Membership of your local gym is all well and good, but for the price of a couple of months spent sweating away in a basement, you could start building your very own workout zone at home.
A good set of dumbbells is at the centre of any muscle-building, fat-shredding, sweat-inducing workout and can be used for numerous different exercises to achieve any number of fitness goals, from weight loss to gun sculpting.
What is the best dumbbell?
We found that the latest adjustable weight systems, from PowerBlock and Bowflex are the easiest to use, as you simply dial in the required weight and the dumbbell cleverly grasps the correct plate/s.
You do pay the price for such high-tech convenience, mind.
Those on less extravagant budgets can also look towards the classic bar and weight plate systems. These tend to be much cheaper but unless you intend to use the same amount of weight for every exercise – which we frankly don't advise – they require a lot more faffing about during your workout. They also tend to take up more space.
How to buy the best dumbbells
As with many things in life, the humble dumbbell comes in a confusing array of shapes, sizes, weights and mechanisms, so choosing the right one for you is important.
Typically, a dumbbell will either be rounded or hexagonal, the latter being the smart choice as it doesn't roll away when you put it down. It's also perfect if you fancy using a dumbbell for press-up variations.
Secondly, the weight is particularly important, especially if you opt for a fixed dumbbell system, which can't be adjusted or added to.
This singular weight will make progression tricky, as it could be too heavy for certain exercises, or too light to effectively build muscle or add enough resistance to raise the heart rate.
Finally, the choice of material should also be a consideration. Matte black metal weight discs might look masculine and cool but they can also wreak havoc with wooden floors and make a racket.
Rubber coated weights tend to make less noise and, generally, less mess. Although as with a tyre on a road, if you drag a weight across a hard floor, you can end up with skid marks. Nobody wants skid marks.
The best dumbbells you can buy, in order
1. PowerBlock Sports 5.0 Dumbbells
Best high-tech weights
Weight spread: 2-22.5kg
Although pricier than simpler dumbbell systems, the PowerBlock Sports combine great design with a solid range of weights, and are far cheaper than the comparable Bowflex.
These space-saving puppies replace 10 pairs of fixed dumbbells, offering a spread of 2kg to 22.5kg per hand in 2kg increments.
You rapidly swap weights simply by moving a pin up or down, with handy colour coding offering visual assistance for quick changes between sets.
The ergonomic grip and clever design mean these things can be used for a range of exercise movements, from chest pressing to squatting, while the compact proportions equate to the size of two shoeboxes.
Granted, the cost may prove a stumbling block for some, but there's very little else out there that offers so much in such a compact package.
2. Bodymax Deluxe 40kg Hammertone Dumbbell Kit
Best old-school dumbbells
Weight spread: 5-20kg
Everything about this set harks back to the glory days of bodybuilding, when Arnie was Pumping Iron and Gold's Gym was the place to hang out.
Finished in a robust Hammertone coating, these beefy metal plates resist wear and won't crack when dropped (although they may crack your tiled floor), while the rubber grips provide excellent traction even when hands are sweaty.
The 20kg per hand weight spread via a variety of 1.25-5kg weight plates is heavy enough to give both arms and legs a good workout, no matter your fitness level.
However, changing weights requires unscrewing the metal spin collar, which can be more time consuming and fiddly than you really want, mid-workout.
3. Bowflex SelectTech Dumbbells
Even higher-end rival to Powerblock
Weight spread: 2-22.5kg or 4-41kg
Please note that pricing on Bowflex is often per weight – check before purchase.
Stopping to unscrew unwieldy metal spin collars and replacing weight plates can break the flow of a workout, while those who are really looking to bulk up will need plenty of weight options to choose from, which means a surplus of storage space.
These beasts from Bowflex pack 2-24 or 4-41kg in each dumbbell, depending on the model you go for, with weight selection as easy as spinning a dial.
When paired with a simple weights bench, they offer an effective alternative to a gym floor.
Compared to Powerblock, the Bowflex weights look and feel far more like classic dumbbells, although the complicated selection system means you do have to be careful about keeping them set up properly for it to work smoothly.
Our only real reservation is the price, which will make you sweat before you even try to lift them.
4. Body Power 12.5Kg Rubber Hex Dumbbells
Best non-adjustable weights
Weight spread: N/A
The hexagonal shape and rubber coating mean it is possible to use these dumbbells for more than simply pumping iron.
They can be placed on a flat surface and used for tricky dumbbell press-ups, renegade rows and more, without risk of damaging your floor or, hopefully, face.
Available in a variety of weights, this 12.5kg model seems to be the go-to number for your average fitness fanatic. Since the weight is not adjustable, costs soon mount up if you want more. A four-weight (12.5-20kg) will set yuo back well over 200 quid.
5. TNP Accessories Vinyl Dumbbell Set 40KG
Best budget dumbbells
Weight spread: 5-20kg
This affordable weight set might not boast the same neat finish as the more premium products here but the innovative grip handle shape means the weight plates can be used for a number of exercises on or off the provided bar.
You can either load up the 18-inch, non-slip metal bar for typical dumbbell curls, overhead pressing and weighted squats, or remove the weight plate to assist with ab crunches or weighted squat twists.
They also boast a floor-friendly plastic covering, which has also been designed to last.
As well as the 30kg set, there are various other maximum weight options from TNP in the same range.