We all dream of a fully-equipped home gym, complete with several types of cardio machine and more bells – barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells – than a campanologist convention, but for most of us a lack of space makes such an enterprise an impossible fantasy. So it’s best to get real and prioritise, and at the top of your list should be dumbbells – the obvious choice of fitness equipment for home workouts. They’re small, they’re relatively inexpensive, and unless you opt for a fixed set you can adjust the weight on them so they’re appropriate for all kinds of exercises.
Convinced? Of course you are, but before you sprint to the nearest shop to pick up a set take a look at our dumbbell buyer’s guide and our picks of the best dumbbells available.
Dumbbell Buyer’s Guide
A decent set needn’t break the bank – or your floorboards. Here’s what to look for.
Shape: Hexagonal dumbbells are the smart choice. They won’t roll away when you perform moves like the renegade row, or roll under your feet when you’re off-guard.
Features: As with any contraption, the fewer parts it has, the less likely it is to go wrong. Be careful with adjustable sets that can crack if used frequently.
Weight: Less is undeniably more here – both in mass and price. Too heavy and you’ll miss out on a range of worthy exercises, but with a lighter set you can always do more reps. A 12kg set will do the trick.
Material: Rubber-coated ends might not be as eye-catching as shiny metal plates but they’ll buffer any impact with your floor (or feet). Ridged or “knurled” chrome handles offer firm grip and easy cleaning.
Three Types of Dumbbells Explained
Fixed weight: The classic as-seen-in-the-gym dumbbell that’s set at an unchangeable weight. Gym sets typically start at 2kg and go up in 2kg increments, and a single pair of fixed-weight dumbbells is the cheapest option. However, if you opt for these you will be restricted to using the same weight for all your home gym moves. That’s a problem because for some exercises it will be far too light (such as squats or lunges) and for others far too heavy (such as lateral raises and triceps extensions). You could buy an entire set of fixed dumbbells, but that’s pricy and takes up a lot of space.
Adjustable (standard): A far wiser choices for home weight training because you can simply add or subtract weight plates to each dumbbell quickly and easily to change the amount of weight you’re lifting for different exercises. This gives you a much greater range of lifts you can do at home safely, and you can always buy extra weight plates once you get stronger and need more resistance – although there is a limit to just how many weight plates you can stack on each side.
Adjustable (selectorised): The resistance of these higher-tech dumbbells are adjustable through the addition or subtraction of weight plates, followed by the simple turn of a dial when the dumbbell is resting in its stand. This means you can adjust the weight more quickly than with a standard set of dumbbells, and these models can typically reach a much heavier weight, meaning this might be the only set of home dumbbells you ever need to buy. That said, they’re by far the most expensive option – not to mention seriously heavy when moving them from one room to another.
The Best Quick Adjustable Dumbbells
Swiftly switch the weight at the click of a dial with Bodymax Selectabells. There are ten weights available, going up in 2.5kg increments starting from 2.5kg. You can buy a single dumbbell, but in our eyes it’s always going to be worth having a pair. £139 single, buy on amazon.co.uk; £269 pair, buy on amazon.co.uk
A satisfying click rewards every weight change on the Bowflex SelectTech, which can be adjusted to 15 different settings ranging from 2kg up to 24kg. £418.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
These are adjustable, but feel more like a regular dumbbell. It may take longer to change the weight compared with the competition, but they top out at a whopping 34kg. If you use the available add-on kits you can take the weight up to 75kg, which is as exciting as it is unnecessary. £589, buy on ironmaster.co.uk
The Best Floor-Friendly Rubber Dumbbells
You can change weights on the Bodymax Deluxe up to 15kg per dumbbell. The set comes with eight 2.5kg plates, four 1.25kg plates and four 0.5kg plates, so you can go light for something like a front raise, before ratcheting up the weight for a biceps curl. £49.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
BodyPower Rubber Hex
Our favourite for renegade rows – the flat sides and grip of the material on the Body Power Rubber Hex reduce the chance of slips. The downside is that you have one available weight per dumbbell, which cost around £50 for a pair. If you have the space and cash, however, you can get a set of five different weights and a rack for a smidge under £200. 12.5kg pair £50.99, buy on amazon.co.uk; set and rack £197.98, buy on amazon.co.uk
The fixed circular shape of the Jordan Classic dumbbells allows you to do abs roll-outs on a wood floor without sounding like a 1940s fighter jet taking off. Ideal if you have scary neighbours downstairs. 12.5kg pair £98, buy on amazon.co.uk
The Best Chrome Dumbbells
Body Power Chrome Ergo
This pair have contoured handles that fit snugly in the hand to make grip strength less of a factor. They are also mighty fine-looking, even if the fixed weight design is less practical than adjustable dumbbells. 12.5kg pair £75.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
Viavito Chrome Dumbbells
One word sums up these beauties – sleek. The 20kg dumbbell set comes with four 2.5kg plates, four 1.25kg plates and four 0.5kg plates. They’ll make an almighty racket if you drop them on the floor, but the shiny chrome style is hard to resist. £39.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
The Best Classic Cast-Iron Dumbbells
Opti Cast 20kg Dumbbell Set
This durable set of cast-iron weights is an absolute bargain at £31.99, and if 20kg of weight isn’t enough, you can get extra cast-iron plates from the Argos Opti range and pile them on up to a maximum of 35kg for each. £31.99, buy on argos.co.uk
TurnerMAX 30kg set
You can get the TurnerMAX dumbbell sets in a range of weights, from 20kg to 60kg, and each option comes in its own carry case for easy transportation – just in case you insist on taking your dumbbells with you wherever you go. 30kg £59.99, buy on amazon.co.uk