of dumbbells can run anywhere from $90 to well over $1,000. Some are basic while some have all the bells and whistles you could want from a set of dumbbells, but what they all have in common is the ability to help you achieve results. It all comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.
Are adjustable dumbbells worth the price?
While adjustable dumbbells tend to be more expensive than the fixed variety, consider that you get more versatility with the adjustables. Plus, by being able to increase or decrease weights according to your changing needs without having to invest in a new set of dumbbells, the cost may even balance out over time.