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You’re ready to invest in home workout equipment, and you’ve looked into dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells.They each have their pros and cons, and you don’t want to buy something that is going to end up collecting dust. Now what?
“Having workout equipment at home is a great way to ensure that you never miss a workout. However, it can be hard to make the investment when you’re unsure of the best purchase for you. When it comes to investing in dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells, your purchase should be based on your goals,” says Matthew Scarf, an NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness expert at Lift Vault.
Brett Durney, co-founder, personal trainer and running coach at Fitness Lab, says that you should also consider your level of fitness and training experience, as well as your space and budget when deciding between dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells.
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To help you make an informed decision, we asked fitness pros the lowdown on each piece of equipment.
Blake Reichenbach, an ISSA-certified personal trainer and the founder of Self-Himprovement, says that dumbbells are appealing because they are fairly easy to store and can be used for a huge variety of workouts — whatever you can do with a barbell, you can usually also do with dumbbells.
“Plenty of dumbbell-centric strength training exercises can also be done without other kinds of equipment, which is another pro,” he adds. “The main downside of dumbbells is that unless you’re buying an adjustable dumbbell, you will have to continuously buy new, heavier dumbbells as you progress if you don’t want to plateau. Dumbbells also come up short if you’re looking to do Olympic-style lifts.”
Enter barbells, which can help you increase your load depending on your needs. “The ‘big three’ lifts (deadlift, bench press, and squats) are all traditionally done with a barbell, making barbells a great choice for full-body strength training in general,” according to Reichenbach. But they come with space and budget constraints — you’ll need to shell out on a bench and squat rack to make the most of your barbell. “Between racks, benches, and plates, barbells can also take up a lot of space, so they’re not going to be ideal for someone with limited home gym space,” he says.
As for kettlebells, they have similar benefits to dumbbells in terms of versatility and space-effectiveness, with the added bonus of providing additional mobility and core training options — think of moves like kettlebell swings and Turkish get-ups. However, they’re not as intuitive when it comes to maintaining proper form, so there is a learning curve involved. And you’ll still need to purchase heavier weights to keep progressing and avoid plateaus.
In that sense, dumbbells and kettlebells will be cheaper upfront but may get more expensive over time compared to a barbell set.
Now that you understand the pros and cons of dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells, think of your fitness goals and habits. According to Scarf, if you’re trying to maximize your strength gains and life as much as possible, you should consider investing in a set of barbells and weight plates. “Barbells allow you to move the most amount of weight, and focus on both compound lifts like bench, deadlift, and squat, or explosive Olympic lifting like cleans or snatches. You can also use the plates for some isolation exercises, like bicep curls or lat pull-overs,” he says.
If you care about workout variety and single-muscle group isolation exercises, dumbbells may be your best bet. “They are great for people who want to get strong, because you can do things like bench press, deadlift, and weighted squats, but also build small muscle groups with tricep kickbacks, chest flies, and more,” adds Scarf. “Dumbbells are ideal if you want to put on size, because smaller weights are perfect for longer workout sets necessary for hypertrophy, or muscle growth. They’re also great for beginners who need the flexibility of having multiple lower weights that can help them build strength.”
Passionate about movement and functional training? Add those kettlebells to your cart. “If you have a passion for moving better, kettlebells are one of the best weights out there, but you need to make sure you maintain good form when you use them,” says Scarf.
In an ideal world, you’d own all three pieces of equipment in your home gym. But if you had to choose just one, all experts above agree: go with dumbbells. “My overriding choice would be dumbbells. They provide the ability to add load to your training, metabolic stress and volume via correct programming, and offer a huge exercise selection. They are relatively cheap and take up low amounts of space,” says Durney. “If, like most men, you are looking to either stay strong or gain strength and keep muscle or grow muscle, dumbbells tick every box.”
That being said, it’s important to consider the types of workouts you’ll enjoy doing too. “I’d also recommend asking yourself what kind of workouts you enjoy most — after all, the best workout routine is the one you can do consistently, regardless of the equipment you use,” adds Reichenbach.
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