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I've been testing out dumbbells for a decade. Here are my top 11 picks for your home gym

Plus: Why strength training is actually worth it and tips on where to start.
Woman holding weights while balancing on a exercise ball
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For better or worse, the pandemic changed the way we exercise. As gyms closed, the majority of us had to find new and creative ways to push, pull and sweat from our own living rooms.

The good news? There have never been better and more convenient options for getting in a great workout at home or on the road. For context, thanks to fitness manufacturers creating more space-saving strength-training options, home gym equipment sales became a $5 billion industry in 2022.

The bad news (at least for some): There are no more excuses for not including regular exercise — like strength training — to your overall practice of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

With the right equipment, your home gym can have you training as if you’re at a high-end fitness facility — without the monthly dues. With just one weight, a pair of dumbbells or an alternative piece of training equipment, you can tone your biceps, tighten your glutes and more by way of your own at-home cardio and conditioning workout.

But where to start? There are a lot of options on the market — some inexpensive, others not so much. To help, I break down what you should look for when buying weights and used my background in fitness to come up with the 11 best dumbbells and weight alternatives that will give you the most value for your home workout.

Keep scrolling or use the links below to jump to a specific category.

What to look for | How we chose | Best beginner & intermediate weights | Best advanced weights | Best alternatives to weights | Strength training FAQs | Why should I strength train? | Where do I start? | Do I need racks for my hand weights?

What to look for when choosing weights for your home gym

Your health may be the greatest investment you make, so getting a piece of equipment that you may quickly outgrow or tire of is a risky venture.

But you probably won’t have to break the bank at first — for instance, a few sets of small weights run about $45. However, once you outgrow those models (and for most of us, that won’t take long), investing in a quality set of equipment will keep you engaged longer — and will last a lot longer, as well.

But how do you know what you should be looking for? Start with the following:

  1. Space. Are you building a home gym in your garage? Or, are you relying on a few things that you pull out then return to your closet at the end of each workout? Although having rack full of dumbbells or kettlebells looks awfully nice, sometimes efficiency works best in a limited space. Know your area before you make a decision on which equipment to purchase.
  2. Purpose or skill level. What are you goals? Are you looking to continue setting PRs (personal records) with increasingly heavier weights, or are you using them as a supplementary lift for Peloton sessions in your living room? Both workouts are fine; however, select the equipment you think you’ll get the most use from over the long run.
  3. Price. Again, it’s not essential to take out a small loan for your gym, but you do get what you pay for. While some sets of dumbbells may go for as much as $800 (and oftentimes more), think of fitness as an overall lifestyle and not an overnight fad. Equipment should be an investment and, for the most part, should last many years.
Woman holding weights
Are you looking to set personal records with increasingly heavier weights, or are you using them to supplement a Peloton session in your living room? Both uses are fine, but select the equipment you think you’ll get the most use from in the long run.Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

How we chose the best weights and weight sets

Today there are more brands offering more products than ever. By the time you finish reading this article, a new company will launch a new model, so it’s good to always to do your research. This guide is a great place to start.

While this list is far from comprehensive, your home gym will get an instant upgrade with the addition of any of these recommendations. With more than a decade’s worth of experience as a fitness writer, I’ve been able to test most items from nearly every top brand, as well as some lesser-known, on-the-rise brands.

At the same time, I’ve been able to pick the brains of some of the industry's finest muscle minds to get their unbiased take on which pieces are worth it — and which are worth skipping. I also suggest checking out customer reviews, another good research tool to give products a second look.

Best dumbbells and weights for beginners

SPRI Vinyl-Coated Dumbbells

Type: Vinyl-coated dumbbells | Shape: Hexagonal, ‎about 8 x 7 x 4 inches each | Weight Range: 1 to 20 pounds/dumbbell | Price Range: $8.99 to $76.80, on Amazon

Kickstart your fitness journey with this affordable choice. The no-slip vinyl cover feels comfortable and sturdy in your hands during your workouts. The best part? The dumbbells are available in every weight increment from one pound to 20 pounds, making them perfect for every fitness level.

RAVE REVIEW: " I am severely deconditioned, so I bought these weights thus far in 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 pounds. ... They are sturdy, attractive and easy to grip. They are lined up in the corner of my bedroom, always ready to go. The best part is that when I am ready to level up in an exercise, I can increase by just 1 pound. They have really helped me with my efforts at clawing myself back up the fitness ladder." — Amazon reviewer

REP Hex Dumbbells

Type: Dumbbells | Shape: Hexagonal, 5.2 inches in length, 28 mm - 34 mm in diameter (each) | Weight Range: 2.5 to 100 pounds/dumbbell | Price Range: $30 to $440 per pair

If you’re a traditionalist and single fixed-weight dumbbells are your thing, you can build a quality weight room from the ground up with this pick from REP Fitness, which garnered a whopping 314 five-star reviews from 341 total reviewers. You can work your way up from 2.5 pounds all the way to 100 pounds per dumbbell.

The dumbbells' knurled handles allow for a tight, slip-resistant grip, which comes in handy during those final reps. If one drops, REP’s low-odor rubber coating will help dull out the thud when it hits the floor.

Bonus: REP Fitness offers an ergonomic option for those who find it difficult to grip their traditional version.

RAVE REVIEW: "I did A LOT of comparison-shopping before I purchased these dumbbells. I’ve purchased every pair, from 2.5 lbs up to 40 lbs, and will be rounding out the set with a pair of 45s and 50s soon. They are exactly as described the highest quality, NO odor, aesthetically identical, and so far they appear to be heavy-duty and durable." REP Fitness reviewer

PowerBlock Adustable Kettlebell

Type: Adjustable kettlebell | Shape: Kettlebell, 5.75 x 4.25 x 10 inches (regular), 8 x 5.5 x 11.25 inches (heavy) | Weight Range: 18 - 35 pounds (regular), 35 - 62 pounds (heavy) | Price Range: $169 to $259, on Rogue Fitness

Kettlebell training is no longer just for CrossFitters or elite athletes — everyone should be including kettlebell training in their routine.

Each PowerBlock is four kettlebells in one, with easy-to-operate and secure selection pins, which come with a magnetic lock. Its ergonomic design also means a more comfortable swing each and every time, which you’ll notice the moment you begin adding kettlebell swings into your routine. And ranging from 10 inches to just under 12 inches in height, PowerBlocks can be easily stored away. Plus: Both models include a five-year warranty.

The regular kettlebell (pictured) offers 18, 22, 26 and 35 pounds, while the heavy kettlebell features increments of 35, 44, 53 and 62 pounds.

RAVE REVIEW: "Great kettlebell. Comfortable to use, and the magnet system makes changing the weights very quick and easy." — PowerBlock reviewer

Perform Better First Place Neoprene Kettlebells

Type: Rubber-coated kettlebell | Shape: Kettlebell, N/A | Weight Range: 2 to 32 kg (4.4 to 70.5 pounds) | Price Range: $34.95 to $139.95, on Perform Better

If you have room for more than one kettlebell in your home, the First Place comes in 15 different sizes (each color coded), meaning the stronger you become, the more you can build up your bell collection. These ones are color-coded by weight.

With its neoprene covering, this model will provide a softer landing than your traditional cast-iron set (although dropping it on glass will still cause a mess!).

RAVE REVIEW: "I was missing my kettlebell workout at the gym. This is just what I needed, and I like the neoprene coating to prevent scrapes on wooden floors. Delivery was very fast!" Perform Better reviewer

Best dumbbells and weights for more advanced lifters

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells

Type: Adjustable dumbbells | Shape: Round, 16.9 x 8.3 x 9 inches each | Weight Range: 5 to 52.5 pounds

Bowflex’s lesser-priced version (compared with similar products on this list) is a more-than-adequate choice to fulfill your fitness needs. In fact, it has an almost-perfect rating average of 4.8 stars from over 20,000 Amazon reviewers.

The 552 model is basically 15 dumbbells in one, and at 17 inches in length, they aren’t too bulky when it comes to storage. Place each dumbbell in its storage tray, make a quick and smooth turn of the weight selection dial, and you're all set for a muscle-pumping workout with this solid bang-for-your-buck set of dumbbells.

RAVE REVIEW: "I ordered these for my Peloton strength workouts to save space in my apartment and have a wider variety of weights. After using these for the past month, I can honestly say I would 100 percent buy these again. They are packaged very well, and it requires minimal assembly. I tested out the dumbbells per the instruction manual to ensure it adjusted the weights appropriately and safely and had no issues. My boyfriend and I use them almost every day for strength training!" Amazon reviewer

RUNNER-UP: For a similar pick that's about about $100 less expensive, I recommend NordicTrack's adjustable dumbbells. While they're just OK (they're a little shaky and bulky, in my opinion), they do the trick.

NUOBELL 80-pound Classic Adjustable Dumbbell

Type: Adjustable dumbbells | Shape: Round, 17 x 7.5 x 7.5 inches each | Weight Range: 5 to 80 pounds | Price Range: $595 (50 pounds) or $745 (80 pounds), on SMRTFT

Traditionally speaking, a home gym should have a quality set of dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells are a great space-saving choice, but many models can feel flimsy and shaky when working out.

Nüobell may be the closest model that actually feels like fixed-weight dumbbells. Made with machine steel, the Classic, which comes with portable cradles for each dumbbell (you can order a fancier dumbbell stand for an additional cost), changes weight as smooth as turning a radio knob.

These dumbbells may cost a bit more than most, but if quality is your priority, you won’t go wrong with this choice.

RAVE REVIEW: "These are so nice! Very quick adjustments and have the look and feel of one-piece dumbbells. Considered other sets, but the convenience and ease of use sold me on these. Very nice fit and finish." — SMRTFT reviewer

Best alternatives to dumbbell sets

Bala Bars

Type: Silicone-wrapped steel bars | Shape: Bar, 4 x 3 inches each | Weight Range: 3 pounds each

"Shark Tank" fans may already be familiar with Bala Bangles, but the brand also makes other fitness gear. This 3-pound weight set, for example, is made to incorporate strength training into almost any home workout. They also have an ergonomic design for easy usability.

EDITOR REVIEW: "I love these! The design feels so much more comfortable in my hands than traditional weights, and the silicone is super soft so they don't leave my skin feeling raw post-workout." Julie Ricevuto, Shop TODAY editor

Undersun Fitness Resistance Loop Exercise Bands

Type: Loop bands | Shape: N/A, 12 x 9.7 x 2.8 inches | Weight Range: 5 to 120 pounds

No matter what your fitness skill level is, don't turn your nose up on resistance bands when it comes to training. Bands are a safer, more portable and storable training option, and you'll be able to perform nearly any exercise that you can with free weights (you can also get some instruction and workout ideas on the Undersun's training app).

This entry comes equipped with five lightweight yet durable resistance bands, each with different resistance levels. That’s like having five or more sets of dumbbells (you can even increase intensity of each band with your hand placement) except you can throw these in a backpack and take your workout to the beach, or throw them in your carry-on without adding a lot of weight.

Woman stretching overhead
Resistance bands are a generally safer alternative to lifting dumbbells or barbells.Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

These bands, which are made of 100 percent natural latex, also come with some neat extras that reviewers like, such as a door anchor; plus, you can safely combine two resistance levels to tweak as you go thanks to all of the bands being of equal length. They also come in two colors.

Most important: According to several reviews, you'll be surprised by the workouts you can do with these bands — your arms will feel it after a few sets of curls.

RAVE REVIEW: "Initially I bought a cheap kit of resistance bands, then bought these. There is no comparison, they’re amazing and are not sticky!" Amazon reviewer

MaxPro Smart Connect Portable Cable Machine

Type: Cable resistance | Shape: N/A, ‎‎19.4 x 15.3 x 6.4 inches | Weight Range: Up to 150 pounds of resistance per side

Here's another pick you may be familiar with from "Shark Tank." MAXPRO bills itself as a smart gym, but at just about 10 pounds, this portable gym holds up to 300 pounds of resistance (there are 50 resistance settings!), while being able to be stored and carried comfortably in a backpack. Like bands, this set can be taken with you virtually anywhere (although a sandy beach may be one of its limits).

The package comes with attachable handles and a straight bar (a bench is additional, but recommended), and you can stand on it and do a ton of exercises. You can also attach it securely to your door frame for anything from lat pulldowns to tricep pushdowns. You can easily detach the machine and store easily it under your bed.

Yes, it is a little on the high end of the price scale, but it packs a lot in one package including a three-piece "quick connect" long bar, a set of MAXPRO workout handles, a set of ankle/wrist straps, a door mount system and a USB charger. Plus, if you count your gains from shoulder presses, squats and curls, and hundreds of other exercises (check out the reviews), it may just be worth it.

(Bonus? You can see all the workout possibilities on the MAXPRO Coaching app, which is included with your purchase.)

RAVE REVIEW: "I finally found the solution to my fitness yoyo with the MAXPRO. I live rural, very busy, mid-50s female so there's that, and gym equipment is just too expensive. I love that this compact system is sitting right next to my home office desk, so anytime I have a couple minutes I can jump on it and do a few reps. ... It is versatile as well, so I can hit all muscle groups. The instructor-led videos are a great help to get me going and keep me on focus." MAXPRO reviewer

Kabuki Strength Kyübell

Type: Handheld weight | Shape: Three-handle triangular weight, about 6.4 x 8.3 inches each | Weight Range: 10 to 50 pounds | Price Range: Starts at $187/pair

Editor's Note: This product is currently sold out, but you can sign up on the waitlist now to be notified when it's back in stock.

Is it a kettlebell or a dumbbell? The Kyubell is a combination of both, created by one of the industry’s best minds, Chris Duffin. Anyone, even home gym enthusiasts, can benefit from the Kyübell’s versatility.

This unique weight's three-handle triangular design allows users to hit different movements with different-type loads without ever having to change weights something traditional dumbbells cannot achieve. This allows you to group different types of exercises in a lot less time (read: save space and time!).

RAVE REVIEW: "The Kyübell caught me by surprise! This is by far the best gym piece I own and the versatility is astonishing. I am able to feel every inch of muscle fiber using these than with traditional dumbbells. I ordered a set of 10s, 20s, and 30s." Kabuki Strength reviewer

Your questions about weights and strength training, answered by experts

Why should I start strength training with dumbbells and weights?

Exercise, especially, strength training, is more important than ever: Regular exercise is a critical element of maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle—from weight loss to heart health to stronger muscles and bones—to keep you moving in your 60s, 70s and beyond.

“It's so important to do weight strength training because we need to add muscles to our bodies," according to fitness expert Stephanie Mansour. "Adding muscle mass helps us to burn calories, speed up the metabolism, it helps with joint flexibility [and] it helps to energize our bodies," she explains.

I'm a beginner. What’s the best way to start strength training at home?

The goal of any strength training program is to progressively get stronger. It won’t be an overnight process, so it’s going to take a consistent commitment to a workout program.

If you're a beginner, Mansour recommends starting with two- to three-pound dumbbells. You can begin your strength-training journey with this one-month plan for beginners, or join Start TODAY's workout plan that focuses on heart-healthy strength training exercises.

But once you get rolling, you should be consistently advancing to heavier weights — sooner than you think — so it may be wise to plan ahead in your selection of equipment.

Do I need racks for my weight sets and dumbbells?

All of the adjustable dumbbells I recommend above come with "cradles," like little shoeboxes in which you increase or decrease your load. Most of them, including SMRTFT, have racks as accessories that are sold separately. They're nice, but in my opinion, they're more of a luxury than a necessity.