Updated: June 4, 2015

Best Hand Dumbells and Barbells - Getting a Good workout with handweights

There are a zillion different types of exercise machines and equipment out there these days, but for many weight lifting and body building enthusiasts, free weights are still the way to go. Free weights come in two basic flavors - the larger barbells and weights that are used for things like bench press, squats, etc. and the smaller handheld dumbells, one for each hand (which can still mimic most of the exercises done with the long barbell). In this guide we will be looking the options you have when it comes to selecting hand dumbells. Basically, there are 3 styles of dumbells out there. We will help you find the right dumbells for you, with recommendations below (please keep reading).

  • First, there are fixed free-weight dumbells, where the weight plates are welded onto the dumbell and cannot be changed. These come in versions ranging from hard-core, black, iron dumbells you'd find in a gym to softer, colored, vinyl covered dumbells better suited for home use. Whatever the look, they offer the same features and limitations -- you need a variety of dumbell sets to cover all the weights you need since they cannot be changed (ie, a set of 5 pounders, a set of 10 pounders, a set of 15 pounders, etc.). You end up with a lot of dumbells lying around or filling up racks, so this can be an expensive and inconvenient option if you need a full range of weights. As an example on cost, you can get a set of 10 dumbells, 2 each of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 lbs, for about $180 -- this works out to about $1 per pound. If you are happy with just a few 10 and 20 pound dumbells, and you don't need all the variety, then you might be well served with this kind of hand dumbell.
  • The second major type of dumbell is the adjustable free-weight dumbells that let you add or remove additional plates on each end of the dumbell to increase or decrease the weight. So you end up with 2 dumbells and a stack of weight plates. This saves space and money, but everytime you want a new weight setting, you have to disassemble and reassemble the barbells, which can take up to several minutes.
  • The 3rd style is the adjustable free-weight system dumbells. These sets again come with just 2 dumbells, but they incorporate a number of different techniques of stacking and nesting connected weight plates, which are adjusted by setting pins in certains hole or locking switches in certain directions, then pulling that amount of weight free from the cluster, firmly attached to the dumbell with the other weights left behind in the holder. These have become some of the most popular dumbell sets in recent years since they are cost effective, don't take up much space, and are quick and easy to switch weight levels.
You can browse the up-to-date list of best-selling dumbells here.

adjustable dumbells

Now personally, I'm the kind of guy that spends a few hours researching something that costs $100 -- it may be waste of time, but that's what I do. So before buying my dumbell set, I read about all the major brands and types, played around with most of them at gyms or sporting goods store, bought the best, then evaluated them at home for a few months. My findings are below.

PowerBlocks Adjustable Barbells - BEST

One of the most popular adjustable dumbell sets out there is made by (RECOMMENDED) PowerBlocks (PowerBlock.com). How do PowerBlocks work? When you look at them, they look like some sort of cage that you stick your hand into and grab the handle -- they are square in shape. Truth is they are made up of nested steel plates, each one sort of retangular in shape with rods on the side and a vertical square plate at the end -- kind of like a hollow loaf of bread. These plates are stacked one inside the other, so from the outside it looks like a pyramid of rods rising on the sides, with plates stacked on each end like slices of thin bread. So all together they take up not much more space than two regular large dumbells. Weight selection is done using a dual-pronged adjuster pin, which uses a magnet to keep it flush against the weight stack once in place. Since it has two prongs, you have to line up each prong with the correct hole -- probably the toughest part of the process, but the rods are color-coded to make it easier to be sure you are aligning it correctly and selecting the weight you desire. So the weight change process is: pull the selector pin out, line it up in the 2 holes for the weight you want, slide the prongs back in, reach your hand in and grab the handle, and pull out the dumbell with the weight you chose.

When finished, restack the weight into the cluster, and change pin again if needed. This system lets you easily jump from 5 lbs to 50 lbs in about 5-10 seconds, depending on how quickly you can line up those two prongs with the selector holes. We've been using the SportBlock set (see below) for some time at home now and would not trade them for standard fixed free-weight dumbells. They take up a minimum amount of space, they are easy to use, and they work. Their shape makes them a little bulky, so you may not be able to get them quite as close to your body as you could smaller dumbells, but for 98% of the stuff I do they don't cause any hassles. One complaint - even though the SportBlock comes with a total of 50 lbs of plates, it costs as much as 120 lbs of standard barbells - we'd love to see all these adjustable models come down in price to at least half the price of a comparable set of fixed free-weights. Yeah, we know they are more convenient and they replace things that cost even more, but they sure don't cost more to build, so give us fitness junkies a better deal, please! Overall, though, we rate PowerBlocks a 9 out of 10 and recommend them for people looking to get a nice set of dumbells that are easy to adjust and don't need a huge rackspace for storage.
How much do PowerBlocks cost? Depends on the set you buy. There entry level set is called The SportBlock, which lets you adjust from 3-24lbs in 3lb increments -- this sells for about $149 a pair. Next up is the Personal PowerBlock set, good for 5-45 lbs in 5 lb increments -- it will set you back about $330. Feeling like you need a little more weight, go for the Personal Plus set which goes from 20-60 lbs for $369 a pair. For the big boys there is an Elite PowerBlock set that goes from 5-90 lbs and sells for $700. When you are ready to buy -- Sportsblock (3-24 lbs per dumbell) is here, Powerblock Personal Adjustables (which is 5-45 lbs) is here, and PowerBlock Elite (which is 5 - 90 lbs) is here. You will be happy with any choice you make -- these are rugged, easy to use hand weights, and highly recommended. If you are serious about working out and getting in shape, we also recommend the P90X DVD collection.

Bowflex SelectTech Dial Up Dumbells

Bowflew, makers of the popular home gym fitness system, also makes a set of adjustable dumbells called the Bowflex SelecTech (type 3 dumbells above). These adjustable weights use a dial system, on either end of the dumbell, for selecting the weight you want. They use weights covered in hard plastic, allowing you to change weight in increments of 2.5 or 5 pounds. Just set the dials for the weight you want and lift the dumbells up out of the weight cluster. These dumbells are a little bulkier that standard ones, and require some getting used to, and you have to kind of line them up when you replace them on the weight rack to get them to fit in with the weight cluster. The weight changing mechanism is generally quick and easy - its a big round dial that sits at the end of the dumbell and you spin the whole thing to the setting you want. We have heard a number of complaints about weights moving around a bit during use -- this wasn't anything that bothered us. And there have also been some complaints about weights falling off. We didn't have that problem either, but recommend you follow the instructions that come with the set and preferable try out a sample set somewhere before buying to make sure you like them. How much do Bowflex SelecTech barbells cost? The Bowflex dumbells are offered in 3 different weight sets - the SelectTech 1090 Dumbbells which adjust from 10-90 lbs and cost $599, the Bowflex SelectTech 552 set which adjusts from 5-52.5 lbs and costs $399, and the SelectTech 220 which adjusts from 2.5-20 lbs and costs $149. This is our #2 RECOMMENDED for adjustable dumbells. Buy online here.

Best Dumbells for Women - Reebok Speed Pac

If you are a woman shopping for dumbells, chances are you are looking for something different from what men want. Especially for a home workout (and for keeping weights lying around a home or apartment), most women want weights that also "look good" -- no problem. There are many smaller dumbell sets that can easily be tucked into a corner or are covered with nice vinyl colors schemes -- they are almost fashion statements. Regardless, you still need weights that come in a variety of sizes so you can do everything from arm to legs and bun workouts. We recommend sets that cover 4-15 pounds at the minimum, though you may want up to 30 pounds total (15 pounds each dumbell). If you like the vinyl covered style, our pick is the (RECOMMENDED) Empower 32-Pound Dumbbell Set for less than $60 (this is type one above). You get 6 dumbells, in pairs of 3lbs, 5 lbs, and 8lbs. If you are just getting started, this is probably just right. You can select from different weight configurations here. If you want to start off with a few more weight options, we recommend (RECOMMENDED) the Reebok Speed Pac 25 Adjustable Dumbbell Pair -- (this is type 3 above), it ranges from 2.5 to 12.5 pounds per dumbell, with 5 levels in between. At only 5 inches tall with cushioned grips, you turn a knob to adjust the weight settings, then pickup the dumbell -- very easy to use. You may find you want to move up to some heavier weights later, but it is easy to pick up a set of 15 or 20 pounders when you need them. We also like the Valeo neoprene weight family, from 2 to 10 pounds.

IronMaster Quick-Lock Dumbells

IronMaster makes some quick change dumbells that are a sort of hybrid in this market - they use plates like, free weight dumbells, that you add onto the dumbell bar, but as a twist they use a quick-lock endpiece that makes the whole process a lot faster and easier that most plate-style dumbells. They offer a set of (2) 75-lb dumbells with weight rack for $449. Each dumbell is adjustable from 5-75 lbs in 2.5lb increments, and they are square in shape so the weights don't spin, and the dumbells don't roll around on the floor. To add or remove weight, you turn the locking pin, pull it out, and then slap on some more plates, and replace the locking pin with a twist. If you are just changing a few pounds, this process really doesn't take more than a few seconds. But if you are really looking for quick change adjustable weights, you'll find it IS going to take a bit longer going from 10 lbs up to 60lbs -- that is a lot of plates to add to each side, and it does take some time. While not cheap, these are a rugged set of weights, with a steel bar and iron plates -- they are not going to break or come loose if you drop them, and a lot of people like the natural handgrip they offer compared to other adjustable dumbells. You can check them out at IronMaster.com - complete with videos showing the weight change process.

So which is the best adjustable dumbell set for me? For myself, I go with the PowerBlocks. You might have another preference. You'll find some other dumbell names out there if you search - Weider Tech PowerStitch, Fusion Space Saver Adjustable, OmniSelect Dumbells, XVest TurboBells Adjustable Dumbells, etc. You can shop around and see if another design really strikes your fancy, but overall you should be looking for the best combination of price, durability, and ease of use. Of course it never hurts to stop by a sporting goods store and put your hands on some of these models, but the PowerBlocks, for example, can be hard to find in a retail store.