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Home Workout Reviews and Recommendations

A Woman’s Fast (& Thorough) Guide to Buying Dumbbells for Home Exercise

February 8, 2019

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So, you’ve decided it’s time.  You’ve become a the Queen-of-Cardio and you’re ready to step up your game.  It’s time to morph all that soft and supple into hard and chiseled.  

Welcome to the party.

You won’t regret this.  Adding weight training to your exercise routine is like adding ice cream to a warm brownie, flavored cream to coffee or spanx to your wardrobe.  Enhancement, girls, enhancement.

You’ve just upgraded your workouts from coach to first class.  You’re an official Badass.  (If you haven’t actually lifted a dumbbell yet then you’re teetering right at the edge of Badassville (AKA Awesometown).  We’re waiting for you to arrive.  You get a free t-shirt;-)  Not really.)

As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Some of the following are affiliate links. You can get more information about that here.

a black dumbbell on a white background

Whether you’re a woman just getting started with weights, you lift weights regularly, or if you’re about to step up your at-home weight routine (as you should) then I’m going to help you.

I’ve tried every kind of dumbbell they make.

I’m going to tell you what style you should invest your money in and why.

And I’m going to tell you what to avoid so you don’t make a purchase you regret (Ab roller, anyone?)

Let’s get started.

Common Mistakes Women (like me) Make When Buying Dumbbells

(I’ve literally made every mistake on this list.)

Mistake #1

The Assumption That All Dumbbells Are Alike

A 5 lb. cast iron DB
My First Dumbbell

When I decided to purchase my first dumbbells I drove to the only store in my small town (that sold non-grocery items) and bought the cheapest 5 lb. dumbbell they had.  It was cast iron and looked like this.

Did it work?  Of course it did.  Would I buy it today?  No way.

Listen to me.  Your exercise equipment is an investment in you. 

If you’re going to spend $100 on a pair of jeans or a purse then don’t decide you’re suddenly out of money when it comes time to buy your exercise equipment. 

You need to invest in something that’s good. 

Most of your exercise equipment will last forever.  It won’t pay off to buy the cheapest dumbbells.

Keep reading to find out exactly what to purchase.

Mistake #2

Purchasing A Single Dumbbell

Did you notice in the little story about my trip to the store to buy my first dumbbell that I only bought a single dumbbell?  Yeah, that was dumb. 

Buy them in pairs, girls.  You will (almost always) use them that way.

And if you purchase them in singles then when you decide it’s time to go get another one (because you didn’t listen to me and bought a single dumbbell) then the store will no longer carry the same equipment.

You’ll end up with mismatched styles of the same weight.  I’ve done this.  It sucks (because the grip is different on every model). 

Buy PAIRS of dumbbells.

Mistake #3

giver of DB advice

Listening To Someone Who Doesn’t Use Dumbbells Tell You What Dumbbells To Buy

You know what I’m talking about, Girls.  Just because the man in your life has read a story about lifting weights, has friends that lift weights, has seen dumbbells in a magazine or maybe lifted weights in high school, doesn’t mean he knows what dumbbells are right for you.

He may.  But he may not.  Don’t risk it.

Don’t worry.  Hang with me.  I’m about to tell you what to buy.

Mistake #4

Thinking That the Shape Doesn’t Matter

Yeah, I laughed when I typed it…get your head out of the gutter and let’s continue.

This is a big one for me.  You’ll find that dumbbells come with different shapes in the head (the end pieces).   There are round, square and hex heads. 

Always get the hex shape.

Round dumbbells roll across the room when you don’t want them to.

And square heads have corners that will bump up against you when you’re doing certain exercises.

Trust me.  Always get a hex shaped dumbbell.

Mistake #5

Buying the Wrong Size (pounds)

There are so many options!

How was I supposed to know that I’d never need a 4 or 7 lb. dumbbell?  Guess what?  You don’t need those.

And now I have even more equipment to store and keep clean and convince kids that all those weights (I don’t use) aren’t toys.

If you’re going to lift weights at home then you won’t need all those in-between sizes.

Keep reading.  I’ll tell you what size weights you SHOULD buy.

The Nitty Gritty

looks matter
Looks Matter 

Dumbbells come in different materials.  Here are the pros and cons of each (and which ones I recommend.)  Keep in mind I actually have dumbbells in all of these materials (*ahem* listen to me).

To compare prices I used Amazon because I love them (Prime shipping!) and because they sell each of the different kinds of dumbbells. But obviously you may be able to find them at a different price somewhere else.

*And I’ve listed the price of the dumbbells on Amazon as of the day I’m writing this post but the prices change all the time so if you follow my links you might discover a different price.

CAST IRON (aka, my first dumbbell)

a pair of cast iron dumbbells
cast iron dumbbells

Cost of a pair of 5 lb. cast iron DB’s (on Amazon)-$10.99

Pros-More affordable

Cons-The iron material can flake off (this is what happened to mine), and the cast iron is rough on hard surfaces (like hardwood or tile floors)

CHROME

chrome dumbbells
A pair of chrome dumbbells

Cost of a pair of 5 lb. chrome DB’s (on Amazon)-$29

Pros-Hmmm…they’re really shiny?

 Cons-The only ones I’m familiar with are rounded on the end (and I’ve already told you how I feel about that style) and they’re the most expensive option.

*I have a single 15 lb. chrome dumbbell (it’s rounded on the end).  It’s lasted forever but I have to wedge it up against other weights when I store it (to keep it from rolling) and I hate that I only bought ONE of these (see what I mean?  Learn from my mistakes).  It’s a specific style and I’ve never found another dumbbell with a similar grip so I don’t like to use it.

NEOPRENE

neoprene dumbbells
A pair of neoprene dumbbells

Cost of a pair of 5 lb. neoprene DB’s (on Amazon)-$14.99

Pros-Colors!  These come in a variety of colors.  I love that.  These are softer and easier on your hardwood and tile floors.  You can find the neoprene style in a lot of random sizes (like 9, 11, 17, etc.).

Pro Tip-Keep reading to find out if you actually need those random sizes.

Cons-The material can tear/rip (mine have small tears on the ends).

Neoprene aren’t a bad option.  Especially if you have your heart set on a specific color that you can only find in neoprene.

VINYL

vinyl dumbbells
A pair of vinyl dumbbells

Cost of a pair of 5 lb. vinyl DB’s (on Amazon)-$20.99

Pros-Colors!  These also come in a range of cool colors.  (The vinyl-covered dumbbells have a shiny surface while the neoprene is a matted material.)  Like neoprene, you can find vinyl dumbbells in a variety of random sizes like 3, 7, and 11 lbs.

Cons-The vinyl is also susceptible to rips and tears.  The cost is comparable to neoprene (but slightly higher).

SO, WHAT KIND OF DUMBBELLS SHOULD YOU BUY??

*My Top Recommendation for Women’s Dumbbells*

rubber dumbbells
A pair of rubber dumbbells

RUBBER

(Seriously, girls, this is a family show.)

Cost of a pair of 5 lb. rubber DB’s (on Amazon)-$22.99

Pros-You can get these in colors*, too.  The rubber will last forever and is easy on your hard surfaces (like hardwood and tile floors).  These are my favorite option

I’m in the process of slowly replacing all of my dumbbells with this style. 

You can get this style all the way up to the heaviest weight you might need (for me that’s 30 lbs.).  The grip size is perfect and the rubber doesn’t rip or tear.

*The cool colors go up to 15 lbs.  After that, you can stick with the same style but may have to purchase them in black.  You can find the heavier (black) ones here.

Cons-These aren’t your cheapest option.

Size Matters

*Pause for laughter*  I had no idea there would be so many terrible puns in this post when I started.  (My goal is to change your life but if I can make you smile I’ll take that, too.)

Now I’ll give you a few tips on how to decide what size weights you should buy.  This is general but will give you a good starting place.

ATTENTION: Depending on where you are in your fitness routine will determine what (size) dumbbells you should purchase. 

Find where you are on this list to decide what dumbbells you should start with.

BEGINNER

If you’ve started your fitness routine in the last 3-6 months (Congrats!  Keep it up!) and haven’t lifted anything heavier than a milk jug your entire life then consider investing in 3, 5, 8, and 10 lb. dumbbells to get started.

PRO TIP-Looking for a great exercise video to start with?  Try Cathe Friedrich’s LITE (low impact training extreme) PHA training workout.

INTERMEDIATE

If you’re vaguely familiar with the term ‘lifting gloves’ and you exercise regularly (but only do cardio) then you should start with 5, 8, 10, and 12 lb. dumbbells.

PRO TIP-Try Cathe Friedrich’s ICE series.  These are a variety of weight training and cardio routines for the intermediate athlete.  If you don’t want the whole series then try Boot Camp Circuit and/or Metabolic Total Body.  (Cathe also uses an aerobic step with a few risers in these videos).

ADVANCED

If you cuddle up with your lifting gloves at night (and have been lifting weights for years) then this advice is for you. You may or may not need it.

Maybe you’ve been lifting at the gym for years and are just now transitioning into an at-home program.  Or maybe you’ve been using machines at the gym for so long that you aren’t sure what free weights (dumbbells) to buy.  I can help. 

You need to purchase 5, 8, 10, 12, and 15 lb. dumbbbells.  (In a few months you’ll want to add 20 lb. dumbbells, too).

If you’re looking for a good program to try then consider P90X3 with Tony Horton (I love this series for women).  And a second option to look at would be Cathe Friedrich’s Muscle Max or Flex Train.

PRO TIP-I’ve posted a detailed review of Muscle Max and also Flex Train.  So, you can read more about them before you buy.  And you can read about P90X3 here.

LET’S TAKE A TIME OUT FOR A WORD ABOUT ADJUSTABLE DUMBBELLS LIKE THESE:

adjustable dumbbells

To be completely thorough I need to mention this style of dumbbell.

They’re adjustable.  I call them ‘click weights’.

I love them…in theory. (Mostly because it’s so much easier to store them than an entire set of individual dumbbells.)

I have some of these adjustable dumbbells.  I don’t use them.

I’ve found a few problems with them…

You can’t switch quickly between sizes. 

So, if you do on-demand workouts then you’ll have to pause the video to swap out the size of your dumbbells.  It’s SUPER annoying to do this several times over the course of a workout.

The other problem for me is that they aren’t comfortable. 

The design is made for all the pieces to fit together so the heads of the dumbbells are really wide (long).

(Click on the picture of the adjustable dumbbells above and then check out a few of the product images and you can see what I mean about the design style.  The heads of the dumbbells are too wide for me to do certain exercises without hitting my body.  Overall, I find the design to be awkward when you go use them.)

Because of these reasons, I stick with my recommendation for women to purchase the individual rubber dumbbells.

A Few Pro Tips for Using Dumbbells

Remember, IN GENERAL, doing more reps and less/lighter weight will result in sculpting/toning and NOT bulking.

Quality Over Quantity.  NEVER EVER sacrifice form to get more reps.  You will hurt yourself.  It’s dumb.  You’ve been warned.  Don’t do it.

Stretching is vital!  Essential.  Necessary.  Required.  Make sure you stretch your muscles before AND after you do any resistance training (just like when you do cardio).

For maximum results try to do a mix of cardio AND resistance training in your regular exercise program.  You’ll turn into an amazing badass.

Like this post?  Please share it for me.  Thank you!  You’re awesome. (I mean that.)

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  1. Nivy says:

    Love this article and wish I had read it before I started setting up my home gym. I am an advanced lifter and I have the exact weights that she has mentioned but I am now considering investing in 25lbs for deadlifts and 17.5lbs for squats ( it’s hard to jump from 15lbs to 20lbs).

    I first dumbbell I bought was 10lbs vinyl but everything else is neoprene since I find vinyl to be slippery when lifted with sweaty hands.i have never tried rubber dumbbells but they look interesting.

    • Hi Nivy! Thank you for reading! Let me know what you think of the rubber dumbbells. You have a great perspective since you use dumbbells regularly and have tried other options. I think you’ll really like the rubber ones. They’re a great investment. And thank you for pointing out that vinyl can be slippery with sweaty hands! I need to add that to the article!

  2. Emma says:

    This is honestly some of the best advice. I’ve made a few of these mistakes already! Thank you 🙂

  3. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this, super helpful for finding the right dumbbells. Also, love the humor, makes it much more fun to read and learn!

  4. Phyllicia Obbo says:

    Thank you for this amazing article. Just going to purchase some dumbbells (light weight) because I am a beginner.
    Since I leave in Uganda I won’t be able to purchase with your links but I now definitely know what I am going to buy.

    Thanks so much
    Very funny and helpful article.
    Hihi

  5. Amy says:

    Thanks for the guide! Followed your link to Amazon and the rubber ones have gone up to $50 for a pair of 5’s! Bummer!

    • Holy cow! I’m sorry to hear that. Have you tried a Google search off of Amazon? There might be a private seller who still has a lot of inventory and isn’t price gouging. Thanks for posting here and letting me know about the price.

  6. meenal says:

    Thanks for a great review. I am actively looking for dumbbells since we are all exercising at home now. I really like your suggestion. I do have one question. how is the metal grip on your hands? Did they ever give you any calluses. Do you have to wear a glove to lift these?

    • That’s a great question! No, I’ve never developed calluses from the metal handles (and I don’t have any weight lifting gloves). However, if you’re prone to developing calluses then I’d get some gloves. I’ve always been really happy with the metal/chrome grip on the rubber coated dumbbells. It’s the perfect size for my hands. Let me know if you have anymore questions!

  7. MommieP says:

    LOve this article- perfect timing! Trying to create our home gym, you’ve answered all my questions ! Thank you for this! Any info on how to start with kettlebells? I bought the bowflex adjustable kettlebell.

    • I’m so happy to hear that my article helped you! I don’t regularly use kettlebells so I don’t have any recommendations for those. I’ll reach out to you if that changes! Thank you so much for taking the time to ask a great question and give me feedback on my article. Have a great day!

  8. Tanja Tudhope says:

    HI There,
    Great article. Any advice for barbells?
    Thanks
    Tanja

    • Hi Tanja! I’m so glad you found the article helpful. My favorite women’s barbell is called the ‘Troy Barbell Tlw-40G Lite Workout Set, One Size’ on Amazon. If you type that into the search bar you’ll find it. The weight capacity of that barbell is 65 lbs. I’ve found it to be the perfect size and weight for women. It’s the barbell that Cathe Friedrich uses in her workouts. Thanks for asking a great question! Best, Mickie

  9. Hannah says:

    Great article; wish I had found it when I was first starting out! Might you know where to find neoprene dumbbells over 20 lbs? I have looked everywhere online and I cannot find them anywhere. I already use neoprene and have them in sizes ranging from 5 – 20 lbs so I don’t really want to switch to a new style if I can avoid it.

    • Hi Hannah! Thank you! I’m so glad you thought the article was informative. That’s a great question! I’ve never seen neoprene dumbbells over 15 lbs. I’m surprised you found some in 20’s. Unfortunately, I don’t think they make them in heavier sizes. I know that’s a bummer! Someone needs to make them in heavier sizes. I totally understand not wanting to switch to a different style. Thank you for taking the time to ask a great question and leave feedback! Best, Mickie

  10. Laura Lee says:

    After researching it appears that the ones you chose are made of PVC not rubber. So now I’m wondering if your top choice is rubber through research. Or literally the PVC of which the pictured dumbbells are made. I’m thinking the article should be updated with a corrected picture and link to rubber weights or corrected to say PVC as opposed to rubber. If it is PVC as pictured is that not harder than rubber or did it seem soft enough not to damage cheap apartment linoleum floors? I ask because I do like the color distinction in the weights but if they aren’t soft enough to prevent floor damage I’d have to go with the neoprene. Let me know what you think.

    • Hi Laura! The colored dumbbells I recommend in the post are rubber with a PVC coating. They’re awesome and I stand by the recommendation. They’re durable and won’t peel or flake. I can’t imagine they’d damage your floors like a cast iron dumbbell would do but as with anything I’d say go with your gut. There’s nothing wrong with the neoprene dumbbells. Thanks for your feedback! Best, Mickie

      • Laura Lee says:

        So you would recommend these over just rubber? I had no idea they were both. I do currently have the CAP neoprene BUT after stacking them the colors bled/stained the others. The neoprene weights still work fine. I just HATE that they’re not one solid color anymore. It’s just not pretty. I would think rubber might do the same but was thinking that PVC probably wouldn’t. But now I’m understanding that these are both rubber and PVC. I could try colored again with these you mentioned and risk it. Or I did see that CAP also sells the PVC type in black. If I just go with black at least black bleeding on black wouldn’t be a problem. Or hopefully not.
        Also do you prefer the rubber with the PVC over just the rubber? Or would you prefer rubber without the PVC if they offered strictly rubber in colors also? Thank you for your time and advice. Including the article. Very informative, thank you.

        • Hi Laura! I had that same issue with the neoprene. The colors bled onto each other when I stacked them. I love pretty equipment, too! So, I can totally relate to being upset that they aren’t one color anymore. The rubber ones I have aren’t tacky on the outside. That PVC coating keeps the outside of the rubber dumbbells smooth. It’s ideal for me so I’d say I prefer them. I do have some 20 lb. rubber dumbbells that are black (no PVC coating) and they don’t bleed at all. If you need any light dumbbells you could test out the colored rubber ones around 5 lbs. that have the PVC coating and see what you think? I love mine. I think the rubber ones with the coating only go up to 15 lbs. I hope this helps! Let me know what you decide to do. I think you’ll be happy with either, really. Thank you for reading and your feedback! Best, Mickie

  11. Maggi says:

    I have been looking for hours for a guide that speaks for me. Thank you for your honesty, sharing your experiences and tips! I am following you from now on.

  12. C C Fraser says:

    This is great, so educational! I did click through to Amazon, so I hope you do get a kick back! Best to you! Happy New Year!

  13. Red says:

    This has been a very educational article. I am a beginner beginner, 230 lbs (I’m down 16 lbs in 3 mths and I’m 45 yrs old). I have been looking for the best weights and lbs for a beginner such as myself.

    Thank you for this article.

  14. Aakanksha says:

    This post was quite insightful! Thanks a lot!

  15. Mae says:

    Thanks for this super helpful post. I’m a beginner at using dumbbells, but I want to get a pair for home work outs (instead of going to the gym).

    I’m relatively fit, I play sports and use the treadmill, and go for fitness classes. But I would like to have a proper routine targeting all areas of my body – arm/chest and back/ butt and inner thighs/ waist/abs.

    I am hoping to buy only a pair of dumbbells for now… how do I know how heavy of the pair I should get (ie. 5lbs vs 10lbs) and what you would recommend?

    I think my arms, chest/back routine requires weights but the rest are mostly body-weight type exercises if that helps to trim down the options.

    Thank you so much in advance!

    • Hi Mae! That’s a great question! It’s REALLY tough to give you the best advice for a single pair of dumbbells. It depends on your baseline strength and whether you’ll be doing high rep exercises (for sculpting and toning) or want to build muscle. You’d probably be able to target shoulders and triceps with a pair of 5’s. But you’d probably want a pair of 8’s or 10’s (or more) for your biceps and chest. And even heavier for your back and lower body muscle groups. If you want to only purchase ONE pair then go with 8’s or 10’s. That might be a little heavy for some shoulder and triceps exercises but on the light side for biceps, back, chest and lower body. But once you get started you can decide which weight would be the next best size for you. I hope that helps! Have a great day! Mickie

  16. KarenK says:

    Thanks for the cool review, I was just about to step up weight in my dumbbells so this is perfect timing! Love the humor too!

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Cathe Friedrich Program Reviews

Beachbody Program Reviews

Aerobic Step Workouts & Info

Home Workout Reviews & Recommendations

Categories

Sign up for The Vault! No more random workouts! Let me show you how to assemble it all!

Shop Aerobic Steps

how I can help you

Read my latest reviews

S1 Ep.12 The Piyo Program--Don't Make This Mistake if You're Thinking About Trying it Out

S3 Ep.7 An Honest Review of Les Mills on Demand (I wish I'd tried this sooner!)

S3 Ep.3 Morning Meltdown 100--An Honest Review (and my recommendation)

S2 Ep.8 A Deep Dive Into the Body Groove Program (Is it right for you?)

podcast episodes

top downloaded

tune into the show on apple podcasts!

I'm Mickie —your friendly home exercise guide. I'm here to help you make your home workout the best part of your day.

Sorry guys! The Vault is for women!

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