8 Feb

A Woman’s Fast (& Thorough) Guide to Buying Dumbbells

The Best Dumbbells for Women Right Now

So, you’ve decided it’s time.  You’ve become a the Queen-of-Cardio and you’re ready to step up your game.  It’s time to morph all that soft and supple into hard and chiseled.  

Welcome to the party.

You won’t regret this.  Adding weight training to your exercise routine is like adding ice cream to a warm brownie, flavored cream to coffee or spanx to your wardrobe.  Enhancement, girls, enhancement.

You’ve just upgraded your workouts from coach to first class.  You’re an official Badass.  (If you haven’t actually lifted a dumbbell yet then you’re teetering right at the edge of Badassville (AKA Awesometown).  We’re waiting for you to arrive.  You get a free t-shirt;-)  Not really.)

If you use one of my links to purchase something it helps support my business.  Thank you! (No hard feelings if you don’t.)  You can get more information about that here.

a black dumbbell on a white background

💥 Whether you’re a woman just getting started with weights, you lift weights regularly, or if you’re about to step up your at-home weight routine (as you should) then I’m going to help you.

I’ve tried every kind of dumbbell they make.

I’m going to tell you what style you should invest your money in and why.

And I’m going to tell you what to avoid so you don’t make a purchase you regret (Ab roller, anyone?)

Let’s get started.

Common Mistakes Women (like me) Make When Buying Dumbbells

(I’ve literally made every mistake on this list.)

Mistake #1

The Assumption That All Dumbbells Are Alike

A 5 lb. cast iron DB
My First Dumbbell

When I decided to purchase my first dumbbells I drove to the only store in my small town (that sold non-grocery items) and bought the cheapest 5 lb. dumbbell they had.  It was cast iron and looked like this.

Did it work?  Of course it did.  Would I buy it today?  No way.

Listen to me.  Your exercise equipment is an investment in you. 

If you’re going to spend $100 on a pair of jeans or a purse then don’t decide you’re suddenly out of money when it comes time to buy your exercise equipment. 

You need to invest in something that’s good. 

Most of your exercise equipment will last forever.  It won’t pay off to buy the cheapest dumbbells.

Keep reading to find out exactly what to purchase.

Mistake #2

Purchasing A Single Dumbbell

Did you notice in the little story about my trip to the store to buy my first dumbbell that I only bought a single dumbbell?  Yeah, that was dumb. 

Buy them in pairs, girls.  You will (almost always) use them that way.

And if you purchase them in singles then when you decide it’s time to go get another one (because you didn’t listen to me and bought a single dumbbell) then the store will no longer carry the same equipment.

You’ll end up with mismatched styles of the same weight.  I’ve done this.  It sucks (because the grip is different on every model). 

Buy PAIRS of dumbbells.

Mistake #3

giver of DB advice

Listening To Someone Who Doesn’t Use Dumbbells Tell You What Dumbbells To Buy

You know what I’m talking about, Girls.  Just because the man in your life has read a story about lifting weights, has friends that lift weights, has seen dumbbells in a magazine or maybe lifted weights in high school, doesn’t mean he knows what dumbbells are right for you.

He may.  But he may not.  Don’t risk it.

Don’t worry.  Hang with me.  I’m about to tell you what to buy.

Mistake #4

Thinking That the Shape Doesn’t Matter

Yeah, I laughed when I typed it…get your head out of the gutter and let’s continue.

This is a big one for me.  You’ll find that dumbbells come with different shapes in the head (the end pieces).   There are round, square and hex heads. 

Always get the hex shape.

Round dumbbells roll across the room when you don’t want them to.

And square heads have corners that will bump up against you when you’re doing certain exercises.

Trust me.  Always get a hex shaped dumbbell.

Mistake #5

Buying the Wrong Size (pounds)

There are so many options!

How was I supposed to know that I’d never need a 4 or 7 lb. dumbbell?  Guess what?  You don’t need those.

And now I have even more equipment to store and keep clean and convince kids that all those weights (I don’t use) aren’t toys.

If you’re going to lift weights at home then you won’t need all those in-between sizes.

Keep reading.  I’ll tell you what size weights you SHOULD buy.

The Nitty Gritty

looks matter
Looks Matter 

Dumbbells come in different materials.  Here are the pros and cons of each (and which ones I recommend.)  Keep in mind I actually have dumbbells in all of these materials (*ahem* listen to me).

To compare prices I used Amazon because I love them (Prime shipping!) and because they sell each of the different kinds of dumbbells. But obviously you may be able to find them at a different price somewhere else.

a pair of cast iron dumbbells
cast iron dumbbells

CAST IRON (aka, my first dumbbell)

Cost of a pair of 5 lb. cast iron DB’s (on Amazon)-$10.99

Pros-More affordable

Cons-The iron material can flake off (this is what happened to mine), and the cast iron is rough on hard surfaces (like hardwood or tile floors)

chrome dumbbells
A pair of chrome dumbbells


Cost of a pair of 5 lb. chrome DB’s (on Amazon)-$29

Pros-Hmmm…they’re really shiny?

 Cons-The only ones I’m familiar with are rounded on the end (and I’ve already told you how I feel about that style) and they’re the most expensive option.

*I have a single 15 lb. chrome dumbbell (it’s rounded on the end).  It’s lasted forever but I have to wedge it up against other weights when I store it (to keep it from rolling) and I hate that I only bought ONE of these (see what I mean?  Learn from my mistakes).  It’s a specific style and I’ve never found another dumbbell with a similar grip so I don’t like to use it.

neoprene dumbbells
A pair of neoprene dumbbells


Cost of a pair of 5 lb. neoprene DB’s (on Amazon)-$14.99

Pros-Colors!  These come in a variety of colors.  I love that.  These are softer and easier on your hardwood and tile floors.  You can find the neoprene style in a lot of random sizes (like 9, 11, 17, etc.).

Pro Tip-Keep reading to find out if you actually need those random sizes.

Cons-The material can tear/rip (mine have small tears on the ends).

Neoprene aren’t a bad option.  Especially if you have your heart set on a specific color that you can only find in neoprene.

vinyl dumbbells
A pair of vinyl dumbbells


Cost of a pair of 5 lb. vinyl DB’s (on Amazon)-$20.99

Pros-Colors!  These also come in a range of cool colors.  (The vinyl-covered dumbbells have a shiny surface while the neoprene is a matted material.)  Like neoprene, you can find vinyl dumbbells in a variety of random sizes like 3, 7, and 11 lbs.

Cons-The vinyl is also susceptible to rips and tears.  The cost is comparable to neoprene (but slightly higher).


*My Top Recommendation for Women’s Dumbbells*

rubber dumbbells
A pair of rubber dumbbells


(Seriously, girls, this is a family show.)

Cost of a pair of 5 lb. rubber DB’s (on Amazon)-$22.99

Pros-You can get these in colors*, too.  The rubber will last forever and is easy on your hard surfaces (like hardwood and tile floors).  These are my favorite option

I’m in the process of slowly replacing all of my dumbbells with this style. 

You can get this style all the way up to the heaviest weight you might need (for me that’s 30 lbs.).  The grip size is perfect and the rubber doesn’t rip or tear.

*The cool colors go up to 15 lbs.  After that, you can stick with the same style but may have to purchase them in black.  You can find the heavier (black) ones here.

Cons-These aren’t your cheapest option.

Size Matters

*Pause for laughter*  I had no idea there would be so many terrible puns in this post when I started.  (My goal is to change your life but if I can make you smile I’ll take that, too.)

👉 Now I’ll give you a few tips on how to decide what size weights you should buy.  This is general but will give you a good starting place.

ATTENTION: Depending on where you are in your fitness routine will determine what (size) dumbbells you should purchase. 

Find where you are on this list to decide what dumbbells you should start with.


If you’ve started your fitness routine in the last 3-6 months (Congrats!  Keep it up!) and haven’t lifted anything heavier than a milk jug your entire life then consider investing in 3, 5, 8, and 10 lb. dumbbells to get started.

PRO TIP-Looking for a great exercise video to start with?  Try Cathe Friedrich’s LITE (low impact training extreme) PHA training workout.


If you’re vaguely familiar with the term ‘lifting gloves’ and you exercise regularly (but only do cardio) then you should start with 5, 8, 10, and 12 lb. dumbbells.

PRO TIP-Try Cathe Friedrich’s ICE series.  These are a variety of weight training and cardio routines for the intermediate athlete.  If you don’t want the whole series then try Boot Camp Circuit and/or Metabolic Total Body.  (Cathe also uses an aerobic step with a few risers in these videos).


If you cuddle up with your lifting gloves at night (and have been lifting weights for years) then this advice is for you. You may or may not need it.

Maybe you’ve been lifting at the gym for years and are just now transitioning into an at-home program.  Or maybe you’ve been using machines at the gym for so long that you aren’t sure what free weights (dumbbells) to buy.  I can help. 

You need to purchase 5, 8, 10, 12, and 15 lb. dumbbbells.  (In a few months you’ll want to add 20 lb. dumbbells, too).

If you’re looking for a good program to try then consider P90X3 with Tony Horton (I love this series for women).  And a second option to look at would be Cathe Friedrich’s Muscle Max or Flex Train.

PRO TIP-I’ve posted a detailed review of Muscle Max and also Flex Train.  So, you can read more about them before you buy.  And you can read about P90X3 here.


adjustable dumbbells

To be completely thorough I need to mention this style of dumbbell.

They’re adjustable.  I call them ‘click weights’.

I love them…in theory. (Mostly because it’s so much easier to store them than an entire set of individual dumbbells.)

I have some of these adjustable dumbbells.  I don’t use them.

I’ve found a few problems with them…

You can’t switch quickly between sizes. 

So, if you do on-demand workouts then you’ll have to pause the video to swap out the size of your dumbbells.  It’s SUPER annoying to do this several times over the course of a workout.

The other problem for me is that they aren’t comfortable. 

The design is made for all the pieces to fit together so the heads of the dumbbells are really wide.

(Click on the picture of the adjustable dumbbells above and then check out a few of the product images and you can see what I mean about the design style.  The heads of the dumbbells are too wide for me to do certain exercises without hitting my body.  Overall, I find the design to be awkward when you go use them.)

Because of these reasons, I stick with my recommendation for women to purchase the individual rubber dumbbells.

A Few Pro Tips for Using Dumbbells

  • Remember, IN GENERAL, doing more reps and less/lighter weight will result in sculpting/toning and NOT bulking.
  • Quality Over Quantity.  NEVER EVER sacrifice form to get more reps.  You will hurt yourself.  It’s dumb.  You’ve been warned.  Don’t do it.
  • Stretching is vital!  Essential.  Necessary.  Required.  Make sure you stretch your muscles before AND after you do any resistance training (just like when you do cardio).

For maximum results try to do a mix of cardio AND resistance training in your regular exercise program.  You’ll turn into an amazing badass.

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