are dumbbells worth it?

Are Dumbbells Worth It? What You Need To Know As A Skinny Guy Working Out At Home

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Are you teetering on the verge of buying a set of dumbbells? If so, then you should keep reading. Because today, I will be providing a definitive answer to the question, “are dumbbells worth it?”

Dumbbells are worth their cost if you are committed to a long-term training plan. You will save both time and money from training at home with dumbbells, compared to buying a barbell or paying for gym membership. Additionally, dumbbells are versatile and allow you to train the entire body.

I have been on the verge of buying my own set of dumbbells for over year now (since the pandemic lockdowns began!).

And I understand your temptations and hesitations!

So this is why I want to share my own research and weight lifting experience to help you make your own decision!

Ready?

Then let’s dive right in!

How Much Do Dumbbells Cost?

Let’s begin by addressing the main question. Are dumbbells worth it?

In my opinion- yes they are.

To understand why dumbbells are worth their money, you need to know what the different types of dumbbells are, and how much they cost.

This will allow you to determine which type of dumbbell is right for you. And if it is worth buying dumbbells at all.

Dumbbells cost between $80.00 to $960.00 or more, depending on the type of dumbbell you choose to buy. The price variations are due to differences in brand, functionality, durability, weight, and practical use. You should determine if a dumbbell will fulfil your needs when considering which dumbbell to buy.

Here are the 4 types of dumbbells available:

Read my other article to find out if dumbbell training is suitable for you!

1. Fixed Dumbbells Cost Up To $674.00+.

fixed dumbbell sets can be expensive

Fixed dumbbells are ones where the weight cannot be changed, and will cost up to $674.00 for a set. The weight itself is set into one solid unit, and you will need to change dumbbells if you need to adjust the weight. This characteristic of fixed dumbbells come with their own pro’s and con’s.

Pro’sCon’s
Simple And Effective.Take Up A Lot Of Space.
Durable design.Dumbbell Sets Are Expensive.
Weight Loads Of 50kg+
Pro’s and con’s for fixed weight dumbbells

Pro’s of fixed dumbbells:

  • Simple and effective- dumbbells in general are simple, yet versatile pieces of equipment. They can be used to perform whole-body workouts, compound exercises, and isolation exercises (more on this later!)
  • Durable- fixed dumbbells are made from a solid mould and are always going to be more resistant to knocks and bumps, when compared to dumbbells with moving parts.
  • 50kg+ weight loads- fixed dumbbells can be as light as 2kg, and as heavy as 50kg. This makes them suitable for all fitness levels.

Con’s of fixed dumbbells:

  • Take up space- since each dumbbell is a stand-alone weight, you will need to buy a range of individual dumbbells to create a range of weights. This also means they will take up a lot of space! A rack of dumbbells ranging from 2.5 to 25kg will take up approximately 12 square foot of floor space!
  • Expensive- single light weight dumbbells (2 to 10kg) are cheap. But if you are serious about working out, you will need to buy a complete set of fixed dumbbells at higher weights. A 2.5kg to 25kg set will cost around $600.00 or more!

2. Adjustable Plate Dumbbells Cost Around $140.00.

adjustable plate dumbbells are the cheapest

Adjustable plate dumbbells are ones where the weight can be adjusted by adding/removing weight plates, and will cost around $140.00 depending on brand and model. The bar itself is threaded on either end, and this allows spin-locks to secure the weight plates.

Pro’sCon’s
Space-Efficient.Inconvenient To Use.
Cheapest Of All Dumbbells.Weight Load Limited To 25kg.
Option For Barbell Connectivity.
Durable.
Pro’s and con’s for adjustable plate dumbbells

Pro’s of adjustable plate dumbbells:

  • Space-efficient- each dumbbell bar measures around a foot, and the weight plates reach around 150mm (they are also stackable). This makes them extremely space-efficient.
  • Cheapest of all the dumbbells- plate dumbbells are by far the cheapest dumbbell alternative you can get. A good-quality adjustable dumbbell costs around $140.00, but budget options can be as cheap as $50.00 a set (depending on the brand you choose).
  • Option for barbell connectivity- modern bars come with threads and holes which allow you to join multiple bars to form a barbell. This function offers new capabilities for your dumbbells.

Con’s adjustable plate dumbbells:

  • Inconvenient- each time you want to adjust the weight, you will have to unscrew the spin-lock, change the plates, and re-screw the spin-lock. This will increase the duration of your workouts (and not in a beneficial way!).
  • Weight limited to 25kg- these types of dumbbells are usually capped to around 25kg per dumbbell. And that’s for the premium models. From my experience, most are usually capped at 15-20kg. This doesn’t offer much room for progression.

3. Adjustable Selector Dumbbells Cost Between $300-960.00.

What’s the BEST ADJUSTABLE DUMBBELL?

Adjustable selector dumbbells come as a single unit, and will cost between $300 to $960.00 depending on brand and model. Each unit has a selector mechanism (a pin or dial) which allows convenient adjustment of weight with a single click. The chosen weight detaches, leaving the remaining weight detached.

Pro’sCon’s
Space-Efficient.Most Expensive Dumbbell.
Comfortable Grip.Moving Parts Are Less Durable.
Convenient.
Weight Loads Of 25-45kg Per Dumbbell.
Pro’s and con’s for selectorized adjustable dumbbells

Pro’s of adjustable selector dumbbells:

  • Space-efficient- these are one of the most space-efficient dumbbells you can buy. The premium models can be a hefty 45kg per dumbbell. And all that weight is contained within a single cubic foot unit!
  • Comfortable grip- most models have a grip which is rubber, urethane, or a similar composite material. These materials offer superior comfort when gripped, unlike metal bars which can have abrasive knurling (etching).
  • Convenient- all you have to do is use the selector mechanism (usually a dial) to adjust the weight. This will significantly reduce your workout times since you wont be changing weight plates after every exercise!
  • Up to 45kg weight load- a single unit will allow weight loads to be switched from little as 1kg, all the way to 45kg per dumbbell. That’s no meagre weight! And if your goal is to build muscle, 45kg per dumbbell will last most people a good majority of their lifting career.

Con’s of adjustable selector dumbbells:

  • Most expensive dumbbell- the high functionality and convenience also comes with a high cost. If you are on a budget, you can get a set for around $300.00. But the build quality, functionality, and warranty will be significantly reduced.
  • Durability issues- these dumbbells come with moving parts, and the selector mechanism in particular is susceptible to durability issues. You will have to be careful if you want to preserve the lifetime of these dumbbells!

4. Olympic Dumbbell Handles Cost Around $80.00.

olympic dumbbell handles are cheap but you will need to buy separate weight plates

Olympic dumbbell handles are dumbbell bars designed to be loaded with barbell bumper plates. They will cost around $80.00 for a pair of handles. But you will also have to purchase additiona; bumper plates which will cost around $10.00 per kg of weight.

Pro’sCon’s
Cost-Effective If You Already Have Weight Plates.Expensive If You Don’t Already Have Weight Plates.
Sturdy.Awkward To Use.
Flexible Progression.
Weight Loads Of Up To 75kg Per Dumbbell.
Pro’s and con’s for olympic dumbbell bars

Pro’s:

  • Cost-effective if you already have weight plates- if you already have barbell bumper plates with a 2″ hole, you can use them with olympic dumbbell handles. This means you don’t have to buy more bumper plates.
  • Sturdy- olympic dumbbell handles are made from durable steel. They will last a lifetime if you don’t run them over with a lorry!
  • Flexible progression- bumper plates can be as low as 1kg per plate or as high as 25kg per plate. There are also plates in between, at 2.5kg, 5kg, 10kg, 15kg, and 20kg. This allows you to combine plates to make your desired weight.
  • Weight loads of up to 75kg per dumbbell- this is enough to last 99% of people 99% of their lifting lifetime!

Con’s:

  • Expensive if you don’t already have plates- plates can cost around $10.00 per kg. This means you will have to spend another $250 to for a 25kg range of plates for each dumbbell. That’s a total of $500! You may as well buy an adjustable selector dumbbell (which can weigh up to 45kg+)!
  • Awkward to use- bumper plates tend to have a larger diameter than traditional dumbbell plates. This can make them awkward to use for beginners.

Do Dumbbells Come With Warranties?

Most dumbbells come with a warranty which can last anywhere between 30 days to 5 years. The exact warranty duration will depend on manufacturer and model. And warranties generally do not cover damage as a result of misuse, abuse, or accidents.

Dumbbells are sturdy pieces of equipment. And most will last you a lifetime (assuming you look after them!).

However, you should be more weary of manufacturer warranties if you are interested in buying adjustable selector dumbbells.

This is because they adjustable selector dumbbells have a more intricate design, with moving parts which can be susceptible to damage.

Check out my chart below for a better idea of the warranty periods offered by some of the most popular adjustable selector dumbbell manufacturers!

bar chart showing warranty periods for powerblock, core fitness, bowflex, activafit, and proform.

If you are considering buying an adjustable dumbbell, you should shop around and try to find a brand which provides a warranty period of over 2 years.

In the long-run, this will make your dumbbell investment worth more!

What Can You Do With Dumbbells?

All dumbbells are extremely versatile pieces of gym equipment, allowing you to do a variety of pushing and pulling exercises that engage the arm, chest, shoulder, core, back, and leg muscles. Therefore, dumbbells are cost-effective for the variety of exercises they allow you to perform.

Here is an example of exercises which you can perform at home, using a pair of dumbbells:

Dumbbell ExerciseExercise TypeMuscles Worked
Bench Press.CompoundChest And Shoulders.
Dumbbell Fly.Isolation.Chest.
Skull Crushers.Compound.Chest And Arms.
Overhead Press.Compound.Shoulders And Arms.
Lateral RaiseIsolation.Shoulders.
Front Raise.Isolation.Shoulders.
Upright Row.Compound.Shoulders And Back.
Bicep Curl.Isolation.Arms.
Reverse Curl.Isolation.Arms.
Tricep Extension.IsolationArms.
Tricep Kickbacks.Isolation.Arms
Bent-Over Row.Compound.Back And Arms.
Reverse Fly.Isolation.Back.
One-Arm Row.Compound.Back.
Dead Lift.Compound.Legs And Back.
Goblet Squat.Compound.Legs.
Lunges.Compound.Legs.
Bulgarian Split Squats.Compound.Legs.
Weighted Crunch.Isolation.Core.
Side-Bends.Isolation.Core.
Leg Raises.Isolation.Core.
Dumbbell exercises to build muscle

And here is what an example full-body dumbbell workout could look like:

20 MINUTE FULL BODY WORKOUT (DUMBBELLS ONLY)

So as you can see, a pair of dumbbells is all you really need to get a full body workout!

In this sense, dumbbells are worth the money you spend!

Are Dumbbells Worth The Money Compared To Barbells?

are dumbbells worth it compared to barbells?

As you can see, dumbbells can be affordable (depending on which ones you choose) and they will also help you achieve your training goals.

Now let’s compare dumbbells with the other popular form of home free-weight. The barbell.

Dumbbells and barbells are both free weights, and they will both allow you to perform a similar variety of exercises. The main differences between the two are their cost per kg, maximum weight loadable, weight increments, and the range of movement.

Let me go into more detail.

Check out my other article learn more about the pro’s of barbell training!

Dumbbell Price (Per Kg Of Weight) Vs Barbells

Depending on which dumbbell you choose, the price can be as low as $2.80 per kg and as high as $8.40 per kg.

In comparison, a barbell set (including weight plates) can be found for around $4.08 per kg.

EquipmentPrice Per SetCost Per Kg
20kg Barbell + 80Kg Weight Plates.$408.00$4.08
2x 2.5kg to 25kg Fixed Dumbbell Set. $674.00$6.74
2 x 25kg Adjustable Selector Dumbbell.$420.00$8.40
2x 25kg Adjustable Plate Dumbbell.$140.00$2.80
Cost of dumbbells compared to barbells. Representative prices researched from repfitness.com and amazon.com

Therefore dumbbells are generally more expensive than barbells. The exception would be the adjustable plate dumbbells, which are generally the cheapest form of free weight you can get (assuming you want a weight range up to 25kg).

So why not buy a barbell instead?

You could- but don’t forget that barbell training needs to be done with a bench and rack! And this will add a significant amount to the costs (around $300.00 more).

Additionally, a bench and rack will also require about 42 square foot of space to setup.

So unless you have the space and money for a barbell setup, you are better off sticking to the dumbbells!

Check out my other article to learn more about setting up a home gym!

Dumbbell Maximum Weight-Load Vs Barbells.

The majority of commercial dumbbells have a maximum weight capacity of around 45kg per dumbbell (90kg total). Of course, olympic dumbbells can go even higher (as described previously).

In comparison, an olympic-sized barbell can hold up to 250kg of weight!

bar chart to show weight capacity of dumbbells compared to barbells

Since dumbbells have a limited weight capacity, you will also be limited in long-term strength progression.

To put it simply- you will hit a strength plateau once you reach the 90kg mark (2 x 45kg dumbbells).

In comparison, a barbell will allow you to keep progressing to 250kg.

That being said, 90kg per dumbbell is not a light weight. And you will likely require years of training to able to lift this amount (depending on exercise performed).

So if you are a beginner lifter, dumbbells will be more than adequate for your long-term needs! And this makes dumbbells worth their money when compared to barbells.

Dumbbell Vs Barbell Training.

Aside from price, there are also practical training reasons why you would want to choose a dumbbell over a barbell.

diagram to show range of motion of dumbbells compared to barbells.

First of all, dumbbells are the more beginner-friendly method of weight lifting.

This is due to the natural range of movement they provide. Unlike a barbell which physically fixes both hands with a bar, dumbbells work independently from each other.

As a result, your arms are free to move along their natural range of motion. And this will be particularly beneficial for beginners and those with inflexible shoulder joints.

bar chart to show muscle activation of dumbbells compared to barbells.

Secondly, a 2016 study has shown that dumbbell exercises lead to a higher degree of muscle activation, when compared to the same barbell variation.

Muscle activation is an important factor to consider, since a higher degree of muscle activation will help you more quickly achieve your training goal.

So if you want a beginner friendly and effective way to workout at home, dumbbells are your friend!

Final Verdict:

There’s no doubt about it- if you are looking for an effective and efficient way to perform free weight training at home, dumbbells are definitely worth it.

To sum up why- dumbbells are:

  • Space-efficient.
  • Cheaper than a a full blown barbell/rack/bench setup.
  • Offer long-term progression for most beginners.
  • Provide a beginner-friendly range of motion.
  • Effective muscle activation.

If you are a beginner, a pair of 25kg adjustable dumbbells will be more than enough for you to see short term muscle gains, tone up, and build an overall better physique.

If you are an intermediate lifter, then you may want to invest more for a pair 45kg dumbbells. And this will ensure you have room for progression (it will be a long time before you are even approaching lifting 45kg both hands for most exercises!).

Either way, dumbbells are worth your money, when compared to a barbell.

If however, you are an advanced lifter looking to make further muscle gains, a barbell setup may be more suitable.

Read my other article for more weight training tips!

Are Dumbbells Worth The Money Compared To Gym Membership?

are dumbbells worth it compared to commercial gyms?

Now let’s compare dumbbells with the cost of getting gym membership. Are dumbbells more cheaper than gym membership?

Dumbbells are a more cost-effective way to workout compared to gym membership. Where gym membership averages approximately $480 per year, a set of high quality dumbbells will cost between $100 to $700. This means you will return your money within 1.5 years of saved gym costs.

Now, let’s examine the numbers.

Dumbbell 5 Year Cost Vs Gym Membership.

Although the initial cost of dumbbells may seem expensive, they are relatively cheap when compared to gym membership fees.

Take a look at the table below for the math.

Home DumbbellsBudget GymPremium Gym
Average Initial Cost$100-700$396 + $33 enrolment$562 + $23 enrolment
Average Annual Cost$0$396$562
5 Year Cumulative Cost$100-700$2013$2833
Cost of home dumbbells compared to gym membership. Prices are in US$.

Let’s assume a whopping price of $700 for a set of the nicest dumbbells on the market.

At this price, you can get pair of adjustable selector dumbbells with around 50kg per dumbbell. And this will last you a good few years of training (if not for the entirety of your training journey).

Even at this premium price, you will still make your money back in under 2 years from the money you save from not having to pay for gym membership!

And the best thing?

You get to keep your dumbbels at the end of this period!

Carry on using them or sell them.

The choice is yours!

But I’m sure you’ll agree that the pricey dumbbell was worth it in the end!

Dumbbell Vs Gym Membership Pro’s And Con’s

Great! So dumbbells trump gym membership in terms of ongoing costs. But what are the pro’s and con’s of choosing dumbbell home workouts vs the going to the gym?

Advantages Of Dumbbell Home WorkoutsDisadvantages Of Dumbbell Home Workouts
No need to commute for your workout.High upfront cost.
Build lifting confidence at home.Lack of workout atmosphere.
Workouts can be performed 24/7.Home distractions can interfere with training.
More hygienic.Lack of climate control.
Don’t need to share or wait for equipment.Training restricted to dumbbells.
Pro’s and con’s for home dumbbells compared to gym membership

All in all, if you have the money, and you are sure you can maintain the discipline required to workout at home, getting a set of dumbbells will be well worth the money.

Not only will you save money in the long-term, but you will also be able to avoid all the drawbacks from going to the local gym (sweaty equipment, busy peak hours, requirement to travel, to name a few!)

Final Verdict:

If you are 100% committed to your training, then getting a set of dumbbells will be well worth the upfront cost you pay.

If this sounds like you, then I would also recommend you to spend a little bit extra, and get a set which has a higher weight capacity. This will future-proof your home workouts.

If however, you are not 100% sure that you will be consistently training in the mid to long-term (i.e. more than 1 year), then dumbbells may not be worth your money.

If this sounds like you, then you may as well use the gym, test the waters a bit, and then make a more informed decision!

Conclusion

Finito!

Today, I have provided clarity to the question: “are dumbbells worth it?”.

Dumbbells can be budget-friendly or they can cost a lot. Which one you should buy will depend on your short/mid/long-term needs.

But all in all, dumbbells are versatile and they will all allow you to work all your muscles at home.

For the majority of people who are committed to a long-term training programme, dumbbells will save you a lot of time and money (compared to buying a barbell setup or using the local gym). So in this sense, your new dumbbells will be well worth the money!

However, if you are still on fence regarding your training commitment, dumbbells may not be worth the money paid. I would recommend you go to the gym instead!

Will you be buying a set of dumbbells? If so, what type of dumbbell?

Let me know in the comments below! I am looking to buy a pair of adjustable selector dumbbells myself! And it would be awesome to share views!

Alternatively, signup to the Kalibre Newsletter for weekly posts!

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Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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