The Best Types of Dumbbells – A Buying Guide

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Nearly all the fixed-weight dumbbell styles we currently sell are listed below. 

Also see our article: The Best Adjustable Dumbbells

Hopefully this will give you a better idea of the differences between these and what might be best for you. Feel free to contact us for quicker advice!

Model Handle Type Head Shape Finish Durability Max Size Price per Pound
Hex Straight 6 Sided Baked Resin ** 100 lb $1.21
York Roundhead Straight Round Powder Coat **** 150 lb $1.44
York Contoured Hex Contoured Hex Baked Resin ** 100 lb $1.29
York Rubber Contoured 6 Sided Rubber *** 125 lb $2.03
Troy Premium Rubber Straight 8 Sided Rubber **** 125 lb $2.51
Troy VTX Urethane Straight Round Urethane ***** 125 lb $1.98 ♦
Troy Urethane Straight 12 Sided Urethane ***** 150 lb $3.52 ♦
Troy Pro-Style Either Round Baked Resin *** 150 lb Varies

♦ Price per pound of the largest size. The smaller sizes of the urethane are more expensive per pound, as described further below.

Not included in this list are our neoprene dumbbells, which are for aerobic or other light weight workouts and only go up to 15 lbs.

Dumbbell Style Details

Hex DumbbellHex

Our basic economy dumbbells. We sell tons of these. The heads have 6 sides to prevent them from rolling around the gym and rolling out of place on the rack. They have a baked finish on both the heads and handles, so they aren’t the prettiest in the world but they get the job done.


York Contoured HexContoured Hex Dumbbells

 

Like hex dumbbells, but with 3 important differences.

  1. The handle is contoured to be thicker in the middle for a more ergonomic grip. Some people like it, some don’t. To give you an idea of the size of the handle, the center is thicker than a straight handle, while the tapered edges are about the same diameter as a straight handle.
  2. On these York dumbbells the steel ends of the handle are pressed into a fishtail, inserted into the heads, and then molten iron is poured into the vacant space around the tails. When it cools, this creates a very secure dumbbell that doesn’t loosen from use over time. They also do this with their rubber hex dumbbells, below.
  3. The corners are all rounded. This is a big deal when you’re resting heavy dumbbells on your thighs at the start and end of a set of presses. The corners can dig into your thighs and make things more uncomfortable than it needs to be when you’re already pushing yourself as hard as you can to do the heavy set. A little bit of comfort from the rounded edges makes a difference. This is the main reason people go with rounded head dumbbells, but at least rounded edges are a compromise, and they can even be better because they stop the dumbbells from rolling.

York Roundheadroundhead powder coated dumbbells

York’s classic dumbbells with a cult following. York made a version of these decades ago, and these have a nice powder-coated finish all over the entire dumbbell for superb durability and a good feel. I personally love the feel of powder coating on dumbbells and kettlebells. The slightly bumpy surface gives it that rough but consistent texture that can slide in your hands a little, but not too much, and with no burrs that you have to sand down. 

One unique thing about these is they have a small flat part on the otherwise round heads to keep them from rolling. So you could use them on a flat rack rather than a saddle rack, if you’re careful to always direct the flat edges down. It’s generally already going to be pointed down because you aren’t rotating the dumbbell much in your hand during use.


York Rubberrubber dumbbells

Not everyone prefers contoured handles, but if you do, these are for you. Rubber coated heads and chrome plated handles means these last a long time. The rubber does a lot to prevent damage to your dumbbells, equipment or floor if you drop them. This makes them ideal for WODs where you need to drop the dumbbells quickly and move on to the next exercise, and a lot of Crossfit boxes get rubber dumbbells for this reason.

A bonus is the sizes under 50 lbs are made in 2.5lb increments instead of just 5lb. Other than that detail, there are tons of rubber dumbbells out there that look nearly identical to these. Remember you can’t use things like PlateMates to add small weight increments on these because of the rubber surface, so the 2.5lb increments are pretty handy if you can afford all the extra dumbbells.

Here’s a video with the kilogram version of these dumbbells. The ones we have are in pounds:


Troy Premium Rubberrubber dumbbells

A step up from York’s. The 8 sided heads are significantly smoother than 6-sided, making these more comfortable to work with. The rubber will last longer than the recycled rubber used in York’s. And there is significantly less odor in this type of rubber, or none at all. Recycled rubber like on York’s dumbbells above has to off-gas for a little while. These won’t have that issue, but even good rubber like this can have a slight odor if you pay attention, like a new car smell. If you’re extremely sensitive to odors, you might consider urethane dumbbells.

Troy also makes some rubber dumbbells that look like York’s above, but they’re a little more expensive than York’s, so I usually sell the York ones to customers unless they’re getting a lot of other Troy equipment and the numbers make sense with combining the shipping costs to ship everything from Troy.


urethane dumbbellsTroy Urethane

Urethane is better than rubber. It’s abrasion resistant, sunlight (heat) resistant, has no odor at all, and will easily outlive you without degrading. Rubber exposed to the hot sun will expand as it heats, and repeated exposure can cause the rubber to start cracking from all the expansion and contraction, so if you’re going to be dealing with sun exposure, urethane is a much better choice.

The 12 sided heads mean it’s even more comfortable to use (less poking your body with the corners), but without the rolling problem of pure roundhead dumbbells.

Troy guarantees the weight to be accurate within plus or minus 2% of the marked weight. That’s pretty much as good as you can get in the entire industry for dumbbells. 


VTX UrethaneTroy VTX Urethane

 

The same urethane coating as Troy’s premium urethane dumbbells above. The difference is the round heads. And like all their VTX weights, they’re guaranteed within 4% accuracy.

The round heads are preferred by some gyms that want to keep things clean and spaced out with saddle dumbbell racks, with dedicated saddles for each dumbbell, and urethane is the go-to coating nowadays for globo gyms like 24 Hour Fitness. So although the VTX are one step down from the Troy ones above (in this case just because of the wider weight accuracy and not much else) these might actually be better for high-end commercial gyms.


pro style dumbbellsTroy Pro-Style

One of the nice things about these is the heads are all a consistent size on all dumbbells 30 lbs and up. This is because they’re assembled with 10lb and smaller weight plates as the heads. So you get used to working with a certain sized dumbbell for various exercises, and the consistency can make your experience better.

These actually come in a couple styles and colors, with straight or contoured handles, and a rubber coated option. They’re all good. We sell them all. It’s just personal preference. These are the dumbbells you’ll see in a lot of commercial gyms.

Troy bolts the heads on with a torque wrench, so basically they aren’t coming off. No worries about the bolts loosening on these. I’ve had customers who were able to remove the bolts, but usually you’re going to end up stripping it and having to drill the whole thing out and replace the handles and bolts. So consider these non-adjustable. Troy also does make some pro-style dumbbell handles and end caps that you can buy separately if you want to assemble your own.


 

Finishes and Durability

Any kind of painted-on finish is ok for durability. The baked-on finish of our hex dumbbells is pretty good. Long-term it holds up better than rubber, which degrades. A good baked enamel finish lasts many years. It can wear away a little over the years, but nothing severe.

Powder coating, on the other hand, looks like paint but has a bumpy texture that feels great in your hands. It adheres better, and it’s harder. whereas paint can chip off more easily. It’s also more corrosion resistant than regular paint. And if you’re environmentally conscious, the powder coating process produces less waste and pollution, and the waste it does produce isn’t hazardous.

Rubber is pretty good, but the rubber used on dumbbells does not do well under sunlight. It softens and then cracks as it hardens again. If it’s in a commercial facility away from direct sunlight, or with tinted windows, it will do just fine.Rubber also has the advantage of a certain amount of cushion when you drop them, protecting the dumbbells, floors, and any equipment it bounces into. So rubber is good for a while, but eventually even rubber not exposed to sunlight will start to degrade after a few years, particularly recycled rubber. The virgin rubber used in our Troy Premium dumbbells lasts longer.

Urethane is better than rubber, hands down. It has no odor whatsoever, and direct sunlight isn’t a problem. Urethane has all the advantages of rubber as far as dumbbell covering, and it lasts pretty much forever. The only question is whether you can pay for it.

Just to be clear, any kind of rubber or urethane dumbbells are only coated with it. These materials don’t weigh enough to make heavy dumbbells out of. They would have to be twice as wide to get up to weight. So instead they have an iron core with the rubber or urethane coating.

Chrome is pretty good too. It’s a hard chrome plating that doesn’t chip or flake off easily. You pretty much have to leave them outside for the iron underneath to start to corrode, so good chrome dumbbells will last many years. We used to sell these, and we can get them for you without a problem, but we don’t really advertise them currently because we so rarely sell them.


Rack Compatibility

Shelf Dumbbell Rack

dumbbell rack with saddles for round dumbbellsRound-head dumbbells are nice to use, but you kind of want a saddle rack to use them on so they don’t roll around, as shown at left. The rubber coated saddles also reduce noise and improve durability.

You shouldn’t use hex or other multi-sided dumbbells on a saddle rack like this. You’ll cause wear on the dumbbells or saddles with all the corners poking it. You would be better off with a “shelf” style rack as shown at right. The shelf racks can hold round dumbbells too, but they may roll out of place.

We also have a dumbbell rack comparison to make sure you get the right one.

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