Everything You Need to Know

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It’s time. You decided to take the leap, build a home gym, and buy a high-quality dumbbell weight set. But there’s just one problem… You know nothing about dumbbells.

Hey, don’t worry about it. We have you covered.

From explaining what they are to the exact things to look for when buying them, you’ll get an A-to-Z guide to dumbbells. Let’s get started.

What is a Dumbbell?

A dumbbell is a pretty basic piece of weightlifting equipment. It’s a short bar or handle where you can put your hand and grip. Dumbbells are designed so that, even if you have huge hands, you’ll still have a bit of room of either side of your hands.

On either side of the bar or handle, you have your weight. The heavier the dumbbell is, the larger the weight. And depending on what type of dumbbell you have, the weight will either be fixed or adjustable.

As the names suggest, a fixed dumbbell is one where the weight stays the same and cannot be changed. An adjustable dumbbell means that you control the amount of external weight on either side of the bar or handle. There is usually a screw or cap that keeps the weight plates in place.

Benefits of Dumbbells

The benefits of dumbbells are numerous but here are the ones that we think are important to discuss:

Everyone Wins with Dumbbells

Dumbbells are one of the best pieces of fitness equipment for newcomers and seasoned athletes alike. They are designed to be user-friendly, no matter your experience level. You just need to match the weight to your experience levels.

Lower Risk for Injury

While no piece of weightlifting equipment is completely safe and risk-free in fitness, dumbbells are pretty close (when used appropriately). Dumbbells are easier to scale based on your experience. They are also easier on your connective tissue, which means less strain on your joints. And let’s say, you need to bail from an exercise, you can easily toss aside a pair of dumbbells – not so much with a barbell.

Everyone Pulls His/Her Weight

Overcompensation is an issue with a lot of weightlifters. Those dedicated to the barbell may not realize it but sometimes a stronger muscle group will take over for a weaker muscle group. And over time, this extra work can increase the risk for strain and injury. Dumbbells force you to train in a unilateral way, which is why each side of the body, each muscle group must pull its own weight, preventing overcompensation issues.

There’s Greater Muscle Activation

It’s not the case with all exercises but studies show that dumbbells can increase muscle activation during certain exercises more than other fitness equipment such as kettlebells and barbells. [1]

Dumbbells Are Convenient

Whether you throw them in a closet or stack them neatly in a rack, there’s no denying the convenient of a dumbbell set.

Unlike a barbell that requires at least eight feet of space, dumbbells aren’t going to dominate a room. What’s more, you can take them with you for exercising outside (depending on how heavy and huge they are).

They Save You Money

While the upfront cost might seem like a hard hit to take, the reality is that a dumbbell weight set is a long-term investment that will pay for itself several times over. Seriously.

The average gym membership costs around $50. Do the math and you’re paying $600 per year for a membership you might not even use as much as you should because it’s inconvenient to get to. If you purchase a dumbbell set, the dumbbells will pay for themselves after only one year!

kettlebells vs dumbbells

Dumbbells vs. Kettlebells

A kettlebell is shaped like a ball with a flat bottom and a handle on top. The weight is a solid piece of cast iron or cast steel that is directly beneath the handle. This unique shape offers more versatility when it comes to speed and power-based movements.

As we discuss in our article on kettlebells vs. dumbbells, with a dumbbell, you’ll find the weight on both ends of the handle, which makes it ideal for isolation movements. A kettlebell would be better suited for two-handed cross training exercises, such as the swing.

Which you choose really boils down to your goals. Dumbbells are ideal for muscle building, traditional weight loss exercises, and powerlifter or bodybuilder-style strength training. Kettlebells might be what you’re looking for if you want to focus on cross training like CrossFit or athletic agility and speed training.

barbells vs dumbbells

Dumbbells vs. Barbells

A barbell is a long piece of steel with knurled marks, which supports your hand grip. Just like an adjustable dumbbell, you will add or remove weight plates. Don’t forget your barbell collar to keep the weights in place.

There are different types of barbells that you can read more about in our article on barbells vs. dumbbells.

Unlike dumbbells, you can’t just toss a barbell aside. It’s seven feet long. For this, we recommend a squat rack to store your barbell. It also allows you to perform a variety of exercises like the squat and bench press.

Whether you should opt for a barbell over a dumbbell set really depends on your goals and experience. If you’re new to fitness and want a convenient way to build neuromuscular foundations with a low risk of injury, then dumbbells are the way to go.

If you have a decent amount of experience and you want to focus on specific training goals that rely heavily on compound movements, then a barbell might be more your speed. But if you’re serious about building a home gym, you should have both a barbell and a dumbbell set.

fixed vs. adjustable dumbbells

Fixed Dumbbells vs. Adjustable Dumbbells

As we mentioned above, there are two primary types of dumbbells: fixed vs. adjustable.

As the names suggest, a fixed dumbbell is one where the weight stays the same and cannot be changed. For example, if you buy a 15-lb dumbbell, that’s what you will always be stuck with.

An adjustable dumbbell means that you control the amount of external weight on either side of the bar or handle. There is usually a screw or cap that keeps the weight plates in place.

There are two really popular forms of adjustable dumbbells. The first is the basic bar or handle and a set of weight plates. You simply slide on the plates you want, put on a cap or collar, and start lifting. The other is the turn-and-crank dumbbell.

Dial or turn-and-crank dumbbells have a literal foundation or box of weight plates surrounding a single handle. You simply turn a dial, and this changes the amount of weight that gets “hooked up” to the bar or handle. Once it’s locked, you pick it up and start your workout.

While the convenience and price point of adjustable might initially seem appealing, over the long run, they aren’t worth it. Fixed dumbbells are solid steel or cast iron, and they are built to last. Why do you think old school bodybuilding gyms still have dumbbells from the 50s?

Adjustable dumbbells have too many moving pieces that will eventually breakdown and need servicing. More often than not, those parts and the repairs add up to be more than the dumbbells themselves.

Do yourself a favor and buy fixed dumbbells.

steel dumbbells vs plated steel dumbbells

Steel vs. Plated-Steel Dumbbells

If you want a dumbbell set that lasts for a long time AND maintains its appearance, steel is where it’s at.

Unlike cast iron dumbbells that are prone to corrosion and cracks, steel dumbbells are built to withstand decades of punishment. Depending on how they are finished or coated, you don’t have to ever worry about rust or corrosion.

Now, plated-steel dumbbells take all of the durability and badassery of steel dumbbells and throw on a solid protective coating. But here’s the thing: not all coatings are created equal.

There are plenty of brands out there claiming that they use the most durable form of coating for dumbbells but let’s set the record straight for exactly what you should be looking for. The two types of finishes and protective coatings you want for your dumbbells are Cerakote and black oxide.

Cerakote is the brand name of the coating and it’s relatively new, hitting the market back in 2017. Despite its short time in the industry, Cerakote is a no-joke coating. This stuff skyrocketed in popularity after a few big-name powerlifting brands put it on their barbells with epic success.

The other coating, black oxide, is just as effective as Cerakote at preventing corrosion while keeping your dumbbells looking new, despite dropping them.

Continuing with the point from above, in a perfect world, you’ll want to opt for a pair of fixed steel dumbbells.

Steel vs. Stainless Steel Dumbbells

Continuing with the point from above, stainless steel is another type of dumbbell with a super protective coating.

Stainless steel is one of the older methods of protecting your dumbbells and it’s still used today because it’s proven to prevent corrosion, protect from normal wear and tear, and maintain an aesthetically pleasing appearance for many years.

Add to the mix that it’s environmentally friendly and easily recyclable and you can see why it’s still a go-to option for many fitness companies.

man picking up 35 lb dumbbell

What to Look for When Buying Dumbbells

You’re ready to buy dumbbells online or at your local store but you want to have a checklist for what to look for when buying dumbbells. Not to worry. Here are the top things we’d recommend you check out with each dumbbell set you’re considering.

Material: What is the material used in the making of the dumbbell? Are they plastic? Iron? Steel? For our money, steel is going to be your best long-term option.

Coating: Do the dumbbells have a protective coating? Trust us, you want dumbbells that have this; otherwise, you’ll quickly be looking for new ones. We recommend dumbbells that have a Cerakote, black oxide, or stainless-steel coating.

Fixed vs. Adjustable: Although we highly recommend fixed dumbbells, we understand that sometimes, you just don’t have the space or budget. Adjustable dumbbells might be more convenient in the short term, but you’ll eventually need to upgrade or repair them. If you can, go with fixed dumbbells.

Weight Range: Dumbbell weight sets will range and depending on your experience, goals, and budget, this can determine what you’ll need to buy. If you’re new to fitness, go with the dumbbell set that ranges from 5 to 20 pounds. If you have more experience and goals that require more weight, start with the bigger dumbbell set of 25 to 45 pounds.

Brand: Is the brand recognizable? Or did they suddenly pop up on Amazon a few weeks ago with questionable reviews? Brands aren’t always a make-or-break point for a safe purchase, but it helps to know that people trust the brand.

woman lifting steel dumbbells

How Much Do Dumbbells Cost?

The common way to calculate the cost of dumbbells is by the pound (or kilogram). On average, dumbbells should cost between $1.50 and $3 per pound. The price depends on the following factors:

Quality and Material: Low-quality dumbbells are still very much a thing and while you might feel like you’re getting a bargain, you’re not. Low-quality dumbbells break, rust, and corrode, which means you’ll be buying another pair sooner than you think. This is one area where you truly get what you pay for. The quality of the dumbbell will correlate with the material and coating used. It might be a bigger hit on the wallet, but you want to go with steel, if you can.

Shipping: A lot of fitness companies outsource the production of steel and iron dumbbells, which drives the production cost down but then the shipping cost comes into play. If you’re buying dumbbells made from steel or iron – the top-of-the-line stuff – the price you’re paying is for the shipping as much as it is the material. Still, worth every penny.

Brand: Recognizable brands have the luxury of charging more for their name. After all, if they produce amazing quality fitness equipment and have a flawless reputation, you’re essentially paying for security and peace of mind.

Changing with the Times: Finally, people and companies can easily swing prices based on what’s going on in the news. The best example of this is what happened during the coronavirus pandemic. Since people couldn’t leave their homes, they started building home gyms. And a lot of people capitalized on this. This goes hand-in-hand with buying based on a brand, but a trustworthy fitness brand won’t price gouge. Another reason to pay a bit more for a good name.

dumbbell pullover dumbbell exercise

What are the Best Dumbbell Accessories?

Can you build an insane body with just a pair of dumbbells? Of course. But expanding your fitness gear arsenal helps you increase the number of exercises you can do. It also adds more flavor and variety to your workouts.

Here are some dumbbell accessories to consider for now or later:

Bench: A bench allows you to incorporate the classic bench press exercise along with some great leg builders such as the Bulgarian split squat. A must in any home gym.

Alpha Grips: Want to increase your grip strength without incorporating any new exercises? Alpha Grips mimic the feel of a thick bar handle and provide the same benefits, especially a boost in grip strength.

Resistance Bands: Studies show that incorporating resistance bands into a weighted workout can dramatically increase your results. This is because there is a constant tension during the lifting, isometric, and lowering portions of the exercises. For example, you can tie one end of the band to the dumbbell while the other end is under your foot. This will take your bicep curls to a new level.

Knee Sleeves: If you’re recovering from an injury or if you have a history of knee trouble, knee support in the form of a sleeve or wrap can help you exercise without pain or strain.

Weightlifting Belts: Are you a fan of dumbbell squats and deadlifts? A weightlifting belt can safely support your performance during your favorite exercises.

dumbbell maintenance

Dumbbell Workouts

Now that we’ve answered the question of, “Which dumbbells should I buy?” we can get to the fun part: dumbbell workouts.

We’re going to provide you with dumbbell workouts based on individual muscle groups as well as a traditional upper vs. lower split. Don’t forget to check out our other dumbbell workout articles, which feature enough workouts to keep you busy for a year!

Upper Body vs. Lower Body Dumbbell Workout

MONDAY

  • Floor Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions
  • Standing Dumbbell Reverse Fly: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Arnold Press: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Cross Body Hammer Curl: 4 x 8 – 15
  • Triceps Kickbacks: 4 x 8 – 15

TUESDAY

  • Single-Leg Raises: 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions
  • Dumbbell Hack Squats: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Lunges: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell V-Up: 4 x 10 – 15
  • Lying Dumbbell Crunch: 4 x 10 – 15

WEDNESDAY

  • Recovery and cardiovascular exercise

THURSDAY

  • Upright Front Chest Raises: 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions
  • Dumbbell Rows: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Front Raise: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Concentration Curl: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension: 4 x 8 – 12

FRIDAY

  • Single-Leg Raises: 4 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions
  • Goblet Squat: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Side Lunge / Lateral Lunge: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Bird Dog: 4 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Side Bend: 4 x 8 – 12

SATURDAY

  • Recovery and cardiovascular exercise

SUNDAY

Get more dumbbell home workouts here.

man performing dumbbell lateral raise

Dumbbell Back Workout

  • Prone Dumbbell Lat “Pulldown”: 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 x 15 – 20
  • Dumbbell Overhead Carry: 3 sets of 50 feet
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row: 3 x 15 – 20
  • Dumbbell YTWL: 2 sets of 10 repetitions (moving through each letter once counts as a single repetition)

Check out our other dumbbell back workouts.

Dumbbell Chest Workout

  • Super Set A: Reverse Grip Chest Press: 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
  • Super Set A: Dumbbell Pullover: 3 x 8 – 12
  • Super Set B: Decline Dumbbell Press: 3 x 12 – 15
  • Super Set B: Flat Dumbbell Fly: 3 x 8 – 12

Build a bigger, stronger chest with our dumbbell chest workouts.
dumbbell lunge

Dumbbell Leg Workout

  • Single-Leg Raises: 3 sets of 20 repetitions
  • Dumbbell Step-Ups: 3 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Squats: 3 x 8 – 12
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3 x 8 – 12
  • Lunge Pulses: 3 x 10 – 12
  • Calf Raises: 3 x 25

Want more dumbbell quad exercises? We’ve got you covered.

Dumbbell Core Workout

  • Lying Dumbbell Crunch: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
  • Dumbbell Reverse Crunch: 2 x 10 – 15
  • Dumbbell Bird Dog: 2 x 10 – 15
  • Dumbbell Side Bend: 2 x 10 – 15
  • Dumbbell Superman: 2 x 8 – 15

Here are some more dumbbell core workouts to keep you busy.

Dumbbell Arms Workout

  • Close-Grip Chin-Ups: 2 sets of 10 repetitions (use a chair for assistance, if needed)
  • Diamond Push-Ups (If you need to, perform from the knees.): 2 x 10
  • Narrow Grip Dumbbell Curls: 3 x 15 – 20
  • Dumbbell Floor Press: 3 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Concentration Curl: 3 x 12 – 15
  • Triceps Dips: 3 x 8 – 12
  • Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 2 x 8 – 12

Want more dumbbell triceps workouts for bigger or shredded arms? Check out what we got.

Guide to Dumbbells: Wrap Up

If you’re in the market for a dumbbell weight set, we recommend choosing steel dumbbells with a Cerakote, black oxide, or stainless-steel coating.

 

References

  1. Saeterbakken AH, van den Tillaar R, Fimland MS. A comparison of muscle activity and 1-RM strength of three chest-press exercises with different stability requirements. J Sports Sci. 2011 Mar;29(5):533-8. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2010.543916. PMID: 21225489.

Source
Everything You Need to Know is written by David Sautter for ironbullstrength.com

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