There are hundreds of dumbbell designs to choose from. Although they may all seem eerily similar, especially if you’re new to lifting, there are subtle differences that can make everything the difference in your training. Before you order the first piece of iron you find in stock at a sporting goods store, make sure you know what you’re getting before you try to find yourself a barbell for your home gym setup. Weights can also be a bit tricky to figure out, but there are a few basic distinctions you can make when getting your own. Here are the most important things to consider:
Olympic vs. Standard
If you’re used to working out in a commercial gym, you’re probably used to an Olympic barbell. They are about 2.2 meters (about 7 feet) long and weigh 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds). A telling difference between Olympic barbells and “standard” barbells are the sleeves at either end, where you’ll stack the weight plates. Standard dumbbells have 1-inch fixed sleeves, while Olympic dumbbells have 2-inch rotating sleeves. You can opt for a shorter option if you’re looking to save space, but be aware that this won’t put you in the ideal position for many conventional lifts. But for the most utility – for the vast majority of lifters – we recommend a full-size Olympic barbell if you can.
Each dumbbell on this list is made from high tensile steel. The resistance of a bar generally varies between 125,000 psi and 200,000 psi. The higher the number, the more weight a bar can hold. As a general rule, never load more than 350 pounds for low tensile bars. Premium bars typically feature a tensile strength of 175,000 psi or more, with the highest quality (and highest dear) bars reaching over 210,000 psi.
This is the cross hatch or diamond pattern etched into the bar where you will grip the shank. It’s designed to make the bar easier to grip in your hands, but that comes at a cost: the heavier the knurling, in general, the more it can cut your hands too. It may sound simple, but not all knurls are created equal as they can vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer. Ultimately, this is the deciding factor for how comfortable the barbell is in your hands.
We recommend that you delve into honest buyer reviews to get an idea of how aggressive (or not) a bar’s knurling patterns are. Don’t rely on manufacturers who tend to describe all of theirs as “average”. The only way to know for sure is to test the bar yourself, which is why it’s important to find a retailer that not only offers free shipping, but also free. Return too.
As you can see from our roundup, you can spend a small fortune on dumbbells. The good news: Unless you’re opening your own gym, you might only need one barbell in your life. Our recommendation is to aim for a commercial grade bar from a major manufacturer. The cheaper the bar, the more likely the sleeve will shake or roll, and this instability can prevent you from doing the exercises correctly.