Dumbbells are some of the most popular exercise equipment out there, and have been for a long time. Knowing the different types of dumbbells can help us choose the right one based on space, type of exercise, current strength levels, and future goals.
The weights have their origin in ancient Greece and were called halteres. Halteres were large weights made of stone with a hole to hold them and were used not only for lifting weights but also in their long jump exercises. The ancient Romans continued to use halteres for their physical exercises, but these too disappeared with the fall of the empire. The dumbbell made a comeback in the 16th century as cylindrical weights with flat ends used for exercise.
Today we can find numerous types of weights, with different shapes and materials.
Fixed dumbbells are those whose weights cannot be changed. They are the most common type of dumbbell, especially in commercial gyms, and they come in a variety of shapes.
Cast Iron Hex Dumbbells
Cast iron hex dumbbells are hexagonal in shape, but their heads are not rubber coated. Since they are made from a single material, they are cheaper than other dumbbells, making them an affordable option. They can also be found at most sporting goods stores, which is beneficial if you don’t want to order them online and pay expensive shipping.
This type of dumbbell does not roll , which makes it better for exercises on the ground. Cast iron dumbbells are also good for people who are sensitive to materials like vinyl. They do not have ribbed handles, and they can prevent calluses from developing on your hands.
Cast iron dumbbells have a high tendency to rust , and if they have an enamel finish, the coating can chip or wear away with heavy use. They cannot be dropped as there is no rubber to absorb the impact. Many cast iron dumbbells also do not have knurled handles, and the finishes can make them slippery . They are not the best if we sweat a lot.
Also, cast iron dumbbells aren’t usually available in weights over 90 pounds, which may be too light for some people.
Rubber Hex Dumbbells
These have metal handles, which can be straight or contoured, with hexagon-shaped rubber heads. Some hex dumbbells are fully rubberized (including the handle), but not many brands make them this way. They are usually available in weights from 2.5 to 55 kilos, and are usually in increments of 1.5 kilos up to 10 kilos.
The biggest benefit of rubber hex weights is that they don’t roll . The flat edges also allow for exercises like push-ups or row planks, which require you to hold on to the dumbbells while in a plank position or while dropping to the ground.
They are usually quite durable . The thick rubber will not deteriorate easily and only the handles have the potential to rust. And while any dumbbell has the potential to break if dropped from high enough, rubber hex dumbbells are a bit safer because the rubber will absorb some of the impact.
The downside is that at larger weights, the rubber hex dumbbell heads can be very large, meaning they take up a lot of space . With heavier weights, the edges can also be uncomfortable when resting the dumbbells on your thighs before raising them to your shoulders for any type of seated pressing movement.
Just about anyone can use rubber hex dumbbells, but some people who would benefit from them are CrossFitters, anyone who wants to be able to drop their dumbbells carelessly, or those who want dumbbells that gain weight in small increments.
Urethane dumbbells are round dumbbells whose heads are coated with urethane, a durable, shock-absorbing material that is stronger than normal rubber.
The best point of these dumbbells is their durability . We can drop them without worrying about them breaking and they can be stored outdoors because the urethane will not wear away if exposed to sunlight or moisture. Urethane also doesn’t have strong odors like normal rubber dumbbells. And it can withstand harsh disinfectants, a beneficial feature if gym equipment is cleaned regularly.
We can find urethane dumbbells that are available in heavier weights than other dumbbells. Some brands sell urethane dumbbells that weigh up to 220 pounds . Although they cannot be stored flat without rolling, the size of their heads is relatively consistent.
Urethane dumbbells have round heads, which makes them more difficult to store. They can also roll and get in your way during your workout if you leave them on the ground.
Neoprene dumbbells have a cast iron core and a neoprene cover, usually found in bright colors. They are only available in light weights and are used in group class settings or for HIIT workouts.
They are comfortable to hold and we can usually hold them for long periods of time before the grip begins to fatigue. The neoprene coating also means that the cast iron is not exposed to moisture, which prevents rust .
Also, most neoprene dumbbells are hexagonal in shape, so they won’t roll when stored on a flat rack or left on the floor.
Although we will see sites where they say that you can drop neoprene dumbbells, that is not always true. If you drop them on a soft surface from a short distance, they’ll probably be fine. But neoprene alone is not enough to protect dumbbells from damage if they are dropped from great heights onto hard surfaces.
These are just like neoprene dumbbells, except the cast iron core is covered in a sticky, shiny vinyl material. They also come in bright colors and are hexagonal in shape, although they are not considered true hex dumbbells.
Due to the hexagonal shape, vinyl dumbbells do not roll . Vinyl helps protect floors from scuffs and scratches, and doesn’t take up a lot of space, making it easier to store. Vinyl material is easy to clean, so if we have a small gym, we can quickly disinfect it between classes.
Vinyl dumbbells also inherently have a non-slip grip texture, allowing you to maintain your grip even when your hands are sweaty.
Unfortunately, they are not available in weights above 10 kilos, which is inconvenient for serious lifters. Vinyl can also crack or tear easily, and you may need to replace it frequently. Just like neoprene dumbbells, vinyl dumbbells cannot be dropped.
Chrome cufflinks are not very popular, but they are a good option for certain groups of people. They are made entirely of chrome and have a bright finish. Above all, chrome cufflinks are very attractive. Their shine gives them a sleek look, which is good for people who want their workout space to look sophisticated.
Chrome dumbbells typically don’t weigh more than 55 pounds and aren’t very durable . They cannot be dropped and are prone to rust. They have round heads, which makes them difficult to exercise on the ground. They also don’t cost much less than any other type of dumbbell, so they’re not worth it unless you really like the way they look.
They are not recommended for bodybuilders, powerlifters, CrossFitters, or anyone who generally puts their dumbbells through a lot of pounding. These groups of people will also feel limited in their training by light weights.
Adjustable dumbbells are space-saving solutions that give us access to multiple weights in a single pair of dumbbells.
Loadable weights are like mini barbells. The handles and plates are separate, and we’ll load dumbbells with plates the same way we would a barbell. Some dumbbell handles have smooth sleeves with which we can use snap-lock or spring-lock collars to secure the plates. Others have threaded sleeves that require a star lock collar that basically screws into the sleeves to hold the plates in place.
They are usually sold separately, and although it is annoying to have to pay for them separately, this means that loadable dumbbells have lower initial costs than other adjustable dumbbells.
The bad thing is that they take a long time to adjust, especially if we use ones with star lock collars. And they can’t be dropped, as it can cause necklaces to come off or plates to crack. Some loadable dumbbells also have long handles to accommodate multiple plates. This makes it possible for us to load them with a lot of weight, but it makes the dumbbells cumbersome to handle.
Adjustable dumbbells with dial
Dial-adjustable weights have dials that rotate and lock to the selected weight. They are usually round or slightly hexagonal in shape, but can be large and cumbersome with heavier weights. They are usually adjustable up to 45 kilos. As with any adjustable dumbbell, dial dumbbells give you access to multiple weight options with just one set of dumbbells. Adjusting them is quick and easy, as we only need to turn a dial to get the weight we want.
These types of dumbbells cannot be dropped. They have gears and small parts that can break on landing, rendering them useless. Depending on the brand, we may only be able to increase weights in 5-pound increments, which can be inconvenient for anyone who has trouble adding that amount to certain lifts.