- Dumbbells are an effective fitness tool for anyone looking to build and maintain strength.
- The best vary in style, with some allowing for quick weight adjustments while others are compact for easy storage.
- Our top pick, the Powerblock dumbbells, essentially replace 28 pairs of weights and adjust from 5 to 90 pounds.
Dumbells are among the most common and sought-after pieces of workout equipment, no matter if you’re at an actual fitness center or working out in your own home gym – and it’s not hard to see why. Not only can they be effective when used correctly but they’re highly versatile, too, capable of sufficing for a number of workouts like curls, presses, or rows.
It’s because of that multi-purpose use, however, that finding dumbbells typically goes one of two ways; either it’s far too expensive to buy multiple weights or they’re just entirely out of stock. This sort of Catch-22 makes actually shopping for dumbbells a much more arduous task than it needs to be.
But within that problem came a reasonable solution: more brand competition. And while the influx of brands dukes it out to develop the next great dumbbell, the true winners are those looking to buy them. Now, this doesn’t mean the market is flush with options but it does mean there are few more quality choices on the market (of which are, hopefully, in stock and available for purchase).
Take Powerblock, for instance, a brand that’s been around for several years but is finally starting to gather more attention thanks to a highly innovative take on the standard dumbbell. In essence, one Powerblock dumbbell takes the place of up to 28 different pairs of weights. Not only is this efficient but it’s also cost-effective as it’s not anywhere near the price of buying those 28 sets of weights on their own.
Powerblock is but one of dozens of companies trying their hand at offering a worthy dumbbell, and I saw to it to try as many of them as I could. Below are my five favorites across categories such the best budget-friendly option, the best app-connected dumbbell, and even the best traditional set.
At the end of this guide, I’ve also included some tips on how to properly use dumbbells, insight into what to consider while shopping for dumbbells, and the specific testing methodology I used in choosing which weights to feature.
Editor’s note: Due to the constant fluctuation of online inventories, we’re doing what we can to keep up with out-of-stock items or those available in limited supply. We review each product’s availability weekly to assure the guide is properly updated, though sometimes this means one or more of the included items may be sold out, or available via a third party.
Here are the best dumbbells:
- Best overall: Powerblock
- Best app-connected: Bowflex SelectTech 560 Dumbbells
- Best for comfort: Thompson Fat Bells
- Best on a budget: Titan Fitness Olympic Dumbbell Handles
- Best traditional set: CAP Barbell 150-pound Dumbbells
Powerblock’s dumbbells are highly versatile in that they offer a wide range of weight variation in just one, easy-to-stow form factor — if you can find them for sale, buy them.
Pros: Max weight of 90 pounds, relatively affordable, sturdy and natural feeling
Cons: Slightly awkward weight-changing mechanism, may be a little long at max weight
The first time I saw these sitting in a weight room, I figured they’d be horribly awkward to lift. The rectangular dumbbells appear large and clunky, but I was surprised by how well they moved during workouts like Romanian deadlifts or chest presses.
Like the Fatbells below, Powerblock dumbbells feature a handle that’s more centered in the apparatus. The weight surrounds your hands on all sides and as a result, they feel comfortable to move. They’re also constructed from steel, making them feel stronger and sturdier compared to other options built from plastic.
My favorite aspect of these dumbbells is that they’re able to load up to 90 pounds, which is enough to ensure you get plenty of mileage out of them as you get stronger. I’ve used these sparingly but they will, without a doubt, be my first purchase when I start building my ultimate home gym.
To be finicky, I’d say the selecting mechanism isn’t as efficient compared to Bowflex’s dial system. With Powerblock, you select the weights directly on the bell with a vertically-set pin. Changing the weight requires you to pull the pin from the side of the bell and move it either up (lighter) or down (heavier). While it’s not as smooth to use as a dial, it’s not a complete dealbreaker.
The weight plates still sit on either end like a standard dumbbell, so despite looking foreign, they feel familiar and aren’t any more substantial than a heavy pair of dumbbells. Overall, these will save you from buying 28 pairs of individual dumbbells — or roughly 2,565 pounds of weights. That’s thousands of dollars of savings on its own.
Powerblock’s Home Rack Stand, which the brand sells for $179, makes it far easier to hoist the weights onto your lap or shoulders for presses. It’s not a necessity but having used the stand myself, I recommend it.
The best app-connected dumbbells
If you’re a techie, or simply meticulous about tracking sets and reps, the Bowflex SelectTech 560 app-connected bells are for you.
Pros: Tracks sets and reps via a companion app, space-saving, easy to change weight
Cons: Max weight of 60 pounds
These dumbbells pair via Bluetooth to the Bowflex app which allows them to automatically record lifted weight, as well as all sets and reps per exercise. This is useful for tracking total volume, especially when your progress is smaller.
Other than the Powerblocks, these are the only other adjustable dumbbells on our list. They’re not as sturdy as our overall pick, though they’re a solid pair of dumbbells that look sleek and save a ton of space. They also come with a floor stand for better storage.
The knurled handle provides plenty of grip and the square plates on each end feel secure for even more dynamic movements like snatches and cleans. Also, the squared-off shape of the weights keep you stable while doing pushups.
Compared to Bowflex’s SelectTech 552 dumbbells, which only go up to 52.5 pounds, these adjust to an even 60 pounds. That’s a decent amount of weight for most people and should serve you well for almost any exercise. Do keep in mind that as you get stronger over time, there’s a decent chance you’ll outgrow these weights and need more than 60 pounds in a dumbbell.
The best dumbbells for comfort
You won’t find these in any commercial gym but the Thompson Fat Bells are an innovative take on the classic dumbbell.
Pros: Very comfortable, more natural to lift, made from durable cast iron
Cons: Expensive, have to buy multiple pairs, not space-friendly
The handle is inside a spherical weight, which centers the load entirely and evenly around your wrist. This allows the dumbbell to feel more comfortable and natural.
Invented by powerlifting legend Donnie Thompson in 2006, Fat Bells are a unique take on the kettlebell — though, to me, they’re interchangeable with dumbbells, too. As Thompson explains on Rogue.com, “it’s a perfect geometric shape for maximizing optimal performance.” Your hand is an equal distance away from every portion of the sphere for a perfect geometrical design.
What I like about these is that you’re able to become one with the weight. Instead of holding a clunky piece of iron, you have a compact load you’ll hardly notice —other than the fact it’s heavy. They do feel slightly off at first due to the fact you’re not used to where the weight is centered but you’ll get over that quickly. I like to use them for moves such as chest presses and rows, since I typically go heavier, and these feel more secure.
Fat Bells aren’t cheap and you’ll most likely need to buy more than one pair. If you’re looking to splurge on your home gym, I’d say opt for one moderate pair (35-50 pounds for men and 15-35 pounds for women) so you have the most versatility with them.
The best budget dumbbells
Though these dumbbells from Titan Fitness require you to buy weight plates, the handles themselves are one of the best deals you’ll find.
Pros: Inexpensive, can handle as much weight as you own, great grip, space-friendly
Cons: Requires weight plates, not as easy to load as adjustable dumbbells
I’d never used this brand personally but the loadable handle on these is very similar to the pair I own. The biggest plus is how affordable they are compared to other options. Of course, you’ll have to buy weight plates but if you’re a home-gym owner, there’s a good chance you have some sitting around already. If that’s the case, these are your best bet. We also recommend investing in a set of barbell collars to stop the weights from sliding off of the handles.
The sleeve, or end of the dumbbell, fits standard Olympic weight plates. If you already own a squat rack and a barbell, then the plates you have should suffice — though it’s worth it to double-check before purchasing. Another plus is that these handles from Titan Fitness are 20 inches, meaning you’re able to load them with a lot of weight. If you’re a stronger lifter, then you won’t be limited to just 90 pounds for moves like rows and chest presses. For reference, many powerlifters and bodybuilders can press and row weights well over 100 pounds.
Lifting dumbbells loaded with Olympic plates can make some exercises awkward. The plates are large enough in diameter compared to typical dumbbells they’re able to disrupt your range of motion. This tends to be problematic for moves like curls, lateral raises, and extensions while chest presses and rows should be unaffected. Another minor nitpick is that having to manually load plates manually isn’t as easy as using adjustable dumbbells.
The best traditional dumbbell set
The CAP Barbell 150-pound Dumbbell set (with rack) is a great starter set for beginners and feels (and looks) the most familiar.
Pros: Feels familiar, great grip, stable when lifting
Cons: Have to buy multiple pairs which can get expensive, takes up a lot of space, included weight only goes up to 25 pounds
Practically speaking, these aren’t the best dumbbells you can buy but, as the saying goes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. These dumbbells don’t offer any sort of fancy weight mechanism or require a complicated method for use —and that’s their major appeal.
The handles are nicely knurled (i.e. they feature a pattern of angled lines etched into the steel of the dumbbell) so they won’t slip out of your hands, and the hexagonal rubber ends won’t roll around on the floor. From personal experience, I like using this type of dumbbell for heavy chest presses since they feel stable in my hands and the weight is more evenly distributed compared to the modern models in this guide.
Now, the downsides: You have to buy multiple pairs to have access to a variety of weight. This means the cost adds up rather quickly. Plus, the more dumbbells you own, the more space it’ll take up, so you’ll likely have to buy a dumbbell rack to hold your increasing collection.
Many of the most affordable sets, like our pick here, only go up to 25 pounds. This is great for exercises like curls, light presses, or squats, but it’s likely you’ll graduate from that weight quickly. But if it’s familiarity you seek, this is the set for you.
How to properly use dumbbells
Getting that toned look most people covet comes down to reducing body fat percentage and gaining muscle mass. The former comes down almost entirely to your diet while gaining muscle involves a balanced weight-training regimen in addition to the diet.
You’ll want to focus on two things:
- Placing tension on your muscles by lifting weight
- Increasing the total volume (or, amount of weight lifted) over time
To find this, multiply your total reps for one exercise by the amount of weight used. For example, if you do dumbbell chest presses for three sets of 10 reps with 50 pounds, multiply 30 (sets times reps) by 50 to get 1,500 pounds for that exercise. If you were to lift 55 pounds for just one of your sets next week, you’d increase your total volume to 1,550.
Your goal for each workout should be to slightly increase your volume for each move. Add volume by adding weight or increasing your total reps.
A general rule of thumb is to find a weight you’re able to use for three sets of eight reps. Add one rep to each set each week and once you reach 12 reps, add five pounds and start back at eight reps.
It’s good to have a light, moderate, and heavy pair of dumbbells if this is your primary source of exercise. That way, you can increase your total volume without having to pump out an insane amount of reps with a lighter pair.
How to shop for dumbbells
Before you start the process of finding a set that’s right for you, it’s important to know what a dumbbell is and why they’re an important investment for your home gym. Put plainly, a dumbbell consists of a central handle with weight on either end capable of ranging anywhere from 5 to 100 pounds.
Dumbbells are a versatile foray into weight training for beginners, too. Anything you’re able to do with a barbell, you can do with a dumbbell — albeit with lighter weight. Lifting dumbbells is a great way to teach yourself moves like the squat, overhead press, and row before graduating to the heavier weight a barbell often affords. They’re also less cumbersome than barbells and much easier to store in your home or apartment.
More advanced trainees benefit from the fact dumbbells allow you to better isolate your muscles unilaterally (one side at a time), as your right and left sides need to work independently to balance the weights. In turn, you’ll strengthen your weaker side, which translates to stronger and more efficient lifts overall.
According to personal trainer, Chris Parnell, lifting with dumbbells is also a great way to give your abs extra attention. He asserts that, compared to barbells, dumbbells challenge your body’s stability more. With a barbell, you work with a singular mass versus the dumbbell that uses two separate masses.
“Dumbbells provide the beginner or advanced lifter with an opportunity to exercise using compound movements [moves that move more than one joint at once] with low to high intensity using two separate masses,” Parnell told Insider.
Our testing methodology
Each set of dumbbells in this guide went through a series of tests to see how well they compared across these four categories: Design, quality, portability, and value. Here’s how each category specifically factored into which dumbbells made this guide:
Design: Dumbbell design is mostly straightforward, though unique innovations from brands like Powerblock and Bowflex have turned the humble dumbbell into a versatile all-in-one gym. What I mean by this is that both of the dumbbells featured in this guide from those brands are designed to be several sets of dumbbells in the form of just one set.
This means you don’t have to buy a set of 5 lb weights, a set of 15 lb weights, and a set of 25 lb weights. You buy either of those and you have the adjustability to hit any weight you’d need. The design choices I looked for in standard dumbbells were how well they felt while holding and if they were versatile for a variety of lifts.
Quality: Most steel dumbbells feature a quality that allows them to last literal decades (if taken care of) before you’d even need to think about replacing them. Because of this, it’s easy to spot a dumbbell that’s made of anything other than quality metal. Thankfully, this never was an issue during testing. This category was useful when judging how well the adjustable systems of the Bowflex and Powerblock dumbbells would hold up over time.
Portability: Yet another category where praise heaps onto the adjustable dumbbells are portability. When you’re forced to buy multiple sets of dumbbells in different weights, the problem of how to store them can add up quite quickly. Though some come with their own stand like the traditional set from CAP, not all options are that convenient.
Value: Considering how expensive dumbbells can get when buying multiple sets (and especially when stock is low and demand is high), value is a key component. But it’s also important not to buy an inferior set if it’s your only option. I view value as the combination of the categories listed above as well as its final sticker price — and feel that spending more on a quality product is better than spending less, more often on something that’s second-rate.