Funny man lifting small weights

Dumbbells 101: We answered your questions so your PT doesn't have to!

Published 15th November 2022
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You don't need biceps the size of Dwayne Johnson's to smash arm day - with a simple set of dumbbells, you'll be hitting your PB in no time! 

But don't fall into the trap of impulse buying yet another bit of home gym equipment that won't work for you... Get it right with the help of this guide! Packed with answers to all the questions you could have about dumbbells, it's your one-stop destination for everything you need to know.

So, what are you weighting for? Let's get into it!

Man exercising with hex dumbbells

What are the different types of dumbbells?

There are five main types of dumbbells: fixed, adjustable, hex, round (rubber) and studio (neoprene)

If you're a regular at the gym, you'll most likely recognise fixed dumbbells from the weights room. Each is set to a specific weight, so you'll need to buy lots of different ones if you're looking for variety - great for a gym with lots of room to spare, not so great for your home! 

So that leaves the others... But what makes them different? 

  1. Adjustable Dumbbells

    Ideal for beginners, adjustable dumbbells allow you to change the weight you're lifting, to suit your workout type and goals. If you have a more 'old school' design, simply add or remove the plates as needed; if you have modern adjustable dumbbells, press the safety button and turn the dial to your selected weight - it's that easy!
  1. Hex Dumbbells

    Hex dumbbells have a six-point, hexagonal design, which stops them from rolling away while you exercise. This makes them great for intense workouts like dumbbell push-ups, and prevents any unexpected trip hazards when switching between cardio and weights. Typically cheaper than round dumbbells and ideal for full-body workouts, they’re a great choice for your first home set!
  1. Round (rubber) Dumbbells

    Hard-wearing, robust and versatile, rubber dumbbells offer all the good stuff of chrome or cast iron, but with a cushioned, rubber layer for added grip and comfort. The rubber coating isn't just there to save you palms from pain, though - it helps to protect the dumbbell itself and your floorboards(!) from damage if dropped. Phew!
  1. Studio (neoprene) Dumbbells

    The colourful companion of many yoga instructors, studio dumbbells are generally smaller, lighter and used during other exercises for added intensity. They're often covered in a layer of rubber or neoprene for extra durability, protection and a comfier grip. Just like hex dumbbells, they're built with an anti-roll shape, which helps them to stay put and out of harm's way while you switch between exercises.
Line of weight plates

What weight of dumbbell should I use?

Picking the wrong weight is one of the most common mistakes people make when using dumbbells. Too light, and you may not see any results; too heavy, and you could injure yourself. 

Getting it right is key - and to help you choose the best ones for you, we've put together this handy guide: 

  • Beginner
    Tempting as it might be to start lifting as much as you can straight away, start light with some studio dumbbells and focus on perfecting your form.
    Best weight: 4kg or lighter

  • Intermediate
    If you've already got some form, it's time to start ramping it up! Look for adjustable dumbbells that go up in small increments, to slowly but surely up the ante. 
    Best weight: 8kg - 20kg 

  • Advanced
    Now we're really pumping iron! Keep it up and continue pushing with those heftier weights.
    Best weight: 30kg - 50kg

Toning up? Trimming down? Building muscle?... Whatever you're buying yours for, check out our blog to find out exactly what dumbbell weight you need to hit your goals faster!

Top tip: To make shopping for the perfect weight easier, use the 'Max Weight' filter on our dumbbells page.

Close up of iron dumbbells

What are dumbbells made from?

Shape and weight aren't the only things you need to consider when buying dumbbells: what it's made out of can make a huge difference, too! 

As well as rubber and neoprene, you also have the choice of vinyl, cast iron, steel and chrome. Don't know which one to go for? Here's a breakdown to help you choose:

  • Vinyl
  • Similar to hex, vinyl dumbbells have a hexagonal shape. This stops them from rolling around, helping to keep you (and your floors!) safe from accidents. The plasticky vinyl coating not only offers an extra bit of grip, it's also easy to wipe down - even after a super sweaty session!

  • Cast iron
  • Traditional but never out of style, cast iron dumbbells are a popular choice for both gyms and homes alike, loved for their versatility and durability. As cast iron is super dense, you can buy them in heavier weights. Get ready to feel the burn!

  • Steel
  • There's not too much difference between steel dumbbells and cast iron, except steel is a bit tougher - ideal if you want a set that'll last forever.

  • Chrome
  • With a super shiny finish, chrome dumbbells are a popular choice for home gyms. They're ideal for HIIT (high-intensity interval training), strength training and circuit exercises, adding an extra level of intensity. 

close up on weightlifting gloves

What dumbbell accessories will I need?

Here are some of the extras we'd recommend to go with your new dumbbells:

  • Dumbbell storage racks
    If you're buying fixed dumbbells, or just have a big collection, you'll need somewhere to store and organise them.
  • An exercise bench
    An adjustable exercise bench will guide and support you as you exercise, helping to improve your form. If you're serious about getting into lifting, this is a must!
  • Lifting gloves
    If your workouts are going to get to Rocky levels of intensity, do yourself (and your floors!) a favour - a pair of lifting gloves will help you keep your grip when things get sweaty!

studio dumbbell held aloft

What are the benefits of dumbbells?

  • Low-impact workouts: With the correct weight and form, using dumbbells puts less strain on your joints.

  • Convenient home workouts: Compact and versatile, dumbbells are ideal for quick and easy workouts in smaller spaces.

  • A full-body workout: You don't need lots of expensive gear - you can work out almost every muscle group with dumbbells!

  • Great for new home gyms: A starter set of vinyl dumbbells can cost under £25, so they're the ideal first piece of fitness gear.
Woman exercising with dumbbells

Dumbbell FAQs

Can dumbbells build muscle?
Absolutely - using dumbbells is one of the best ways to build muscle mass! Perfect your form then slowly make your dumbbells heavier for effective gains.

Are dumbbells enough for a full workout?
With a mix of the right exercises, you can get a full-body workout from a set of dumbbells. Try using them the next time you do some cardio, for a more intense workout.

How do adjustable dumbbells work?
Traditional adjustable dumbbells use spinning lock nuts to secure the weight plates in place, while more modern and advanced sets use less cumbersome, dial-based systems.

When should I increase the weight of my dumbbells?
You know you're lifting the right weight when 10 reps in a set feels a little hard. If you can easily lift the same weight for 12 reps, it's time to move on up!

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