Dumbbells and free weights give you the ability to practice what’s called functional movements or functional fitness. Functional fitness simulates and strengthens your body’s ability to perform movements that you perform on a regular basis. A perfect example is the squat .
Every day you squat numerous times. It happens each time you sit down. A weight lifting squat is a functional movement. Machines don’t allow for this. They create isolated movements. The leg press doesn’t really simulate anything that you do in real life.
Free weights and dumbbells provide you with more variety. One dumbbell can be used to perform hundreds of different movements. A weight machine is generally designed to perform one or two movements at best.
Pound for pound dumbbells are the best choice if you want to get the most for your money. A full set of professional gym dumbbells will cost at most around $500, and you can get quality home sets for less than $100.
To stock your home with weight machines that perform the same exercises you’d spend thousands. And a full set of dumbbells only takes up a few square feet. Think about how much space you’d need for all those weight machines.
Dumbbells just make sense and so does strength training. Strength training has been shown to help increase bone density, burn more calories and facilitate fast weight loss, improve endurance and stamina as well. And let’s face it; you look amazing with those toned muscles.
Go to any fitness store online or in person and you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the selection of dumbbells. It’s a simple fitness tool and yet they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and even different systems.
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Adjustable Versus Fixed Weight Dumbbells
There are three basic differences when it comes to dumbbell systems. Let’s start with the easiest first.
The fixed weight dumbbell is a single weight. For example, you might see people doing step aerobics and they’re holding onto small pink weights. Those are fixed weight dumbbells. You cannot change the weight.
The small pink ones are probably three or five pounds. These fixed weight dumbbells can go up to one hundred pounds.
Imagine getting to the point where you can press one hundred pounds in each hand! With a good fitness program and dedication your strength is sure to increase and pressing one hundred pounds isn’t out of the question. But let’s get back to the different systems.
The primary benefit of a fixed weight system is that you don’t have to adjust your weights between exercises. You simply pick up the weight you need to use and you continue. Changing weight on an adjustable or a select-a-size system can take time and interrupt your flow.
It’s also very easy to immediately know how heavy a free weight is. They’re often color-coded or they have the weight printed on the end of the weight. There’s no guesswork. You can immediately identify the weight.
Adjustable dumbbells work very much like an Olympic barbell system.
You have two small dumbbell grips and you can add or reduce the weight by adding plates to each end of the handlebar.
Some adjustable dumbbell sets have become quite sophisticated. You place your handle into the rack, turn a dial to choose your desired weight, and then lift the handle out of the rack.
The plates you need are attached and you can begin your exercise. However, not all systems are this advanced. Some require you to manually change the plates and tighten them down so the plates don’t fall off the bar when you’re lifting it.
Adjustable weights are a nice system if you’re tight on space as they’re much more compact than a free weight system. They usually range from five pounds to fifty pounds and that provides a nice variety. However, if you plan on getting strong enough to lift one hundred pounds in each hand, you may want to consider a free weight system.
Dumbbell Racks and Stands
If you’re looking at free weights, you may want to consider purchasing one that comes with a dumbbell rack or a weight stand. This will help keep your weights off of the floor. Additionally, the rack can help you store your weights in an organized and efficient manner. It keeps them off the floor and out of your way.
If you’ve ever stubbed your toe on a weight, you’ll understand the reason to keep them up off the floor. It’s a good way to break your toe or foot. Not all dumbbells come with stands or racks. And, of course, the weights that do come with a rack cost a bit more. It may be worth the additional price if you value organization and you like to be able to easily find the right weight.
Rubber, Vinyl Coated, or Solid Metal?
As you’re comparing weights you’ll notice that they look different. Some are coated with brightly colored vinyl. Some are rubber and others are solid metal. There are many reasons for the various textures and coatings. Let’s take a quick look at the reasons and the benefits.
Rubber and vinyl Coated Dumbbells are often colored. The color provides a means of easy identification. For example, you know that the pink weights are the five-pound weights and the blue weights are the ten-pound weights. The rubber also protects the weight if you should drop it.
And some people prefer colored weights because they look less industrial. Additionally, vinyl and rubber coatings can make the weights easier to grip. However, if you tend to get sweaty hands, the rubber or vinyl can become impossible to hold onto.
Solid metal weights aren’t color-coded. They are generally black or black with a silver handle. They’re made entirely of metal.
And while you can’t easily identify the weight by color, the weight is usually stamped into the end of the dumbbell so you can immediately see how much the weight is with a glance. And the metal is often much easier to hold onto when your hands get sweaty. Conversely, the metal can also be damaging to your hands, especially if it is textured for better grip.
The Shape and Grip
You might notice that some dumbbells have rounded ends while others are square or hexagonal. The hexagon shape prevents your dumbbell from rolling. If you’ve ever set your weight down on an uneven floor you’ll know that the last thing you want to have to do is chase your weights around the room.
A hexagon prevents this from happening. If you’re going to put the weights right back on the rack between sets, then a rounded end is just fine.
We talked a bit about the grip when we discussed rubber versus metal weights. The grip is important because that’s how you handle your weights. IF the grip hurts your hand then you won’t want to exercise. If it slips out of your hand you might break something.
Best advice…experiment with a few weights in the store. Find the grip that you prefer.
Remember, it’s not just the material the grip is made from but also the circumference. If the grip is too wide for your hand you risk injuring your wrist and/or dropping the weight. Make sure the weight feels comfortable in your hand. We’ll talk a bit about weight lifting gloves in just a bit because they can help you increase your hand comfort.
Tips for Buying the Dumbbell Setup That’s Perfect for You
As you might have noticed by now, there are many different types of dumbbells. It may seem a little silly to have so much variety for such a simple device; however the variances are to your benefit. When you find the dumbbell setup that’s right for you, you’ll use them more often and you’ll be happier with your purchase.
1. How Much Weight Is Enough?
The first consideration is to decide how much weight you actually need. For example, if you’re going to use the dumbbells to increase arm strength and you’re a slight person then you probably don’t need forty-pound dumbbells. You might start with a set of three or five-pound dumbbells and that will be sufficient for quite some time.
On the other hand, if you’re using your dumbbells for a full body workout, then the heavier weights will be required for lower bodywork. For example, even a slight person can squat holding two twenty, thirty, or even forty-pound dumbbells in each hand.
There’s a simple process you can use to determine how much weight your dumbbells should be.
How are you going to use your dumbbells? Are you going to use them for upper body strength? For an isolated movement, like a curl? Or for whole body strength?
What’s your present weight limit? For example, if you’re only going to use dumbbells for curls, then what’s the maximum weight you can curl right now? If you’re going to use your dumbbells for full body workouts, what’s the most you can squat right now? What can you deadlift? These are likely the two heaviest lifts a body can do.
Take it at least one level higher. Once you’ve determined your maximum weight, purchase at least one level higher than that maximum. For example, if you discovered that you can only curl 20 pounds, then you’d want to purchase dumbbells that go up to at least thirty pounds.
Why buy more than you can lift? Because you’re going to get stronger! Soon enough you’ll be curling thirty pounds and you’ll have to purchase more weight.
2. How Much Space Do You Have?
The next consideration is space. Some dumbbell kits, like the adjustable weights, take up very little space. You have one handle for each hand and you simply add weight. Now, if you’re purchasing individual fixed weights, your weight rack can be quite bulky.
If you have space, say in a garage, basement, or home gym, then this may be your preferred setup. You can move through a workout quickly without having to add or remove weight each time you transition to a different movement. However, if space is a consideration, for example your weights will be stored in your living room, an adjustable setup may be ideal.
3. Barbells, Kettlebells and Other Considerations
Dumbbells aren’t the only consideration. Depending on your goals and your fitness program, you may want to add barbells and Kettlebells.
A barbell is one long bar that you pick up with both hands. For example, if you’re doing a deadlift, you may prefer a barbell to two dumbbells. It can handle more weight, which is beneficial as you get stronger.
Additionally, it can be a safer device for some exercises. For example, if you’re doing a bench press with two dumbbells, you have two points of failure – each arm. And inevitably one arm will be stronger. If you use a barbell, then the stronger arm can compensate a bit for the weaker one and you may be able to lift more.
Barbells are bulky, though. There’s no getting around that. They are only for people who have space to store a bar and weight plates.
Kettlebells are rounded weights that have handles on them. They’re excellent for improving core strength. There are also a variety of movements that you can perform much more easily with a Kettlebell than you can with a dumb bell. The Kettlebell swing is a movement that strengthens your hip flexors, your lower abdominals, your shoulders, and your gluteus muscles as well as your hamstrings.
It’s difficult to replicate the Kettlebell swing with dumbbells. Like fixed weight dumb bells, Kettlebells come in specific weights. They start small at around five pounds and increase to around one hundred pounds. They’re often measured in kilograms or pood, which is an old school Russian measurement. One pood is approximately 16.38 kilograms or 36.11 pounds.
Finally, when you’re purchasing your dumbbell set up, don’t forget the essential accessories that will make your workout much more pleasant. Some essentials include:
Gloves – it’s not uncommon for hands to get blisters and calluses from lifting weights. And depending on the weights you purchase, the grip may be textured to make it easier to hold onto. However, this texture can tear up your hands.
You can purchase chalk to make it easier on your hands. A less messy and ultimately less expensive approach is to purchase a pair of weight lifting gloves. They’re generally fingerless gloves with a bit of padding where the weights will rub. They should be lightweight and breathable so your hands don’t sweat too much.
Mat – Have you ever dropped a weight on the floor? It’s not pretty. The room will shake. And if you have wooden, tile, or cement floors you’re bound to see a dent or mark on the floor.
Carpeting can help hide any damage. However, a better choice is to purchase a mat. There are many exercise mats to choose from.
Look for mats that are designed for weight lifting and can withstand the impact of a free weight or dumbbell being dropped. You can find a four by six foot mat at many fitness stores. Your mat should be made from thick, dense rubber and be at least a half an inch thick. The thicker the better if you’re trying to protect your floors and dampen any sound made by a dropped weight.
Bench – Finally, a bench can be quite helpful for a number of exercises. For example, a bench press requires you to place your back on the bench. Your legs are on the floor, positioned on either side of the bench. Your hands each hold a weight and are positioned on your chest about shoulder height.
You push the weights straight up, keeping them at about shoulder level and then lower them back to your body. This movement is impossible without a bench. A bench can also be used for shoulder press, bicep curl and many other exercises.
Finally, price is always a consideration. The truth of the matter is that you can find a good set of dumbbells at just about any price range. And dumbbells are always a good investment. They don’t break or wear down. You’ll never need to replace parts or take them in for repair.
My best advice to you…find the dumbbells that fit your needs and let price be your last consideration. When you buy a set that fits your needs, you’ll earn back your investment tenfold in better health, fitness, and confidence.