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Dumbbells are undoubtedly one of the most popular pieces of fitness equipment ever made. They are a basic tool of the strength training trade, with their versatility making them perfect for both home gym and commercial gym environments.
But with so many options available on the market, how do you know which are best for you or your gym?
We are here to help!
This dumbbell buying guide has been created to simplify the process. We have included the basic factors you should consider when buying for your home gym or commercial facility.
To help explain every dumbbell type that is currently available on the market, we’ve split dumbbells into 3 top level categories; fixed dumbbells, adjustable dumbbells and studio dumbbells.
Don't have time to read the article? We get you. Skip to the end to see a summary of the main benefits of each level of dumbbell.
A fixed dumbbell is probably the most common type of weight found in a commercial facility. These are normally the kind you would see on a horizontal or upright rack. They are usually sold in pairs and weigh anything from 1kg to 100kg each.
Small gyms or home users will typically look at a 2.5kg-30kg fixed dumbbell sets . However, this really depends on the client base or individuals strength. Larger more commercial gyms with a wide member base might look at 2.5kg-50kg. The higher end of 50kg-100kg will probably only be relevant for facilities that cater for serious weight lifters and bodybuilders.
There are a wide variety of fixed dumbbell styles that we could touch on, but we’ve narrowed it down to the ones our fitness advisors are most frequently asked about.
Fixed Rubber Dumbbells
Fixed Rubber dumbbells are hard wearing and robust. They tend to best meet the needs of commercial gyms, as rubber dumbbells will withstand the daily abuse of a busy facility. Notwithstanding, the quality and feel from these dumbbells is exceptional which also makes them a great addition to a premium home gym.
One of the main benefits of using rubber over bare chrome or cast iron is that the rubber offers a protective outer coating. This protects both the dumbbell, the storage stand and the surrounding lifting area. Scratches, chips and dents are easily noticeable on metal weights, but are far less common on rubber dumbbells. Rubber dumbbells also help to reduce noise when they are dropped by the user.
Furthermore, they tend to have more attractive, colourful designs and clearer numbering of weight denominations. They are also readily customisable so you can display a company or team logo on each end.
Fixed Urethane Dumbbells
Fixed urethane dumbbells are another very popular, more premium commercial equipment option. Although, to the naked eye urethane (technically polyurethane or PU) doesn't exhibit a huge difference to rubber dumbbells there are numerous performance benefits which command it's slightly more premium price tag.
Firstly, urethane products are stronger than rubber. It's much harder to cause cosmetic damage to these products because the outer layers are much tougher and resistant to the scratches, chips and marks that can occasionally occur on rubber weights products.
PU weights also have the benefit of being non-marking, which is often sited as an issue with rubber dumbbells when they are dropped on a new wooden or vinyl floor. Another benefit is that urethane doesn't produce the signature odour rubber is known for.
Fixed Hex Dumbbells
Hex Dumbbells are named after their unique shape. Thanks to their many facets, they will not roll around once placed on the floor. This is a great advantage if you are switching between weights or exercises and are constantly picking them up and putting them down. They are also excellent for floor based circuits, such as dumbbell push-ups because of their added stability.
The Hex Dumbbell usually comes cheaper than a standard rubber or urethane dumbbell which makes it a great budget option. Additionally, the facets make them easy to store if you do not want to invest in a rack.
Fixed Chrome Dumbbells
Metal dumbbells have been popular in the past and are often a cheaper alternative to more modern rubber or urethane dumbbells. Cast iron weights are often found in more 'old school' gyms and are readily available for great value second hand. These also come in classic and ‘hex’ shapes and are strong, solid products which stand up to a heavy lifting environments. However, the risk of chips and scratches is still there.
You will see many gyms using steel, chrome plated dumbbells which are very stylish products. They are all made with toughened metals and anti chip chrome but they are not as robust as those coated in rubber or urethane.
Having said that, for home gyms and facilities which don’t see enormous footfall through their free weights area, chrome dumbbells can look great and deliver their function perfectly well.
Adjustable dumbbells are a great product for buyers who want a variety of weights but either don’t have the space, storage or budget for a full set of fixed dumbbells. The technology behind this type of dumbbells has been developing quickly.
NÜO Flexbells are designed with small spaces in mind. They offer a full set of dumbbell weights with 2kg increment scaling via a smart lock-and-load system.
The difficulty with adjustable weights is that they are normally quite bulky because of the ways in which the weight needs to be segmented. It can also make life quite difficult if you are trying to do drop sets where you need to be able to change weights very quickly.
Saying this, they do make great products for home use and are exceptional value compared to buying a full set of fixed dumbbells, especially if you are looking to save space and don’t have a need for multiple sets.
Dumbbell Plate Sets
Another popular solution for home users is a dumbbell plate set. These consist of a small bar with plates which attach on either end. They are a very cost effective option for people looking for a range of weights and to save on space.
Plate sets will normally utilise a spinlock collar, which isn’t always the most secure method of fastening plates to the bar, but it is quick and easy to fasten and remove. They allow you to adjust the weight by adding or removing weight plates to the bar, which normally come in weights between 0.5kg to 2.5kg.
It’s highly unusual for a commercial gym to use this option, as fixed dumbbells are a more convenient alternative.
Many popular studio classes use light resistance work as part of their programme of activity. These are cheap to buy in large quantities and normally include a studio storage unit. They also tend to be colour coded by weight for easy identification during classes.
Studio dumbbells are fully coated; meaning the whole dumbbell (including the handle) is covered in a layer of textured rubber or neoprene to protect the product against the regular use and abuse it will be subject to. The full coating makes the dumbbells easier to grip especially during cardio-heavy group exercise classes. Studio dumbbells have an anti-roll shape, to ensure that during classes, equipment on the floor doesn’t cause a hazard.
These dumbbells are usually sold in pairs and are a perfectly good home dumbbell solution if you are looking for very low weight denominations. Studio weights typically range from 0.5kg – 10kg and for commercial purposes can normally be purchased in sets of between 40-50 pairs.
Racks & Storage
Now you've chosen your dumbbells, you need a place to store them.
A sure fire way to irritate a gym manager is to leave the weights room with dumbbells and plates strewn across the floor. To avoid this it’s important to have adequate storage and dumbbell rack facilities. Rubber, Urethane and cast iron bells are normally racked on either horizontal or vertical stands. Horizontal racks will normally be able to hold 10-12 pairs of dumbbells over either two or three tiers and upright racks can often hold a similar number. Studio dumbbell racks hold pairs in separate vertical slots for each weight.
So... Which Dumbbells should you buy?
The big question.
Hopefully this detailed article has helped you come to a decision. However, if you are still not convinced, check out the table below which pinpoints the main benefits of each type of dumbbell:
|- Large weight range
|- a full set of weights
in one pair of dumbbells
|- Great for light
|- Hard wearing
|- 2kg increments
|- Cheap to buy in large
|- High quality
|- Space saving
|- Full rubber coating
|- Perfect for a home gym
|- Easy to grip
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