The Buyer's Guide to Home Gym Dumbbell Sets
Quick Links to Key Sections
- Types of dumbbells
- Cost of dumbbells
- Consumer and Economy dumbbells
- Mid-range Dumbbells
- Premium & commercial-grade dumbbells
- Aesthetics; or Gym Gear as Furniture
- Racks and Storage
- Combination Sets vs Individual Sizes
- Dumbbell Buying Advice
Dumbbells are an absolutely critical and essential tool in the toolbox for fitness enthusiasts focused on strength training and/or weightlifting as they work toward their health, fitness and body sculpting goals. And although they are not the first choice of all who train with weights to get fit, they are are a core component for most strength conditioning programs, and universally recommended y trainers. What is also true is that almost everyone can benefit from using them because of the almost limitless array of exercises one can do.
And, for those who are very serious about building muscle, achieving strength gains and developing or transforming their bodies to becoming stronger, leaner, healthier and more attractive, dumbbells usually are their first choice.
So if you’re determined to ensure you don’t miss out on the myriad of benefits of exercising with dumbbells, and you are looking to have something that will best reflect your personal commitment to fitness, wellness and training your body, purchasing a complete set of dumbbells is a great expression of that commitment.
But as you begin to wade into the myriad of options of dumbbells for sale, how do you know which dumbbells to buy? Which type is right for you? And how much should you spend? The answers will of course vary from person to person, but as we go through the various factors to consider in this article, you will become more familiar with all the options you have, and the benefits of each of them.
Types of dumbbells
One of the first considerations for many people shopping for dumbbells is to get a pair of adjustable dumbbells. To be sure, there are a number of good reasons why some people would prefer to use adjustable ones instead of a full set of individually weighted pairs of dumbbells. And yes, adjustable dumbbells have been very popular over the years, especially the type that permits the user to add and remove slot-loadable weighted discs to adjust the weight of the same weight-housing unit, a design first popularized by Bowflex several decades ago. Today there are a number of brands offering essentially the same thing, each with a slightly different design or looks, so for those of you who are certain adjustable dumbbells should be a part of your workout routine, you do have a lot of options these days.
This plate-in-slot design has some advantages over the occasional minor annoyances and inconveniences (see below) of the more old school style of adjustable dumbbells, the plate loadable type . . . because with the slot load design, the weights can simply be locked into place and remain stable.
Of course, the main advantage of any adjustable dumbbell setup is that they hardly take up any space at all. So for people with very limited room to house a gym—or none at all—an adjustable dumbbells setup is a good option because they can easily fit into the corner of your living room. It’s also sometimes the choice of people who aren’t very focused on a dumbbell-based routine, e.g., people who prefer to focus on cardio or barbell sets, or use machines such as functional trainers, etc. For this type of user, for whom strength training is of secondary or minor importance, a slot type adjustable dumbbell set can be ideal because it doesn’t preclude them from having and using dumbbells, while it does help them avoid the space constraints of a traditional dumbbell set on a rack, which we will discuss below.
But still, many people avoid this type of adjustable dumbbells because of one reason: it is a mechanical product with a number of moving parts. It is inevitable that over time, there will be some wear, and even if they don’t break in the near-term, eventually they become increasingly difficult and inconvenient to use, and they will eventually break down.
Plate loaded style dumbbells
Plate-loaded dumbbells are another variation of adjustable dumbbells and are very much an old-school option, which some purists still enjoy, despite the inconveniences that are difficult to avoid.
They are very similar to barbells and weight plates in the sense that they consist primarily of a steel bar on which you can load plates (usually made of cast iron) of equal weight on each side, which you then secure on to the steel bar with clamps or, more commonly, screwed-on spin nuts to stabilize the plates on the bar. This type of dumbbell is essentially a smaller, hand-held version of a traditional barbell and cast iron weight plate set. These plate-loaded dumbbells have the advantage of being very inexpensive, as well as customizable to the pound. Plus, they also let you save money because, just like the Bowflex style slotted adjustable designs, they too, can give you a solution that lets you avoid buying a large set of fixed dumbbells, because plate-loaded dumbbells also have the benefit of not taking up much space in your home or gym. You only need enough space to store the bar and screws, and perhaps a little extra space for stacking the plates to be loaded on it.
But they have a negative, too: they lack convenience. It can be a nuisance to have to change weight plates on your dumbbells as frequently as most people who use dumbbells change their exercises, a practice which requires changing different weights multiple times throughout an exercise routine.
So, for light or occasional users of dumbbells, it’s probably fine to just go with adjustable dumbbells, whether using the modern slot-loadable weight plates, or traditional plate-loadable style. But for people who choose to make the core of their exercise and strength training regimen revolve around dumbbell exercises, most find that adjustable dumbbells are not worth the hassle of unscrewing nuts, re-loading plates, then screwing them on, only to have to do it all over again the next time they need a different amount of weight. And that’s not to mention the tendency of those screwed-on nuts often not staying tight enough to hold the plates on to the bar in a stable fashion for long. Every time you put them down, the weight of the plates loosens the nuts a bit.
So for those people who choose to center their routines around dumbbell exercises, fixed-weight dumbbells are a much more sensible option. They come with increased costs, but also better efficiency and less hassle.
By far the most common type of dumbbells are fixed-weight dumbbells, which very often serve as the foundation or centerpiece of individual gyms, whether it’s a commercial gym or home gym. For many strength training enthusiasts, there is simply no substitute to having a complete set of fixed-weight dumbbells, usually in 5-pound jumps, neatly organized on a two or three tier storage rack, and situated in a prominent place in the middle of their gym. These dumbbell sets are often given pride of place in their owner’s gyms or homes, and they often are the most used equipment a strength training enthusiast has. After all, with a set of dumbbells stored on a rack, along with a bench to help position your body for a multitude of exercises, that’s often all you need to accomplish almost any set of strength and fitness goals you may have. And there is nothing like the convenience of laying down a pair after finishing a few sets and picking up the appropriate size for the next dumbbell exercise on your list. There is no messing around with adjusting sizes, screwing on loadable cast iron plates, etc. It’s a no muss, no fuss way to burn through your workouts quickly and efficiently, and many dumbbells enthusiasts say the set of fixed dumbbells they have was the turning point in when they became serious about working out.
Pro-style dumbbells are the epitome of rugged gear, and are very much engineered to be commercial-grade (more below on commercial-grade dumbbells) in order to stand up to rigorous heavy use environments in commercial gyms. Usually, they are round steel or iron plates utilizing larger and stouter materials, and have steel alloy handles that have a knurl grip. They have been a mainstay of commercial gyms that serve hardcore dumbbell users, such as bodybuilders who focus on free weight routines. They almost always come in sizes up to 150 lbs., and some manufacturers make their lines to exceed 200 lbs per dumbbell, so a user benching a pair would be doing 400 lbs at a time. This is rare though, and more often than not, you’ll find facilities with pairs that go up to 150 lbs. For most people though, and even most commercial gyms, anything beyond 150 lbs is overkill. And in reality having pro-style dumbbells for any home gym can be considered overkill because home gyms simply don’t need that level or rugged durability. Their durability could be many lifetimes for most private users, and for that reason, most home gym shoppers tend to not buy them. But if you are the type of person where your dumbbells would have pride of place in your home gym, then you should feel unencumbered investing in them because they are certainly an investment. And the aesthetic beauty of a pro-style set can not be denied.
Cost of dumbbells
So now that you understand the main types of dumbbells for sale available to anyone, what should you buy? What is best for you?
Before we can move to specific advice or draw any clear conclusions, it’s helpful to learn a little about the market of dumbbells for sale because the options are seemingly endless, and price is a factor for most people. Then we will look at a few things to take into consideration when shopping for the right dumbbells for you.
The first thing most people will want to consider is what your budget is for dumbbells, and then start to learn what range of products is within your budget. Because after all, all dumbbells do lift, and burn calories in the process, so you don’t necessarily need to buy expensive dumbbells. Whether you want premium or not should be considered one of the secondary factors to look at, after you first decide what you can afford. Only then should you give consideration what you are willing to spend to get something “nice,” or whether to pay for premium dumbbells.
To that end, it helps if you first decide on a price range of all the various dumbbells for sale, either economy/home use, mid-range/semi-premium, or commercial grade/premium, understanding that the commercial grade will usually cost very substantially more than consumer grade/home use oriented product lines, and often double or more. If you’re of the mind to consider a proper set to be a once-in-a-lifetime investment that deserves a little financial sacrifice to get the best in order to ensure longevity and to reflect your commitment to fitness, you may consider it worthwhile to spend more and get something at the top of your price range and buy premium or commercial grade dumbbells.
But most people will view the upgrade to the highest levels of quality to be superfluous or even wasteful spending, because either they just can’t spare the cash, or they consider dumbbells to be an entirely utilitarian product meant only to be lifted for function, giving no thought at all to aesthetics or quality. It will be a matter of personal preference in considering how much to spend and whether you consider aesthetics and ultra high levels of durability.
Consumer and Economy dumbbells
So if you’re like the majority of people looking at the myriad of options when it comes to dumbbells for sale, and trying to find the best fit for your specific goals on a limited budget, you’ll first want to focus your search in the more economical offerings below, and consider whether they will be sufficient for you for the long-term, or whether you’ll want to consider more premium options.
Cast Iron Dumbbells
For the most part, the cheapest heavy weight dumbbell sets are going to be cast iron dumbbells, and they are like the bedrock of the dumbbell world. For most buyers on a budget, the realization that measurable and true gains come not from style, but from just doing the work . . . or the function of the exercises they do with the weights they lift, means that cast iron dumbbells are more than up to the task, and present an opportunity to save some money while still getting the same real-world benefits as more premium and expensive dumbbells, which we’ll discuss later.
This type of dumbbell tends to be the least precise in terms of weight but most manufacturers offer a 2% accuracy tolerance, meaning that the marked weight will be accurate within 2%, for example, a 50 pound dumbbell will be no more or less than one pound from 50 pounds. Cast iron dumbbells usually come in a hexagon head, and are often known as “iron hex” and have knurling on their iron handles. They are a popular choice, and because of their typical hexagon shape, can easily be stored on a rail rack, shelf rack or tower rack.
There really are no downsides to cast iron dumbbells except that they can be prone to cracking, though only under conditions of repeated abuse, with abuse meaning not usage, but carelessness or dropping them excessively. A few drops on the thickest one inch gymnastics padding won’t do any damage, but even on typical 1/4” or 1/2” gym flooring, repeated drops from usage height will eventually cause cracking, so it’s best to avoid any dropping of iron dumbbells at all.
The summary is that iron hex is a great choice for users on a budget. The gray iron material means hardness, toughness and durability, and if used without abuse, should provide any user with a lifetime of durability.
Rubber Hex Dumbbells
Another very common economy option are the same six sided cast iron dumbbells, but with a little bit more engineering and design to the finished product, known as “rubber hex.” This doesn’t mean the dumbbells are made of rubber in their entirety. Rather, it means the heads, which are constructed of a cast iron core, are encased in rubber, as a protective and aesthetic element, which enhances usability because they are more resistant to the risks of dropping a cast iron dumbbell. The standard-issue hex rubber dumbbell is molded from cast iron heads and otherwise made the same way the heads are made for cast iron dumbbells, but instead of also having an iron handle, the iron heads are mounted on a knurled steel handle, then the heads are encased in rubber. There are also steel headed hex rubber dumbbells which are more premium but these are less common.
For “rubber hex” dumbbells, the type of rubber encasing used can vary, and can even be premium, but the most common and economical type are rubber encasings made from a blend primarily of recycled (crumb) rubber, and for that reason, they can be quite affordable, and only nominally more expensive than iron. These common economy oriented rubber hex dumbbells will not be advertised as being made of “virgin rubber” as that is the material used for more premium options.
Rubber hex dumbbells are a mainstay of garage gyms around the world. Although they are not made to be truly commercial grade and thus designed to endure hundreds of uses a day, which is a requirement for commercial gyms, hex rubber dumbbells are still usually going to be manufactured to a high enough quality standard that they are going to be more than adequate for any home user and last a very long time except if exposed to extreme weather; even if you and your closest friends and family members put a set of hex rubber dumbbells through their paces one or two dozen times a week combined, they can be expected to last for a very long time, decades even, all without missing a beat or wearing down.
As for negatives, hex rubber dumbbells do not come with many, but the recycled rubber is recycled rubber, and that means they can and do have an odor that may be noticeable indoors or in unventilated environments, which is not the slightest problem for many people, but is a distinct negative for some others. That odor does fade over time, but if you are thinking of putting a set of hex rubber dumbbells in a shaggy carpeted furnished basement environment with fabric furniture all around, it may not be a great idea because the smell can get into the carpets and the fabric of the furniture, etc. Even if the mild odor doesn’t bother you while relaxing and watching TV, that can require a few carpet cleanings to remove the light rubber smell.
But that’s also why they are so commonly used in garage gyms—garages are the perfect environment for hex rubber dumbbells, not only because people have space in their garages, but because most garages are well ventilated, and most people will have mats that are also made from recycled rubber, so the recycled rubber doesn’t really add anything noticeable, and the floors are concrete. Combine this with the fact that hex rubber gives a lot of weight for the dollar, and you can see why so many people buy hex rubber dumbbells for their garage gyms.
Back to the benefits. It doesn’t take a lot of research to really see there are some real world environmental benefits of using any recycled material. Your inexpensive hex rubber set ensures that you are making a small contribution to the environment. You may find that appealing, knowing that you are not adding to the worldwide demand for natural virgin rubber tapped directly from trees, and the demand you and others create for recycled rubber products ensures that what was once tire rubber, now has a new use that doesn’t tax the world’s natural resources.
But not all rubber hex dumbbells are made of recycled rubber, and to be sure, the world will still use natural resources for the manufacture of more products. They can and do come in more premium grades, with several manufacturers skipping the recycled rubber option altogether and only making those more premium versions, encased in virgin rubber and at the most premium end of the scale, urethane. We’ll discuss premium virgin rubber urethane more below in the premium section, but suffice it to say that rubber hex dumbbells aren’t always geared towards the consumer exclusively, or the economy market, though the economy/budget end of the market certainly makes up the majority of the hex rubber dumbbells available.
Vinyl and Neoprene Dumbbells
Another popular option for consumer oriented dumbbells are those sold as vinyl and neoprene dumbbells. These options essentially only add a layer of padding or coating, with the vinyl and neoprene materials used as the outer material layer on what are otherwise cast iron dumbbells, e.g., these dumbbells are formed from a cast iron core. But they make an attractive addition to any home gym, and are easier to grip. They are essentially materials that provide an alternative to rubber or urethane.
Vinyl, in particular, tends to have the most vibrant color offerings, but owing to their vinyl surface material, are easier to clean than neoprene. The only potential trade-off though is that when being used in environments where it is easy to get sweaty hands during an intense workout, such as in humid climates, they can become quite slippery when you’re sweaty. Neoprene can reduce that tendency but be harder to clean and care for. Then again, some people don’t clean their dumbbells, and a good option is to get an all black set:
The bottom line is, these are popular for a reason--they are good looking, inexpensive, and they brighten up a gym filled with black and gray products, but they tend to just be lightweight dumbbells, more geared toward aerobic exercises and are not meant for heavy lifting. But they can be a lot of fun.
Moving up the price scale, you will find products not aimed as much strictly at the home consumer looking for an economical option, but in this range, you’ll find items that are geared towards straddling the line between home use and commercial use, which can be considered high-end home use. And in this range, customers tend to be either premium quality conscious buyers, shopping for a high quality set for their home as a “once in a lifetime” purchase . . . or they can often be bought by value oriented institutional buyers, looking to outfit small fitness facilities that aren’t strictly high volume membership clubs. This can be institutions, businesses or shared-use facilities such as corporate or government agency gyms, apartment communities, hotels, athletic organizations and schools, personal trainers and smaller owner operated commercial gyms. In this category there is the widest variety of options, with manufacturers sometimes coming up with unique and creative designs to satisfy the demands of the broadest array of customers.
The previously mentioned rubber hex in virgin rubber hex dumbbell fits in here, as virgin rubber is certainly more premium, and those encased in it tend to be more geared towards commercial applications than the rubber hex made from recycled rubber.
They can also sometimes come in 8-sided versions, sometimes using a partial recycled rubber and partial virgin rubber blend, sometimes including synthetics. This more premium type of rubber dumbbells have the advantage of being generally odorless or having greatly reduced odor compared to rubber hex made from recycled rubber, and they usually have a nicer, softer texture and feel, compared to the harder surfaces of recycled, which gives the user added confidence in their long term durability. For example, Troy Barbell makes a unique 8-sided dumbbell that looks like a lot like hex rubber, but feels more premium and is, because of higher virgin rubber content in the mix, so it can be said to be light commercial or sufficient for what is appropriate in commercial environments of a modest usage volume, but at a lower cost or not much more than home use applications.
In this category you’ll also find some unique offerings, such as urethane hex dumbbells, and they can be much more affordable than the typical high-priced, round urethane or 10-sided or 12-sided urethane that are more common in the higher end gyms. You’ll get all the benefits of odorless polyurethane for a cost that is nominally higher than economy or consumer grade dumbbells, and substantially short of what the premium commercial grade urethane dumbbells will cost.
Premium & commercial-grade dumbbells
For many commercial facilities and institutional type use cases, especially open-to-the-public membership gyms, college and professional athletic teams, large government or corporate fitness centers (but also for discerning and demanding consumers), only commercial grade equipment will do, and dumbbells are no exception to this rule. But that doesn’t mean your friendly neighborhood personal trainers who opened up a small gym are going to need the same or similar standards of high quality dumbbells as the operators of some of the most popular urban and suburban gyms running many hundreds of people through their doors every day. They don’t. All across the country, smaller owner-operated gyms and fitness studios use mid-range or light commercial grade dumbbells, which may not be fancy or have the ultra premium quality needed for those gyms moving hundreds of customers through in a day, but are nevertheless very good, and are made to a higher-than-consumer grade standard, usually with better quality rubber encasings, or sometimes urethane, and better production techniques in the factory that keep the heads and handles bonded together more strongly.
But for high traffic commercial gyms, well-funded major universities’ high profile athletic programs, college and professional sports teams, large hotels, corporate offices, military, police and fire departments around the country and other similar institutions, there is very little appetite for cutting corners, or even much interest in saving money, and it is typically in these environments where you will find the very highest quality dumbbells and other equipment.
But for home users who demand the best they certainly should be considered. If that’s you because you have a little bit of extra money to spend, or just because you want the top-flight stuff and believe it to be the one-time lifetime investment that it usually is for most people, then it can logically be easy to justify buying commercial grade dumbbells of the highest quality for your home gym. Even people on a budget sometimes decide to buy commercial grade dumbbells and they justify it by spending less on a depreciating asset such as a car or more luxury items, just so they can have more cash for the acquisition of a premium dumbbell set.
Remember: the dumbbells for sale today are the permanent fixtures in your home and lifestyle tomorrow, next year and for decades to come. Besides . . . even if you go for a more economy oriented set today, if you later decide you want something nicer or more premium, you can always put up your used dumbbells for sale if you need to or decide you want to downsize. Dumbbells hold their value very well, given that they are not mechanical with the exception of the slot loaded type of adjustable dumbbells, and just as usable today as they were yesterday, even if you’ve let the iron ones rust, or the rubber ones get gouged, etc. For a price, you can almost always sell them.
Now that you’ve learned about the various types of dumbbells and what constitutes economy, mid-range and premium dumbbells, you’ll want to give consideration to a few other factors as you decide what your true needs are and what you’ll decide is worth spending money on and how much to spend, and those factors range from the aesthetics of all of your fitness equipment as it relates to your dumbbell set, to practical considerations such as storage, comfort and accessories.
Let’s start with some thoughts on aesthetics and style:
Aesthetics; or Gym Gear as Furniture
It’s important to remember that if you’ve made the decision to get a proper set of fixed-weight dumbbells, then they are something you’re going to be living with a long time, so you’ll want to give some thought as to how it will look in your home—after all, you’re going to be looking at this set for a long time. It’s not so much of a consideration when buying adjustable dumbbells, because those are just two units that are relatively compact and can easily be put away or stored out of sight. But there is no hiding a 10-pair or 15-pair dumbbell set, and it’s important to recognize whether you truly are the kind of person who views your dumbbell as strictly utilitarian lifting and exercise tools and it matters not a whit to you what they look like no matter what. Or . . . if you are the kind of person more inclined to think about all those other moments you will have when you are within eyesight of your dumbbells, but resting your muscles, in between sessions using them. Many people take social pride in how they’ve outfitted their gym and are proud enough to want to show it to others, so how it looks when it’s not in use really matters to a lot of us. After all, there’s 168 hours a week and most people aren’t even in their gym more than 3-4 hours of that, and even among those 3-4 hours, most people aren’t using their dumbbells during all of their gym time. So for the vast majority of those 168 hours per week when you’re not using your new dumbbells, do you really want to have to see a junky assemblage of poorly constructed crap taking up space in your home? For most of us the answer is no. It’s just a question of how much more than the bare minimum do you want to spend in order to get up to a certain level of quality and style to go with the function.
For discerning owners of full dumbbell sets, they sometimes go so far as to think of them somewhat like furniture. yes, furniture, which is actually not an unusual way to think of it because they are semi-permanent and semi-unmovable, just as is any side table, sofa, or entertainment center. So in thinking of your dumbbells as furniture, they clearly are not the kind of furniture that you sit on of course—that’s for the bench you sit on while using the dumbbells. But it definitely is going to be one of the pieces in one area of your home that you’re going to look at a lot, much like a sideboard or TV stand, and when you look at it, you’re going to want to like what you see if you place any priority on aesthetics at all. It’s not form over function when it comes to dumbbells; it’s form and function.
For example, a set of rusted out cast iron dumbbells, stored on a rusty or lopsided rail rack or a hastily assembled plywood shelf contraption won’t be anything other than an eyesore, particularly inside the home, even in an unfinished basement. But a nicely designed and odorless rubber or urethane set (or even a cast iron or rubber hex one), stored on a well-designed attractive, and properly constructed racking solution can have pride of place in your home or basement gym, and the same is true if you put your gym in your garage.
Racks and Storage
Storage of your set of dumbbells is an important consideration, something that often gets overlooked, but shouldn’t. Particularly for fixed-weight sets, careful consideration needs to be given to what your racking solution should be. Determining how much space you can allocate to the storage of your dumbbells is one of the first considerations. Decide where exactly you would ideally want to keep your dumbbells and rack set, how much wall space you have for them, and how much floor footprint you are willing to let the rack take up. For example, someone with an entire wall to devote to dumbbells may not only feel more free to order more dumbbells, e.g., a 5 - 100 or even 5 - 125 lbs set, but may not have to give any consideration as to how much or how little floor space the rack takes up and may not bat an eye at a rack that spans more than 100 inches, or even two racks that take up nearly 200 inches, just like you would see in a commercial gym.
Unless you already have sufficient storage or actually prefer to keep your dumbbells on the floor (or even on a workbench in your garage), you may want to consider buying a dumbbells set with an included rack combination, so you have a pre-designed storage solution designed specifically to accommodate the dumbbells you purchased. It adds a great deal of convenience when changing sizes in the middle of your workouts and of course helps keep your gym well-organized.
- Tower racks (or vertical racks),
- Rail racks,
- Shelf racks, and
- Saddle racks.
Tower racks or vertical racks as they are sometimes called, are, as the name implies, vertical in their primary measured orientation; in other words, the dumbbells are stored in array that goes progressively higher, one above the other, with the heaviest weights being stored at the bottom near the foot, and each lighter dumbbell being placed above it in progression. This is done to ensure the stability of the rack. And the reason vertical racks can be so popular is they are designed specifically to keep the footprint to an absolute minimum, and for that reason are great options for renters or homeowners, especially those who live in an apartment where space is a premium. But it can also be an ideal solution for space challenged office gyms and even community fitness studios in crowded urban locations.
Rail racks are utilized to store your weights in a horizontal orientation, one next to the other, across several rows, usually two or three. They are the most economical type of rack because they have the least overall material density. Less steel means less weight, which in turn means less cost. But rail racks from most manufacturers can still be depended upon for being strong and stout despite relatively limited steel. The rails usually are reinforced and can hold an incredible amount of weights, including 5 - 100 lb sets, which is 20% more than one ton of weights! But the main benefit of rail racks is that the rails are generally designed to hold the dumbbells by supporting the heads, letting the upper head of the dumbbell rest or hang on the upper rail, while the lower head sits into the lower rail below. An advantage of this kind of rack other than the low cost is that the steel rails holding your dumbbells set can generally be partially obscured from view by the many resting dumbbells, so you mostly see them, rather than the rack.
Shelf racks are also a very popular storage option because they tend to be extremely stout, and you don’t have to be delicate about throwing the dumbbells back on your storage after your muscles are spent following a set. For example, you don’t have to make sure the upper head of the dumbbell is resting above the lip of the upper rail of a rail rack. It doesn’t mean rail racks are a huge challenge, because making sure the head is snugly over the upper rail’s lip isn’t difficult, but when you’re energy depleted or focused on the next stage of your workout, distractions happen and some people may be prone to carelessly replacing dumbbells in their rail racks. But however minor of a concern it is, it’s never an issue with a shelf rack.
Shelf racks are oriented in a slight forward leaning direction to ensure the weight of the dumbbells are pushed down toward the bottom lip of the shelf rack, and can be more inattentively placed down on the shelf as long as both of the dumbbell heads are above the lower lip.
This type of rack can be heavy though because there is a lot more steel needed to create a shelf than to create a rail. And although rail racks are certainly sturdy, shelf racks are even more so, which gives the user greater confidence. The additional implied sturdiness means these racks can sometimes take up less floor space than rail racks, so although it’s not common to see a 3-tier rail rack, it is actually relatively common to see shelf racks in 3 tiers or even 4 tiers.
The final type of rack that is important to know about is the one known as a saddle rack. Much like a horseback rider usually climbs into and sits in the saddle alone, the same idea applies to dumbbell racks, as each “saddle” individually cradles one dumbbell, and the saddles are spaced out enough so that the dumbbells don’t touch or rub against each other in the saddles—and don’t even come close to doing so, which is something that usually happens with rail and shelf racks.
Make no mistake: saddle racks are expensive because they are considered a luxury or premium item; after all, do most people buying an economy oriented dumbbell set feel the need to cradle each dumbbell in its own saddle? No, but it is a nice feature that is aesthetically pleasing for those looking to house their expensive, newly purchased premium dumbbells. Most major manufacturers make their versions of saddle racks in such a nice looking way that you would be happy to have the dumbbells on prominent display in the home, such as in a basement recreation room, just as you would prominently display the trappings of any of your major hobbies.
The saddles on these racks are round and designed primarily to accommodate either round shaped dumbbells, or near-round dumbbells, such as 12-sided or 10-sided, which almost always are premium dumbbells in a manufacturer’s range, and are made in either premium virgin rubber or urethane, so when you have such a nice pair of premium dumbbells, wouldn’t you want to store them on a premium saddle rack? For most owners of high-end premium dumbbells that are either round, 10-sided or 12-sided, the answer is yes.
Combination Sets vs Individual Sizes
Once you’ve made a decision on what type of rack you want to store your weights on, the next major consideration is whether you’ll want to just buy your dumbbells piecemeal, one pair or size at a time, or just a few pairs to get started in order to save money, or whether you just want to come out of the gate fully equipped with a complete combination set where you have all the sizes in your range, usually in those five pound jumps.
It can seem to make sense to try to save money by purchasing only a few sizes at a time, but you’re not necessarily going to be saving money over the long term if you later decide you want to fill out your set, because you won’t be in a position to take advantage of lower pricing offered by retailers when they send you a lot of weight at once. For people who only intend to use dumbbells as just a supplement to their main training routine such as primarily using cardio and/or universal machines, it can make some sense just to have a few sizes on hand starting out the strength training portion of their new regimen.
But for those committed to free weight strength training with a dumbbell focused plan, it’s just not good enough to settle for buying a few sizes here and there. Instead, these individuals should gear their purchasing decisions around buying a combination set from the start. Not only will it save you money in the long term by getting everything you need shipped to you in once, often including a rack, and sometimes with free shipping included, but more importantly, most combination sets cover all sizes, every 5 pounds in the range you buy, and that, more than anything, helps ensure you don’t miss out on your ability to tailor the exact weights you need to efficiently accomplish any exercise in the exact number of sets and repetitions you want to achieve your goals.
There’s only a few words to mention on handles, but be aware that they can differ some, but by and large, there are two variations and almost all dumbbells fall into one or the other: straight handle and contoured handle. You’re going to find that a standard contoured handle with medium knurling is customary in economy and mid-range dumbbells, while straight handles tend to come with more premium and commercial offerings. That doesn’t mean that contoured handles customary in hex rubber are inferior because they aren’t. But also, don’t assume contoured handles are best for you because it instinctively feels intuitive. On the contrary, straight handles are preferred by professionals and commercial gyms. They are premium and be aware that if you buy a premium set of rubber dumbbells or urethane dumbbells, they may be the only option, and if you haven’t tried them, you should. You may find you love them, as so may others have and continue to do.
Dumbbell Buying Advice
Now that you are more well-versed in most of the dumbbells for sale options on the market it’s important to discern one of two major ways of approaching your upcoming purchase.
When shopping for dumbbells, it helps if you put some thought into how many different exercises you’re likely to do and how many sizes of dumbbells are needed to accomplish the goals you have. In some cases, you might find it’s better for your intended exercise and strength training regimen just to have a few pairs of dumbbells, say three different sizes, e.g., a light set at around 10 lbs, a medium set at 25 to 40 lbs, and a heavy set at 65-75 lbs. For people who are mostly focused on cardio, or who have a machine in their home that most exercises are performed on, making dumbbells only a supplementary aspect to their training, this can be ideal. You’ll still want to think about storage, but storing only three pairs becomes less of an issue than a larger set will.
Everyone else aside from those with strength machines will probably want to have a full range of weights of dumbbells, so it makes sense to invest in a full combination set with a storage rack included.
This is where most people committed to building a dumbbells based home gym are going to find an entry point. And sets of 5-30 lbs, 5-50 lbs, or 5-75 lbs are common. And many very strong individuals even go for 5-100 lbs sets or more. Many people will find that their weightlifting endeavors evolve over time, and it’s pretty difficult to anticipate which of just three sizes they will need six months from now, let alone a year or two. That’s why dumbbells sets are most frequently sold in five pound increments, usually starting at three or five pounds, and going all the way up to the heaviest size they think they will ever anticipate using, even in the future when they are more developed than they currently are, across a wide variety of exercises.
For example, if you can do a number of repetitions and sets of a few exercises at 150 lbs, holding a pair of 75s, then you may assume you will eventually develop your strength to the point where you expect to be able to do the same exercises in the future at 200 lbs, using a pair of 100 pound dumbbells, so you might therefore get a set running from 5 - 100 lbs. So it’s a good idea to try to project the maximum weight you intend to work your way up to, include it, and make your purchase so you can get down to the inspiring business of building your body!
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations—you are now well-versed in the basics of what dumbbell options are open to you, so we’d now like to offer some suggestions based on a wide range of preferences.
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