At first, you might think buying dumbbells is pretty straightforward, but once you actually start shopping around, you will find that there are SO MANY options to choose from. As such, we decided to put together this extensive guide on all the different types of dumbbells. You will literally learn everything you need to know about the various styles of dumbbells below. We hope that this information will help you determine what kind of dumbbell is best for your home gym, commercial gym, hotel gym, Crossfit box or fitness studio.
There are two main categories of dumbbells - fixed dumbbells and adjustable dumbbells.
However, it is definitely not as simple as that. Within those two main categories, there are a lot of different options to choose from, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Below we will cover everything you need to know about all of the different types of fixed-weight and adjustable dumbbells available on the market. Afterward, we will determine which options are the best for home gyms, commercial gyms, CrossFit boxes, and other fitness studios.
Fixed weight dumbbells consist of a handle that is welded onto two single cast bells. So, they have a set weight that can't be changed, hence the name fixed dumbbell.
There are many different kinds of fixed weight dumbbells that you can choose from. Fixed weight dumbbells have different shapes, materials and weight ranges. So, let's discuss each of these points.
There are four main shapes for fixed weight dumbbells.
Note: Shape has nothing to do with the weight of a dumbbell. The shape specifically refers to the two identical bells at the end of dumbbells.
Hex, round, and 12-sided fixed dumbbells are the most common.
Let’s go over the pros and cons of the different shapes. This will be specifically about the shape of the bells, nothing else.
As the name suggests, hex dumbbells have 6 flat sides.
Another thing to consider about hexagon dumbbells is that the vast majority have contoured (ergonomic) handles rather than straight handles and they are not fully knurled.
A round dumbbell has a perfectly circular shape.
Round dumbbells can be found with different handles. You can find them with contoured and partly knurled handles like hex dumbbells or with straight and fully knurled handles.
12-sided dumbbells have 12 sides, but they actually look quite similar to round dumbbells because they have a gradually curved surface. This gives them the same pros as round dumbbells but also some pros of the hex dumbbells.
12 sided dumbbells can be found with both partly knurled contoured handles and straight handles that are fully knurled.
SQUARE & SPECIALITY SHAPES
If you search around, you can find square dumbbells and other speciality shapes like teardrop shaped dumbbells or the old-old school style round ones like the pic above.
We won’t go into the speciality shapes as they are pretty rare.
So, the pros and cons for square dumbbells are as follows...
With all of the above options comes different materials.
You have different metals and coatings.
METALS (Cast Iron vs Steel):
Fixed dumbbells are made of either a single one-piece mold of cast iron or stainless steel. However, they can have both, with the handles beings stainless steel and the bells cast iron.
Either way, even if there is a rubber coating, the core is made of metal, with exception to certain plastic vinyl dumbbells that use concrete or sand on the inside.
Both cast iron and steel are good metals for dumbbells, but stainless steel is superior because it is more rust resistant and durable. That said, the vast majority of bells are made from cast iron because it is easier and less expensive to produce, and generally speaking, it is perfectly durable.
When it comes to hex dumbbells, you can find them with and without rubber coating on the bells. However, these days rubber coated bells are more common.
Note: Studio style light neoprene dumbbells and vinyl plastic dumbbells can also have a hex shape but they are not considered hex dumbbells. Hex dumbbells refer to the heavy duty dumbbells.
Round fixed dumbbells that you see in many commercial gyms are typically coated with urethane, but some may be rubber.
You also have prostyle dumbbells (a configuration of plates bolted onto the ends), which are also round dumbbells, and they can be pure metal with a chrome or oxide coating, rubber coated with steel handles, entirely cast iron, or entirely steel.
Let’s go over each of the coatings to see which is best.
RUST RESISTANT PAINT ENAMEL OR FLAT FINISH
A lot of old school style hex dumbbells and prostyle dumbbells are just straight metal.
For hex dumbbells, cast iron with a painted enamel finish is the most common.
For prostyle dumbbells, they have a flat finish of black or zinc oxide, chrome, or just pure stainless steel. This makes them more rust-resistant.
Some people like these all-metal dumbbells because they have that raw and gritty look and feel. They are also good for people who are allergic or sensitive to latex.
The downside of not having a rubber coating is that you can’t (or shouldn’t) drop these dumbbells on the floor.
Moreover, for cast iron dumbbells, the coating can scratch, chip and wear away, which will lead to rust. If you leave them outside, this will only speed up the rusting process.
Note: Rust can be sanded off, but it's a pain in the butt to do.
Most hex dumbbells these days are produced with a rubber coating on the bells.
The rubber is either a synthetic or made from tree sap. However, most dumbbells use rubber that is recycled. Because of this, they can have an odor at first.
The rubber is ideal because it protects the dumbbell when dropping it to the floor. If you lift heavy, you are likely to drop the dumbbells to the floor from time to time. Another good thing about rubber coated dumbbells is they protect the metal from rust.
The only reason you should get a cast iron hex dumbbell over a rubber coated hex dumbbell is if you are allergic to rubber or you really want that old school vibe. Besides that, rubber coated hex dumbbells are superior to their uncoated counterparts.
While urethane falls into the rubber category, it is not quite a rubber. Urethane fills the gap between plastic and rubber. It’s very pliable and impact resistant because of this.
Overall, urethane coated dumbbells are considerably superior to rubber dumbbells because the material is much more durable. They are longer lasting and capable of withstanding the effects of outdoor conditions like exposure to sunlight far better than traditional rubber. Moreover, urethane is odorless.
The only downside to urethane is that it is more expensive.
As for what dumbbells use urethane. The round or 12-sided heavy duty fixed dumbbells you find at commercial gyms are made from urethane, where as the hex dumbbells are usually commercial grade rubber. That said, you may find some round or 12-sided dumbbells with rubber coating rather than urethane, so be sure to check the description.
Are urethane dumbbells worth it?
Most people do just fine with traditional rubber dumbbells, but urethane will last much longer. If you use and abuse your dumbbells, urethane is a much better option than rubber. So, they are worth it if money is not an issue to you. If you have an upscale gym, you definitely want urethane dumbbells.
**Note for Sellers: Urethane dumbbells offer the best opportunity for branding. The wide round sides of the dumbbells make for the perfect logo placement.**
Neoprene dumbbells are their own category of dumbbells. They are the light weight dumbbells used for studio classes or beginners, typically ranging from 1-15lbs.
The dumbbells are made from cast iron and then they are dipped into brightly colored neoprene. Neoprene is a synthetic polymer.
Neoprene is pliable, so the dumbbells are comfortable to use. You can hold onto them for long periods of time without discomfort to the hands.
Neoprene also makes the dumbbells rust proof and you can drop them down.
The only downside to neoprene dumbbells is that they can wear down over time simply from using them. Not a big deal, but something to note.
Vinyl dumbbells are used in the same way as neoprene. They are light dumbbells for beginner or aerobic classes.
Much of the same benefits of neoprene dumbbells apply to vinyl dumbbells. The big difference is that neoprene is significantly more durable. Vinyl dumbbells can split and crack easier.
So, if you are looking for light dumbbells for aerobic style workouts, neoprene is the better option.
Note: Some vinyl coated dumbbells will have concrete at the core rather than metal (neoprene dumbbells will always be cast iron at the core).
A lot of rubber dumbbells use a chrome coating for the handles to avoid rust as cast iron is pretty easy to rust.
However, there are also all-chrome dumbbells, as pictured above.
You are not going to find chrome dumbbells at commercial gyms. They are typically meant for home gyms.
They are known as “beauty bells” because they shine attractively.
These dumbbells are made of solid steel or cast iron with a chrome finishing, and they have a round bell.
They tend to weigh anywhere from 3 to 50lbs, but usually they are on the lighter side. This makes them more similar to the studio-style dumbbells. It’s kind of like an in-between of heavy duty hex/round dumbbells and neoprene aerobic dumbbells.
While chrome dumbbells may look good to some people, the finishing will wear down eventually. You shouldn’t leave these dumbbells outside.
We really don’t recommend chrome dumbbells unless you like the look and you only need light to medium weights.
The most commonly bought fixed dumbbells are Hex Dumbbells, Urethane Round/12-Sided Dumbbells, Prostyle Dumbbells, and Neoprene Dumbbells.
Hex dumbbells are either rubber coated or entirely cast iron. The handles are usually contoured with partial knurling on chrome plating.
The good thing about hex dumbbells is they are versatile and the most affordable option for heavy duty dumbbells. This makes them ideal for gyms looking to save on costs and serious lifters who want to use fixed dumbbells at home.
Hex dumbbells typically range from 2.5lb-150lb.
Note: Hex dumbbells usually have smaller increments in weight in the 0-20lb range than commercial style round dumbbells.
Commercial-style round or 12 sided dumbbells are heavy duty dumbbells with urethane covering the bells. They can have either straight handles with full knurling or contoured handles with partial knurling. Typically the handles are solid steel.
These are the most durable dumbbells you can get thanks to the urethane coating. You can use and abuse these without concern.
With that, they are expensive, so usually only commercial gyms go for them. But, if you have the money, they are worth it. They will pretty much last forever.
Weight for these dumbbells range from 5lb-200lb.
Note: Because of the round, flat design, these dumbbells will be a little more compact than hex dumbbells of equal weight.
If you like a classic professional look, prostyle dumbbells will definitely catch your eyes. These have been around since the 80s, at a time when they were the go-to dumbbell at commercial gyms.
Some prostyle dumbbells may look like adjustable dumbbells (as seen above), but they are not. They are pre-assembles, so the pancake-style plates are set on the handles and the ends are bolted in extremely tight so they will never come loose during use.
That said, they are actually semi-permanent fixed dumbbells, meaning you could unbolt them, even though they are not meant to be.
The handles are always the perfect length so they are flush to the last plate. Plus, they usually have end caps just to ensure a perfectly smooth edge (which you won’t get with plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells).
Besides looking badass, there are advantages to prostyle dumbbells. They aren’t as lengthy as hex dumbbells and the weight is more evenly distributed across this shorter span. Because of this, they put less stress on your wrist. This is especially apparent at heavier weights and it gives a mechanical advantage over hex dumbbells.
Another reason people like prostyle dumbbells is they come in very heavy weights. You can get them in sizes from 5-200lbs. Also, the handles are made of steel and they are straight and deeply knurled.
As for coatings, most have metal plates, but you can find them with rubber coated metal plates as well.
Note: Some sellers will call their round rubber coated dumbbells prostyle dumbbells. They will look similar to round urethane dumbbells rather than the bolted-on-plates prostyle look. In essence, these are just round rubber coated cast iron dumbbells (with flat steel handles), but they are also good.
The only downfall to prostyle dumbbells is they are expensive. Similarly priced as the newer round commercial-style urethane dumbbells. And, they are not ideal for ground exercises as the plates are round.
Where to buy? Check out York, Troy, or American Fitness for Prostyle Dumbbells.
PRICE (least expensive to most expensive):
Prostyle and round urethane dumbbells are typically 2+ times the price of hex dumbbells.
DURABILITY (most durable to least durable):
STYLE & SHAPE (best style and shape):
It’s hard to give a winner for this because hex would be more versatile in the sense that you can use them for ground based exercises but prostyle and round urethane dumbbells are more compact which makes them better for pressing movements and other exercises like curls.
What about neoprene, vinyl and chrome?
Neoprene, vinyl and even chrome fixed dumbbells are in their own category because they are light weight and not used for serious lifters like the heavy duty fixed dumbbells we just went over.
Neoprene dumbbells are good for people who just want some light weight dumbbells that are comfortable. They range from 1-20lbs (although 15lbs as a max is more common for most sellers) and they are brightly colored.
A gym may have a set of neoprene dumbbells for certain beginners and women who want lighter dumbbells than urethane or prostyle dumbbells come in. They are also good for women who want to workout at home and aerobic studio classes.
Neoprene dumbbells typically sell for less than hex dumbbells per pound.
Note: Vinyl dumbbells are pretty similar in price as neoprene dumbbells, but chrome (if you are able to find them in stock as most sellers don’t bother with them much) will be more expensive per pound. Moreover, chrome dumbbells can be a little heavier, but overall, if you are considering getting heavy chrome dumbbells, just go for hex dumbbells.
NOTE: Fixed dumbbells have a 3% weight tolerance. So the actual weight of the dumbbell may be + or - 3% the labeled weight.
The general consensus is, you have the space and the budget, fixed dumbbells are by far the best bet. This is why commercial gyms have fixed dumbbells not adjustable dumbbells.
Be that as it may, most people who train at home don’t have the space or the desire to spend 5-10 times more for fixed dumbbells. That’s where adjustable dumbbells come into play...
Adjustable dumbbells have two categories - plate loaded and selectorized adjustable dumbbells.
Plate loaded dumbbells consist of an individual handle with individual plates that can be loaded onto the handle and secured manually using some form of a locking mechanism (a collar). Essentially, it’s like a mini barbell.
Selectorized dumbbells are adjustable dumbbells that allow for the number of plates to be easily changed in their stand with some sort of mechanism such as a pin or dial. So, all selectorized dumbbells have a special stand that you place the handle onto and then select the weight you want so that when you lift up the handle, the selected weight (plates) will be attached to the handle and the other plates will be left in the stand.
Let’s go over both plate loaded and selectorized dumbbells more in-depth...
There are four main styles of plate loaded dumbbells:
Spinlock dumbbells are pretty easy to load and unload. You just spin the collar on the end after you place the weights on the handle and they are good to go. And yes, they are perfectly safe as long as you get them on tight. As for price, they are among the most affordable adjustable dumbbells you can get.
Dimensions are as follows. The heavy duty spin lock dumbbells come in 14” and 18” sizes. They are typically made from steel with a chrome finish. They take standard plates, which are 1”.
The max bar rating for spinlock dumbbells are 80kg, which is way more than enough. However, most recommend up to 100lbs.
Overall, spinlocks are great. The only thing to really dislike about them is that the ends protrude so they can get in the way, and it can be very disconcerting to use them for exercises like dumbbell pullovers as you need to put trust in the spinlocks keeping the plates on.
Olympic style dumbbells have olympic sized sleeves, which are 2”. They are like mini Olympic barbells. Thus, you can use Olympic barbell plates for them and barbell collars or clips.
So, if you have barbell plates already, then you can just get an Olympic style dumbbell handle and you are good to go.
You can get Olympic dumbbells in 20” and 14” lengths. That’s the total length, including the sleeves. The handles for both lengths will be approximately 7”.
The load capacity is around 100lbs.
The biggest advantage of Olympic dumbbells is that if you already have an Olympic barbell and plates then you can just buy the dumbbell handle. You don’t need to buy plates too. The biggest downfall to these is that they are a little unwieldy for certain exercises, as you can imagine. Also, the weight of the handle alone is 10lbs or 15lbs depending on the length.
Compression ring collar dumbbells are just like spinlock dumbbells but they use a compression ring collar rather than the spinning collar. With that, the 1” “sleeves” are smooth, not threaded. Most people agree that the spinlocks feel safer than the compression ring collars because they are on a threaded bar so they would need to spin down the threads before the weight could fall off even if they did happen to come loose.
These will be hard to find as spinlocks are much more popular.
The Ironmaster Quick Lock is a very innovative adjustable dumbbells.
The size of the Ironmaster is great. Very similar to a fixed dumbbell. Moreover, they have a flat end cap that screws into the handle rather than onto the handle, which allows the ends of the dumbbell to have a flat base similar to a fixed dumbbell. This is the only plate loaded dumbbell without protruding ends.
The shape of the plates makes them versatile as well. They are compact and they don’t roll, which makes them good for ground based exercises.
It’s very easy to adjust the weights, hence the name Quick Lock. AND, they go up as heavy as 165lbs (5-165lbs).
The only downside to these is they are considerably more expensive than the other plate loaded adjustable dumbbells.
Where to buy? You can buy this on Ironmaster's website. The price is $749.
HIGHEST WEIGHT LOAD CAPACITY:
BEST SIZE & SHAPE:
PRICE (least expensive to most expensive):
If budget isn’t a concern, the Ironmaster Quick Lock adjustable dumbbell is the best adjustable dumbbell there is. They are extremely secure, durable, and can be used for all dumbbell exercises without issues.
When it comes to selectorized dumbbells, you have four main types:
Let’s go over each of the types and then do a little "comparison test" of all 4 to see which is the best option.
Powerblock dumbbells are one of the most popular selectorized dumbbells. Most would say it is the best option.
It uses a sort of lever system. You just slide the pin into the side slots, using the associated color code found at the top to see what the weight is, and then lift the handle up from the stand and you are ready to go.
They have an unusual rectangular profile, which does inhibits a few movements, but it makes up for that with compactness (compared to other selectorized dumbbells), its flat ends, durability and overall value.
These are made from quality material and have very few moving parts in terms of the mechanism (thus less susceptible to damage if dropped). So it should last a very long time.
The Powerblock model’s base kit ranges from 5-50lbs with 2.5 increments. Great for progressive overloading. It also has an expansion kit that you can buy that will take the total weight up to 90lbs per dumbbell (no other selectorized dumbbell can go this high).
With just the base kit alone, you have what would be 28 pairs of fixed dumbbells! Think of all that space saved. It’s also about 10 times less than what fixed dumbbells of the same weight increments would be. If you consider shipping, it’s even more of a cost saver, as Powerblocks ship in one box rather than a ton of boxes like sets of fixed dumbbells do.
The Bowflex adjustable dumbbell is the most popular of the dial type selectorized dumbbells. In fact, it is probably the most popular of selectorized dumbbell there is thanks to the Bowflex name and its competitive price.
They take on the shape of a regular dumbbell, but it is bulky (more than the pic would suggest). The adjustments to weight are made on the side of the dumbbell using a dial.
The max weight is 52.5lbs. The weight increments are in 2.5lbs, starting at 5lbs to 25lbs, then from 25lbs to 50lbs it jumps by 5lbs increments, and a single 2.5 increment from 50lb to 52.5lb.
The Bowflex is not the most durable as it has multiple gears on both sides of the dumbbell. You wouldn’t want to drop it. However, the price and the ease of use still makes it a good value.
Glide type selectorized dumbbells use a gliding mechanism to adjust the weight which is placed in a slot between the top of the plates. It is the fastest to adjust of all selectorized dumbbells.
The weight ranges from 5-50lbs, with only 5lb weight increments (although some models have different increments). So, it would equal to 10 pairs of fixed dumbbells.
One of the weird things about the glide type selectorized dumbbells is its center of gravity is off. So, when getting into position for a lift, you need to make sure the plates are facing down or else it will shift that way and it can throw you off balance.
Note: These are hard to find in the 5-50lb range. Most sellers on Amazon only have the glide type selectorized dumbbell in 5-25lbs.
The twist type selectorized dumbbells are adjusted by twisting the handle. Like all selectorized dumbbells, this is done from inside its stand.
The twist type ranges from 5-45lbs or 50lbs, and they usually have around 12 weight increments.
One thing to note is the increments for twist types are usually super random.
For example, it jumps from 5lb to 8.3lb to 9.2lb to 12.5lb to 11.5lb (again, SUPER RANDOM). This isn’t a huge issue, but it’s not ideal obviously. It makes progressive overloading a little weird.
One of the good things about the twist type is it feels durable and sturdy, the shape is good and pretty compact, and it is super quick to adjust the weight as you just need to twist the handle.
Now, let’s match the four selectorized dumbbells up based on speed, increments, shape, durability, and price.
PRICE (least expensive to most expensive):
With the above considerations, the best to worst selectorized dumbbell options rank as follows:
Block wins the two most important categories too, the shape and durability. Block type is also the only type that has an expansion kit that allows you to increase the weight to 90lbs (base kit is 5-50lb)
The best thing about adjustable dumbbells are they will save you a lot of money and space. It’s pretty much as simple as that.
A full set of dumbbells, even just 5-50lbs, will be run you over $1,500, whereas even the most expensive adjustable dumbbell set is sub $600.
For plate loaded dumbbells, you can get a super bargain, by just buying the handle for around $50 and finding plates on craigslist or Amazon for cheap.
What’s more, shipping for an adjustable dumbbell set will be far cheaper than fixed dumbbells. After all, the total weight and volume of the shipment will be significantly greater for fixed dumbbells.
In terms of space, a full set of dumbbells with a rack will take up about 20 times more space than a set of adjustable dumbbells. Unless you have plenty of space, this is definitely something to consider.
The downside of adjustable dumbbells are they aren’t as durable, convenient, or versatile.
Overall, an adjustable dumbbell is good for someone who has limited space and budget, because if you have the space and money is not a concern, then fixed dumbbells are the way to go. Unfortunately, for most home gyms, space and budget is a concern.
PROS AND CONS OF PLATE LOADED DUMBBELLS
When comparing plate loaded dumbbells to selectorized dumbbells...
PROS AND CONS OF SELECTORIZED DUMBBELLS
When comparing selectorized dumbbells to plate loaded dumbbells...
When deciding between selectorized dumbbells and plate loaded dumbbells, the main things to consider are budget, speed of adjustments, and durability. If durability and budget are most important, then plate loaded is best. If speed and ease of use is your primary concern, then selectorized dumbbells will be the best choice for you.
Let’s go over the best options for home gyms, commercial gyms, CrossFit boxes, and studio classes.
What are the best dumbbells for home gyms?
The best dumbbells for home gyms will be fixed hex rubber dumbbells if you have the space and budget. We choose hex dumbbells because they are more affordable than urethane and prostyle dumbbells and they are perfectly durable and you can do everything with them. It’s the best bang for a home gym’s buck. If space and/or budget is a concern, then plate-loaded or selectorized adjustable dumbbells are the way to go.
What are the best dumbbells for commercial gyms?
The best dumbbells for commercial gyms are urethane dumbbells, which will likely be round or 12-sided dumbbells. These are the most durable and long lasting of all dumbbells. Moreover, they are perfectly shaped for all dumbbell exercises.
If you want your commercial gyms to have an old-school style vibe, then you can also consider prostyle dumbbells. Prostyle dumbbells are a great choice.
If your gym is more of a “budget” gym (or hotel gym), then rubber hex dumbbells will do.
What are the best dumbbells for Crossfit boxes?
Crossfit boxes will do best with rubber hex dumbbells as a lot of Crossfit exercises involve ground based exercises. The dumbbells won’t be the primary tool like they will for commercial gyms, so hex dumbbells will be perfectly adequate for all a Crossfit boxes needs. What’s more, a Crossfit box will likely want multiple pairs of dumbbells of the same sizes, so it's a far more affordable approach to get hex dumbbells than urethane.
All in all, rubber hex dumbbells are the way to go for Crossfit boxes.
What are the best dumbbells for studio classes?
Studio classes will want durable, light weight dumbbells that are compact and comfortable on the hands, so neoprene dumbbells will be the best option, although vinyl dumbbells will be adequate as well.
We will first go over some brands that you can check out for the various types of dumbbells we discussed above, then we will show you some of the best options on Amazon as well.
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PLATE LOADED DUMBBELLS:
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