The dumbbell originated in ancient Greece and was then called halteres. Halteres were large weights made of stone with a hole for holding and were used not just for weight-lifting but also in their long jump exercises. The Greek physician Galen also recommended the use of halteres for those suffering from grout.
The ancient Romans carried on with the use of halteres for their physical exercises but these also disappeared as the empire fell. The dumbbell made a comeback in the 1500s as cylindrical weights with flat ends used for systematic exercise.
By the 1700s, physical training exercises were gaining ground. In 1864, John Blundel released the book “The Muscles and Their Story” which popularized the dumbbells and made them a common exercise tool.
Today, the dumbbells are used for common workouts such as hammer curls, decline seated bicep curls, French presses, preacher curls, overhead tricep extensions, tricep kickbacks, flat and incline chest presses, flat and incline chest flies, lateral raises, seated shoulder presses, front raise, reverse flies, upright rows, shrugs, lunges, half squats, seated calf raises, and single-leg calf raises.
Fixed Rubber Dumbbells
A fixed dumbbell is a dumbbell where the weights at the end are in a fixed position, meaning that they cannot be moved, removed, or adjusted. Several materials are used to manufacture fixed dumbbells, one of them being rubber.
You can buy these for use at home but they are commonly used in commercial gyms because the rubber materials are durable and can withstand a lot of daily abuse. As opposed to dumbbells made out of chrome or cast iron, rubber-ended dumbbells won’t scratch, chip, or dent as easily and they are less likely to damage the racks on which they are placed. The handle, however, is generally a knurled piece of steel.
Each type of dumbbell has benefits but fixed rubber dumbbells, in particular, are available in different colors and the weight denominations are clearly numbered on the outside of the weights. If you need to print a company logo onto your weights, it’s easier to do so with rubber weights as well.
Fixed Urethane Dumbbells
Fixed urethane dumbbells are extremely similar to their rubber counterparts, sometimes indistinguishably so. The difference, however, is performance.
Urethane is considerably stronger than rubber so urethane dumbbells can withstand even greater abuse without suffering as significant cosmetic damage. The outer layers are tougher, often sleeker-looking, and highly resistant to scratches and chips. One complaint that gyms make about rubber weights is that they put markings on the floor but this is less of an issue with urethane dumbbells.
Rubber anything has a distinct smell to it, including the dumbbells, but people like urethane dumbbells because they don’t have as distinct of a smell.
Fixed Hex Dumbbells
Hex dumbbells are named that because the weights are in the shape of a hexagon; this shape gives them extra stability. They will lie flat on the floor so you don’t have to worry about them rolling away and you will also be able to do exercises such as dumbbell push-ups.
Typically, these dumbbells are constructed out of cast iron, which has an attractive look. These dumbbells are not only durable but are frequently priced more cheaply than their rubber or urethane counterparts.
The problem with these dumbbells is that they may scratch your floor or your shelving units. There are rubber-coated hex dumbbells available but they are typically more expensive. If you train outside, keep in mind that rubber coatings can expand and crack in the heat.
While hexagons are the common shape, you may also find square-shaped dumbbells that look similar.
Fixed Chrome Dumbbells
Chrome-plated dumbbells are another type of fixed dumbbell that has a different appearance than what has been discussed thus far. In their simplest form, chrome dumbbells are sleek and stylish with a classy chrome appearance. In most cases, the weights are rounded rather than hexagon-like.
A lot of chrome-plated dumbbells are smooth with many of them lacking any knurled handles for grip. While a lot of chrome-plated dumbbells are in fixed positions, there are some that are adjustable.
With a lot of dumbbells, the weights are fixed and unchangeable, meaning that you will have to buy each weight denomination separately. Some people switch between weight denominations or use different weights for different workouts and having to buy each one separately can be inconvenient or preferred, depending on who you are.
However, adjustable dumbbells allow you to adjust the weights either by removing and adding different plates, similar to how you would with a standard barbell. Other adjustable dumbbells have more innovative designs that make switching back and forth between weights a lot more convenient.
For example, some companies such as Bowflex make space-efficient dumbbell sets that work with a locking mechanism. Locking mechanisms are located at both ends of the dumbbell and weights can be added or removed by adjusting the position of the lock.
There are a number of dumbbell designs that use this kind of technology, essentially making it possible to have several different dumbbell sets in a single unit.
Dumbbell Plate Sets
Dumbbell plate sets are similar to smaller versions of barbells and barbell plates. You will have a handle with sleeves at both ends where you slide on weighted plates. There will be a notch at both ends that stop the plates from sliding to the center; on the outside, there is usually a clamp stopping the weights from sliding off of the bar.
Plate sets save less space than adjustable sets but more than an entire set of fixed dumbbells. You may find these benefits if you work out at home but you will rarely find these in any commercial gyms as it’s simply more convenient for them to have fixed dumbbells.
Studio dumbbells are dumbbells that are primarily used in classes taught by instructors, often being used during other exercises. For that reason, the maximum weight denomination for studio dumbbells is kept pretty low in contrast to other dumbbells.
These make great starter dumbbells and they can also be added to certain workouts to make them slightly more difficult. They are available in single pairs but they can also be bought in bulk.
Studio dumbbells are fixed dumbbells so the weighted ends are completely immovable. Unlike other dumbbells that have steel handles, studio dumbbells are coated entirely in textured rubber or neoprene, making them easy to grip and use, especially during cardio-heavy workouts.
Spin-lock dumbbells are a type of adjustable dumbbell and what sets them apart is the way you secure the plates. Other dumbbells use clamps of some kind but spin-lock dumbbells have threaded sleeves.
You slide the plates onto the sleeves and secure them with a little piece called a “spinlock” that threads onto the ends of the dumbbells until it meets the plates and tightens up against them.
Kettlebells are a unique type of dumbbell and while you can use them for all of the same workouts, there are many workouts that kettlebells can be used for that traditional dumbbells can’t. They are so versatile that they are basically in an entirely different category of their own.
Kettlebells are ball-shaped and they have a handle on the top. This shape allows you to do a number of different swings and ballistics exercises. They are often made out of cast iron or steel but some of them are even filled with sand. The outer shell may be steel as well but may also be coated in rubber or another grippy material.
If you really wanted to, you could make your own dumbbells at home using a variety of materials and it would often be a lot cheaper than buying new weights. There are a number of different ways that you could do this and if you get creative, you could come up with something that’s perfect for your needs.
One of the most popular ways to make your own dumbbells is to use empty milk jugs or soda bottles, sand, and PVC pipes. You cut holes out of the bottles at even heights and stick the PVC pipe through the holes with a bottle situated at each end of the pipe.
You seal the holes around the PVC with silicone or something similar and then you fill the jugs with sand or something that gets you the desired weight.
One of the reasons why people enjoy using dumbbells over barbells is that they allow for unilateral movements. In other words, you can work on your left side and your right side separately. You can still do the exercise for each arm at the same time but the position of one side doesn’t depend on the other.
The ability to use unilateral movements can benefit the lifter in a number of ways. It can help you fight muscle imbalances, focus on your form, and boost weak areas by having the ability to work one arm independently of the other.
Focus on Stabilization
Since dumbbells are done unilaterally, they force you to focus more on stabilization. As a result, you might learn to focus more on your form and the importance of having a strong core and back. If you are used to barbells especially, you may realize just how much you need to stabilize yourself and the weight after working with dumbbells even in seated workouts.
Avoiding Muscle Imbalances
If you are used to working out bilaterally, you may notice one arm working harder than the other or lifting better than the other and this is typically due to a muscle imbalance. If you are working out bilaterally, you would have to specifically focus on lifting harder with the weaker muscle every time if you wanted it to catch up. However, unilateral workouts make it easier to keep your muscles even.
Dumbbells make unilateral workouts possible so if one side of your body is seriously lacking, you can focus on that side more while giving the other side a break.