Best Dumbbells Buying Guide
When buying dumbbells, many people will ask "what are the best dumbbells you offer?". This is a loaded question. The best dumbbells for a garage gym owner will not be the best dumbbells for a commercial gym. Many IRON COMPANY gym equipment customers consist of commercial gyms, military bases, universities, professional sports teams, etc. All these locations will require a commercial rated dumbbell for maximum safety and longevity.
The word “commercial” is defined as a product that is capable of withstanding all day use in a commercial environment, such as a dues paying facility, with little to no risk of structural failure. Structural failure usually means bent or broken handles, heads or plates and loosening or broken bolts and end caps. Usually this is always caused by abuse such as repeatedly dropping the dumbbells after chest or shoulder presses. Even some of the best dumbbells out there cannot and should not be expected to hold up to this unnecessary abuse.
So, now let’s dive in and educate ourselves on some of the best dumbbells and dumbbell sets that differ in design, construction and price.
BEST DUMBBELLS FOR COMMERCIAL USE
Economy commercial quality dumbbells are often a no-frills type of dumbbell that are typically purchased for schools, training studios and locations where budget may be a top priority. And even though they are labeled “economy” they can still have certain advantages over some of the higher dollar models. Take Pro Hex Dumbbells by York Barbell for example. These are a one-piece solid cast iron dumbbell design that makes them totally maintenance free. No hex bolts or end caps to ever come loose. The cast iron heads are actually cast around the steel handle that has a “fishtail” shape at each end making it impossible for the handle to back out and separate. They’re also more compact than a plate loaded dumbbell, such as a Pro-Style dumbbell, which means they are less cumbersome and allow for a wider range of motion when exercising.
The rubber hex dumbbell is the go to dumbbell for garage gyms and CrossFit boxes. Their affordable price and maintenance-free design makes them the best dumbbell choice for many. Their protective hexagonal shaped rubber encased heads make them exceptionally durable, which is a must in harsh training environments. When purchasing the best rubber hex dumbbell sets for commercial use, make sure to purchase a brand that properly secures the head and handle together to prevent breakage and separation and make sure a minimum one-year warranty is included. Cheap rubber hex dumbbells often only include a 90-day warranty and are simply glued together making them a liability hazard if used outside a home or strictly controlled area. Reputable brands of rubber hex dumbbells suitable for CrossFit boxes and other commercial environments are IRON COMPANY, Ivanko Barbell, York Barbell and TKO. If you are buying hex dumbbells for your home or a smaller area with inadequate ventilation, consider the IRON COMPANY urethane hex dumbbell. It offers the same durable design as the IRON COMPANY rubber hex dumbbells without any rubber odor.
For a larger selection in colors and handle types a run of Pro-Style dumbbells might be the answer. Ivanko Barbell manufactures what many consider to be some of the best pro-style dumbbells in the fitness industry. Their R2B/EP1.25B are constructed using cast iron plates that are painted black with a machined center hole. In order to keep the cost low, the faces of the plates are not machined like other more expensive dumbbells Ivanko makes and will have a “sand casting” texture to them. But rest assured, anything with the Ivanko name on it is a quality product. The chrome Pro-Style handles include a deep knurl, which offers a great grip especially when your hands are sweaty and you’re trying to grind out the last couple of reps of shoulder shrugs or bicep curls! The ductile iron end caps really give these dumbbells a polished look especially with the brass-inlaid name and number stickers. If you like to set your dumbbells on your quads before pressing exercises or tricep extensions you’ll find that the Ivanko Pro-Style dumbbells with end caps are just as comfortable as rubber hex dumbbells because these designs offer a smooth face with nothing protruding. Other build-it-yourself or “DIY” Pro-Style dumbbells that only offer a small chrome washer instead of a smooth end cap for the Allen bolt to pass through can be quite painful when sitting on your legs as you get fired up for a set of presses.
Ivanko offers another economy Pro-Style dumbbell which is the R/EP1.25. Like the R2B/EP1.25B the R/EP1.25 offers non-machined plates, ductile iron end caps with inlaid brass name and number stickers and a deep handle knurling for a solid grip. Really the only difference here is the plates and end caps are painted with a grey polyester hammertone paint that is baked on. This type of finish tends to be a little better wearing than the flat black. And the handles feature a triple chrome layer with nickel base.
We touched on the Economy Pro-Style dumbbells by Ivanko in the Economy Dumbbells section above. Now let’s get into the real meat and potatoes of this style of dumbbell. The Pro-Style dumbbell has been around for a very long time. They can be traced back to some of the most hard-core, old school gyms there ever was. Starting at a weight of 5 lbs. and going up to as high as 200 lbs. (each) the Pro-Style dumbbell doesn’t “sweat” anyone. And for anyone reading this asking themselves what the hell someone could do with a 200 lb. dumbbell in each hand, believe it or not there are freakishly strong individuals that roam the earth that routinely chest press these things. Eight time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman comes to mind.
One reason the Pro-Style dumbbell is considered by many to be one of the best dumbbells for commercial gyms is the solid design it offers which is comprised of a solid steel handle, cast iron plates that slide over top of the handle sleeve and then a heavy-duty 5/8” fine thread aircraft quality Allen bolt and large chrome washer or end cap to torque it altogether. The company that has absolutely perfected the science of building the best Pro-Style dumbbells in the fitness industry is Ivanko. Each Ivanko fixed weight dumbbell is built using top quality components and incorporates their PermaLock fastening system which employs a proprietary machining tolerance and surface preparation to achieve a metal to metal bond that requires 400 foot pounds of torque to twist apart. That being said, if you are purchasing a set of pro-style dumbbells, a manufacturer that uses the right quality components and assembly techniques is crucial to the performance and longevity of this design. Some brands of pro-style dumbbells can be more trouble than they are worth due to the constant loosening of the bolts. This is because of inferior components used and lack of proper assembly know how. So, saying that you get what you pay for is definitely an understatement here.
What type of Pro-Style dumbbell handles are best?
Now that we’ve covered some of the important mechanics, next is deciding what handle type you prefer. Handles can vary in thicknesses and knurling patterns from one manufacturer to the next but the most noticeable choice is that between an ergonomic handle and a straight round handle. If you cup your hand you will notice that the palm is concave. Now look at the convex shape of the ergonomically shaped dumbbell handle. The two fit together like a glove. However, we can tell you that over the years we have found not everyone prefers the ergo, or “contoured”, handle because of their tendency to be a little too big in diameter for smaller hands. So if you've got your eye on the best dumbbells for your club make sure to do your due diligence on your handle choice first.
What is the best Pro-Style dumbbell coating?
Pro-Style dumbbell plates can be painted, chromed, rubber encased and even urethane encased. Since these are essentially plate loaded dumbbells, size can be a bit of an issue when it comes to Pro-Style dumbbells so the most compact version of course would be the painted or chrome plated. Painted will be your most affordable option but the quickest to show wear as the paint makes contact with the floor and other equipment. You won’t see the chrome plated dumbbell plates around much anymore but their thin plating makes them just as compact as the painted. If a protective coating is what you need, Ivanko was the first company to bring the rubber dumbbell to market back in 1983. Today they manufacture one of the best, if not the absolute best, plate loaded rubber dumbbells, the RUB/EPR. A little known fact about these dumbbells is that instead of 10 lb. plate build outs they use 7.5 lb. plates up to 125 lbs. This is due to the extra bulk that the rubber coating adds. Over 125 lbs. and up to 200 lbs. they have to use a 10 lb. build out with custom length handles. These dumbbells are great but not the best dumbbells one should consider if looking for a compact dumbbell.
The solid steel dumbbell has it all, including a bigger price tag. However when you compare the overall "big picture" value that the added longevity offers as well as performance, this choice makes most sense to those that can make it work within their budget.
What is the difference between Solid Head Dumbbells and Solid Steel Dumbbells?
Solid head dumbbells are best described as a solid cast iron or steel slug that is affixed to a dumbbell handle through a large bolt or other fastening method. American Barbell, aka GP Industries, offers their Unilock Series Solid Head Urethane Dumbbells. The Uni-Lock design is sort of a different take on the Pro-Style dumbbell but with a more solid way of locking the weights and handles together. Instead of featuring a bolt that is torqued down inside the sleeve of the handle, the end of the sleeve itself is threaded allowing for a very large locking nut to be applied. Because of the construction and the materials used, solid head dumbbells are most often more affordable than welded solid steel dumbbells.
While the solid head dumbbell offers a very strong and solid design, it does not match the strength and total maintenance free benefits of the welded solid steel dumbbell. The solid steel dumbbell is also constructed from a steel slug and handle. The difference here though is that a hole is drilled partially or completely through the slug to make room for the slightly larger diameter handle to be press fit and then welded. Even though the hydraulic press locks the dumbbells together pretty well, the slug and handle are still welded together on the inside shoulders or on the outside face of the slug forming a permanent bond. Reputable brands of welded, maintenance free solid steel dumbbells are IRON COMPANY urethane dumbbells, Iron Grip and Intek, which include a 5-year warranty against breakage. Ivanko solid steel urethane dumbbells are not bolted together nor are they welded. Ivanko urethane dumbbells are produced through a proprietary method they refer to as “mechanically fastened”. We don’t have that much info on this manufacturing process as they hold it pretty close to the vest, but if you’ve ever read their articles comparing mechanically fastened to welded Ivanko does make a good case as to the superiority of their dumbbell. Speaking of which, Ivanko urethane solid steel dumbbells do carry a 5-year warranty against breakage, as well.
Which solid steel dumbbells offer the most durable urethane coatings?
This has been one of the biggest debates within the fitness industry that has led to many a heated argument between manufacturers and brand fanatics for years. Who offers the best dumbbells with a solid steel core and urethane coating? Before we get into urethane specifics, do you know the difference between rubber and urethane and what makes urethane the superior dumbbell coating? Rubber has certain disadvantages that are not present in urethane. Rubber is vulnerable to abrasion and ultra-violet light, which can cause it to prematurely crack and eventually peel. Depending on the quality and materials used, rubber can also carry an odor that is exacerbated when confined to small areas. Urethane is immune to all such vulnerabilities and where impact resistance and longevity is concerned, it is superior. In our opinion some of the best urethane formulations are the German made urethane used on all the IRON COMPANY urethane dumbbells and barbells as well as the American made urethane by Ivanko and Iron Grip. Together Ivanko and Iron Grip have probably spent more time and money on polyurethane formulation research and development than all free weight companies in the world combined. And it definitely shows in their products.
Iron Grip urethane dumbbell sets have been a big part of the US Military training programs for years. The fact that Iron Grip beat most other manufacturers to the market with a solid steel urethane coated dumbbell may have played a big part in that but if not the quality and anti-corrosive benefits that urethane and hard chrome plating provide definitely did. When the military sets up a gym on a Navy ship or out in the middle of the desert, the last thing they want is for it all to turn into a pile of rust. The Ivanko steel dumbbells are equally impressive and have become favorites among many top universities, pro sports teams and club. There is an article written by Ivanko President and Founder Tom Lincir called “Rediscovering American Quality”. It is a very interesting article that gives a lot of insight on manufacturing overseas as opposed to the US. But in this article Ivanko displays an image of sawed cross sections of solid steel urethane dumbbells to specifically show the differences in urethane thickness between them, Iron Grip and two offshore brands. If this photo is untouched and all images used are using the same scale, then Ivanko does appear to offer the thickest urethane coating compared to these other brands. On a side note, the thickest urethane coating on an imported dumbbell that we currently know of is the IRON COMPANY IC-UDB which features a 3/8” (10mm) thick German polyurethane.
Why are solid steel dumbbells the best dumbbells for commercial use?
We’ve covered a lot of information above about the superiority the solid steel dumbbell has when compared to other styles of dumbbells. And in fact the different choices we have mentioned above are definitely the best dumbbells for somebody. But for the most complete package that includes highest quality, most compact, best aesthetics and hardest wearing, the blue ribbon for best dumbbells clearly goes to the urethane solid steel dumbbell.
About the Author
J.P. Brice founded IRON COMPANY in 1996 and is currently President and CEO. He began weightlifting in 1984 at the age of 14 and by the age of 25 turned his passion for fitness into one of the webs first and leading fitness equipment suppliers. He holds numerous Patents and Trademarks on various fitness equipment products and is the lead designer of IRON COMPANY branded free weights and strength training equipment. Today he works extensively with the US Military in providing the equipment necessary for combat readiness.