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For a complete home gym setup, you need a proper set of dumbbells—period. Hex Weights
LET'S CUT to the chase: If you want a complete home gym setup, you need a proper set of dumbbells—period, full stop. Sure, a barbell, weight plates, and a pull-up bar are great places to start. Bench presses, pull-ups, and chin-ups are excellent for building muscle and strength in your back. But they aren’t quite the “ultimate” exercises you’ve been led to believe, especially if you’re a beginner. That’s partly because they’re just so damn hard. It’s also easy to overdo it or, worse, hurt yourself with poor form in the process.
“The fix?” asks Men’s Health Fitness Director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., “Grab a pair of dumbbells (or heck, a single dumbbell). With a pair of dumbbells, you can build the back strength you need to eventually slay chin-ups and pull-ups, while also training the critical muscle groups that protect your shoulder blades and hone your posture.”
If you’re a novice lifter, “adding dumbbell back exercises into your routines … helps you build the back muscle and strength you want, layering thickness in between your shoulder blades and throughout your upper back,” says Samuel. He goes on to say that it’s “especially true once you embrace heavier-weight dumbbell back exercises, such as farmer’s carries and powerful dumbbell rows and incline rows.”
In short, dumbbells vastly improve any home gym setup. They’re great for rows, help establish better posture, and allow for more gradual and predictable weight progression. The best part, though? They’re more accessible and affordable than almost any other gym tool. Whether you invest in rubber or iron, adjustable or standard, round or hex, they’re guaranteed to elevate your gym game.
If you’re in the market for new dumbbells, it’s easy to think they’re mostly the same. That’s sort of true, but there’s more to the story. If you want to invest in a good set, it’s worth a few extra minutes to consider which set is truly the right one for you. We researched and tested dozens of the most popular, best-selling models. Here are our brutally honest picks of the best dumbbells to shop in 2022.
Read more: Best Adjustable Dumbbells
They’re not the cheapest or the most expensive—these adjustable dumbbells from Bowflex are just right in almost every way. First off, despite the 105-pound total set weight, they’re incredibly compact. At just 16.9” x 8.3” by 9”, the entire set is small enough to fit in any space, whether in a closet or a basement-turned-home-gym. The plastic-coated steel construction is extremely durable, built to last for years, if not decades with proper maintenance. The material is also quieter without the typical “bang and clang” design of old-school metal dumbbells—a nice feature if you’re living with children or significant others who are sensitive to such things.
The unique selectable design makes it easy for lifters of any fitness type to dial in their exact weight setting. Each dumbbell is adjustable from 5 to 52.5 pounds each, providing the flexibility to grow and adjust to just about any training goals. This is the perfect dumbbell set for everyone from novice lifters to amateur bodybuilders. Premium grips provide rock-solid lifting with almost no slippage.
We also like that these dumbbells coordinate with the complete range of Bowflex home gym products, including kettlebells, barbells, and more. Plus, the included JRNY membership is a nice bonus that provides access to on-demand workout and strength-training classes for an entire year.
For all these reasons, it’s no wonder they’ve been a best-selling dumbbell set for almost a decade. It’s also why they’re our pick for the best dumbbells overall in 2022.
What do buyers say? Out of more than 19,000 Amazon reviews, 97% recommend the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells with at least a 4-star rating.
The hex dumbbell is now a staple of any modern home gym. Living Fit’s Hex Dumbbells feature the classic shape that’s more stable and won’t roll around on you mid-workout. The cast iron construction is extremely rigid and durable (though perhaps not as much as rubber dumbbells) and coated in rubber for extra protection. Moderate knurling on the handles also adds texture for improved grip and safer lifts.
These are a great option for home gym builders with a bit more floor space who want the benefit of traditional dumbbells and who might not need a complete adjustable set. They’re sold in pairs in increments between 15-100 pounds. Buy a variety of weights (light, medium, and heavy) to help complement your personal training regimen. Every sub-45-pound pair is priced at less than $100, making them surprisingly affordable.
If there’s a downside, it’s that cast iron dumbbells typically don’t last as long as their rubber counterparts. Although, in this case, the rubber coating is guaranteed to help protect the design for years to come. A complete set will also take up significantly more floor space than an adjustable one. But, if you’re just looking for just 2-3 pairs of classic hex weights, it’s hard to complain about these for the price. (Which is why we ranked these dumbbells among our picks for the best home gym equipment of 2022)
What do buyers say? “Great dumbbells for a great price! Fast shipping. Overall great purchase — would recommend!” said one Amazon reviewer.
It’s no secret we’re big fans of adjustable dumbbell sets. PowerBlock’s EXP line might be the most clever design we’ve seen. The pair stow easily with no storage tray or cradle required. Using the built-in polypropylene pin, you simply dial in the weight you want between 2.5-50 pounds per dumbbell (in varying increments). The unique design takes the place of a bulky and insanely heavy full set of standard dumbbells with a minimal footprint (just 12"L x 6.5"W per dumbbell). It’s great for apartment dwellers and anyone without the room for a lavish, 1,000-square-foot home gym setup. The powder-coated welded steel construction is also extremely durable and designed to protect against rust and corrosion.
We especially love that PowerBlock offers expansion kits for lifters who outgrow the 100-pound limit of this “entry-level” kit. Successive kits allow for up to 70- and 90-pound limits per dumbbell, respectively. This is a great option for newbie and mid-weight lifters who want to start out small and grow their strength over time.
The downside? Price is our biggest issue. At more than $400, they may be a little too expensive for those just starting out, especially for anyone who’s already dropped considerable coin on other fitness equipment. Still, dollar-for-dollar, this dumbbell set is an incredible value. The only other thing that might take getting used to is the square form factor. It doesn’t feel as natural to lift as traditional free weights, so it may not be for everyone.
What do buyers say? Out of more than 1,100 Amazon reviews, 94% recommend the PowerBlock EXP Adjustable Dumbbells with at least a 4-star rating.
Read more: Best Black Friday Dumbbell Deals
Sometimes simpler is best, especially for beginners and novices just starting out with lifting at home. This pair of straightforward dumbbells from CAP Barbell is about as barebones as it gets. The heads are crafted from rock-solid Class 20 grey iron coated with odor-free rubber. It’s all joined with a cold-rolled steel chromed handle. They may not be adjustable, but it’s a tried-and-true design that’s built to last. We like the medium depth knurling on the handles which increases safety with a surer grip while lifting.
The standard (non-adjustable) design does mean that a full set takes up more floor space. But, if your home gym is starting to look a little cramped, consider going with a few pairs of dumbbells in varying weights to complement your existing setup without sacrificing too much room. They’re available in 5, 8, 10, 12, and 15-50-lb weights (in 5-lb increments). With even a small variety of weights—even just a single pair—you can get in an effective full-body workout, including chest, arms, core, legs, and back.
What do buyers say? Out of more than 5,600 Amazon reviews, 94% recommend the CAP Barbell Coated Hex Dumbbell Weights with at least a 4-star rating.
Read more: Best Dumbbell Workouts
If you’re building the mother of all home gyms and money is no object, this comprehensive premium set of dumbbells from SMRTFT is your man. The Nuobell 80LB dumbbell set is crafted from near-bulletproof machined steel that’s built to outlast you. The included portable cradles make for easy storage, and the compact design means the entire set takes up far less space than typical fixed-weight dumbbell sets.
The adjustable design means that you can use the same set of weights for every muscle group for a complete full body workout. Drop down to a little weight for bent-over flys, for example, or pile on the plates for more intense squats. It all adjusts seamlessly and easily with the built-in selector. Knurled handles make for safer lifting at any weight.
Although there are thousands of fitness apps available, we also like the free app included with SMRTFTs dumbbells. It offers access to on-demand workouts with pro trainers, plus the ability to plan your own fitness journey, find nutrition tips, and get daily motivation.
What do buyers say? Out of more than 1,100 SMRTFT.com reviews, 97% recommend the SMRTFT Nuobell 80LB Dumbbell Set with at least a 4-star rating.
So, why should you invest in a set of dumbbells? In short, they’re arguably the most versatile, best bang-for-your-buck addition to any home gym setup—all of which is why our own Ebenezer Samuel is a big fan of dumbbells. He’s previously shared at least 15 ways to smoke your back using dumbbells, including Dumbbell Pullovers, Elevated Plank Row Holds, and, most importantly, a wide variety of rows.
Our friends across the pond at Men’s Health UK have shared the best ways to blast your entire body with just two dumbbells:
“If you don’t have access to a selection of weights, but are still looking for a balanced way to hit your whole body, our ‘descending ladder’ has you covered. You’ll begin with a pre-fatiguing bodyweight primer, hitting those pecs and getting the blood pumping, before picking up your dumbbells and working your way from the heavy lifting muscles of the legs, through to the back, before finishing with a shoulder blast. The reps of each movement tactically descend throughout the circuit, meaning you'll work each muscle group to its limits."
They’ve also discussed their favorite and most underrated dumbbell exercises, including Devil’s Press, Renegade Row, Goblet Cyclist Squat, and Dumbbell Deadlift. Because, in their words, “When it comes to fitness, you only need a little to do a lot. This is especially true when it comes to your workouts — sometimes the shortest, fastest dose you can muster is the most optimal for your lifestyle. Life's too short for two-hour workouts …” We couldn’t agree more, and that’s where the best dumbbells can help.
As we’re fond of saying, there’s no “best dumbbell material,” but rather what’s best for you. Dumbbells come in a handful of major construction types—each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Fitness and Training Goals: As with any new home fitness gear, you should always consider your own training goals first. If you’re looking to supplement your existing powerlifting or bodybuilding training with accessory work, a set of adjustables is best. If, however, you’re looking to do Olympic lifts, rubber hex dumbbells are the way to go.
Neoprene Weights We consulted with Men's Health's Fitness editors and writers on the top dumbbells and dumbbell sets. Experts including our fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., fitness editor Brett Williams, NASM, and fitness instructor Hollis Tuttle put dozens of dumbbell models through the wringer to evaluate their design, durability, functionality, and effectiveness. We also considered top-reviewed dumbbells with at least 100 five-star customer ratings on reputable e-commerce websites that we trust. The list above represents our honest, carefully considered picks for the best dumbbells to upgrade your home gym in 2022.