Dumbbells are a tremendous asset to have in your home gym, there is no doubt about it. Not everyone can afford elaborate home gym equipment and machines, and not too many of us have the space for it either. But not all dumbbells are made equal. Today, you will find out more about different dumbbell types so you can see which type is the best fit for you based on your lifting needs, home gym size and budget.
Simply put, we can divide dumbbells into two categories with a couple of subcategories to follow:
Some are more frequently used, and some are more of relics of the past. Some are cheap, some are elegant, some are just badass, and some check more than just one box. Let’s cover the most frequently used ones and see which can be the right choice for you:
I thought we might start this off by covering the main types of fixed dumbbells first. Round fixed dumbbells are a staple piece of equipment of any high-end gym, and for a good reason. They are amazing for dropsets and circuit trainings (especially if you like to exercise with a partner), and let’s be honest – they do look cool and elegant.
But advantages that these beauties offer exceed aesthetics. They offer a great opportunity for varying workouts in the case of more advanced lifters simply thanks to the fact they roll. You can do your pushups using these to add the extra few inches of adduction and feel the added squeeze in the middle part of your pecks. If you are really in the mood for nitpicking, these dumbbells are also shorter than their hexagonal counterparts, which makes one-am snatching and curling with supination much more comfortable.
However, they don’t come without downsides either. As you probably already guessed, they are usually expensive, not only compared to adjustable dumbbells, but also to hex dumbbells. Also, if your home gym is not too big the question of storing them can give you a headache.
Talking about hex dumbbells – they are becoming more and more popular these days. I cannot be the only person seeing CAP dumbbells whichever way I turn. The supply has grown (probably because of the easier manufacturing process and more convenient packing and shipping) which made them a bit cheaper compared to their round rivals. Most of the benefits of round dumbbells apply here as well, but there are some differences as with everything.
It’s a no brainer that rolling is not the best idea for using these dumbbells, but they are great for ground based work of other kinds. If you are big on doing whole body exercises like weighted burpees or renegade rows, hexagonals are a must have in your arsenal.
On the other hand, cheaper option as they are, they still don’t come a dime a dozen, per se. If money is the key factor for you, and you are building a gym on a budget, you might be better off with the adjustable ones. It goes without saying that storing them is just as big of a problem as with the previous ones.
Adjustable dumbbells come in all shapes and sizes. There are too many different types to get into in details, but some of the most famous names in the industry are Universal PowerPak dumbbells, Bowflex, Ironmaster dumbbells, and different types of powerblock dumbbells.
In a nutshell, adjustable dumbbells are a great choice for you if you are not looking to spend too much money, and if you don’t really have a ton of space waiting to be filled with gym equipment. Not only do they save money are space alike, they are irrefutably the best bang that your buck can buy if you are looking to hit every muscle with a single investment. Spinlocks and Ironmasters are a bit difficult to use, and adjusting the weight can take too much time for you to do dropsets comfortably. As we don’t have enough room to analyze all of these in detail we will just stick to bowflex and powerblocks.
Dumbbell price can really be a turn-off with people trying to build a home gym, so the adjustable dumbbells are a clear choice for anyone trying to do so on a budget. I am not going to lie, I love both of these options, and practical differences are almost nonexistent, but I will do it my best to help you choose the right fit for you.
First off, both of these options are really cheap compared to the normal fixed ones, especially if we are talking about rubber dumbbells. Not only are they cheap, they are incredible versatile and easy to store. However, Powerblocks offer more options depending on the money you are willing to spend, which can be a small advantage to their case, together with the fact that some of the more expensive sets also offer smaller increments, if that is important for you.
Also, Bowlex are a bit longer, and tend to get caught in my shorts or pockets if I am trying to do drag curls or something that requires a similar moving pattern. But, in spite of those features, if we are talking about biceps, I actually prefer Bowflex to Powerblocks. The reason for that, ironically, is the length of the dumbbells themselves. Longer dumbbells actually allow for a stronger contraction if you grab on the lateral side of the handle (that is the side farther from you).
Don’t get me wrong, I love using Powerblocks as well, but if we have to nitpick then I would have to give another point to Bowflex because their handles allow for a slight wrist extension, as opposed to PowerBlocks that are not really built to provide a lot of room for wrist movements and angling.
But bicep is only one muscle, regardless of how important we might think it to be. For more functional movements, like weighted bear craws, crab walk or anything ground-based for that matter, I would opt for PowerBlocks.
At no point has the proverb “suit yourself” been more accurate than when talking about dumbbells that would fit everybody’s needs. As you could have guessed, I am calling it a tie today. There is definitely not one clear winner. Adjustable dumbbells are fantastic, versatile and cheap, but fixed dumbbells are not without advantages.
If complex exercises like burpees and renegade rows are the staple of your workout programs, or if you have an exercise buddy and like to do exercises in pairs, then you might opt for fixes dumbbells or even kettle bells. On the flip side, if you are on a budget and doing the standard lifts, adjustable dumbbells might be the thing for you.
There are some things that you do have to pay attention to regardless of the option you choose.
Getting a new pair of dumbbells, or the whole set for that matter, is a great step forward in building your home gym. Exercising with dumbbells is much more intuitive and hence easier for novice lifters, than say coming up with bodyweight variations of those same exercises. If you don’t trust me, just try to hit your side delts or lats without equipment. I am not saying it’s impossible, just that it’s not as easy to guess the movement patterns if you don’t have background in anatomy and sport’s science.
Still, exercising with dumbbells doesn’t get you out of the woods automatically. You still have to invest time and imagination in planning the workouts in order to always provide sufficient stimulus. My favorite ways to do so are changing the tempo, shortening the breaks, modifying the angles and introducing new equipment to change the strength curves of the lifts (bands can do wonders for you).
I don’t know why, but many people stop doing bodyweight exercises first thing after getting some sort of exercising equipment, or a gym membership for that matter. Same goes for dumbbells.
Maybe we are so relieved that we don’t have to rely solely on our bodyweight and sick and tired of same old exercises that we don’t want to go anywhere near them now that we don’t have to.
The truth is, you will always need bodyweight exercises. They usually engage more stabilizing muscles, and doing so increase our calorie expenditure. Another reason I love them so much is they usually make our muscles work synergistically, improving our coordination and strengthening our core.
Front raises and floor dumbbell flys are awesome, but that doesn’t mean that mule kicks and Spiderman pushups should fly out the window. Work on your functional movements, and your body will thank you as you get older.
Regardless of the option you go for, always remember to hit the weights hard, give it you best every time, and keep your workouts fresh and interesting. Do those and I promise you will continue to see gains, both strength and size-wise.
Hey! My name is Paul Sheldon. I live in Nashville, TN and I love all things related to sports. Naturally I love workking out and I do it every day. If you want to talk feel freee to hit me a message or if you happen to be in Nashville we can get a coffee, I know a great place. Peace!