Best Gym Owner’s Dumbbell Buying Guide in 2023

An inspiring wellness writer, coach, speaker, and athlete.

You might think that the humble dumbbell is the most basic piece of strength training equipment in the gym – and that they’re all the same.

The truth is very different.

The basic shape of dumbbells is the same – a handle with weights on the end. But beyond that, there are many differences in terms of construction material, such as TPU vs rubber dumbbells, and ergonomic design.

Over my many years of experience purchasing fitness equipment in China, I have developed a great deal of insight into the key knowledge that gym equipment buyers need to know. In this fitness equipment purchase guide series, I will provide you with the tips and advice you need to buy with complete confidence.

(Note: There are a number of different names used to describe dumbbell. These include weight set, weights, free weight, hand weight, gym weight. To maintain consistency, however, we will refer to them in this article as dumbbell.)

Table of Contents

1. Dumbbell Industry Region in China

China has become a popular source for high quality competitively priced dumbbells. The following regions represent the location of the major dumbbell manufacturers in China:

  • Nantong city in Jiangsu province
  • Hebei Province (cast iron)
  • Qingdao City in Shandong Province

The quality of the finished product in Nantong City varies between companies, while that in Hebei is generally low, though the prices are very competitive.

2. The Types of Dumbbells

2.1 Type #1: Painted Dumbbell

Painted dumbbells are usually made of cast iron. The paint provides an anti-rust covering. The paint on these dumbbells can easily peel off, especially with the wear and tear that dumbbells encounter.

Cast iron-painted dumbbells are popular in industrial-style gyms. However, most commercial gyms will not consider painted dumbbells because of its easy-to-peel paint, noise and the damage caused to the floor.

2.2 Type #2: Chrome Dumbbell

The chrome dumbbell has a gleaming appearance and looks very high-end. This kind of dumbbell usually weighs between 1-10kg, making it more suitable for beginners and women. It is typically electroplated by light chrome, making it more durable than a painted surface. However, after long-term use, there will inevitably be some scratches to the surface. It is recommended that chrome dumbbells be used with gym floor mats.

The head and handle of chrome dumbbells are made of steel, and connected by inserting a screw-pattern handle into the dumbbell head. However, the handle and the dumbbell head may be separated after long-term or improper use.

2.3 Type #3: Rubber Dumbbell

Rubber dumbbells are one of the most popular types of the dumbbell. Unlike painted dumbbells, which can do damage to floors and make a lot of noise, rubber dumbbells provide extra protection and a comfort grip feeling. Rubber is durable and abrasion-resistant, but it will age over time, especially when exposed to sunlight, which can speed up the aging process.

Different Rubber Materials

The rubber that is applied comes in three varieties:

  • recycled rubber
  • styrene-butadiene rubber (synthetic)
  • natural rubber

The quality of the rubber depends on the mixing ratio. Calcium powder (calcium carbonate) and recycled rubber take up a large proportion of the mixture. The ratio of these materials will affect the elasticity and fluidity of the rubber. As a result, the rubber ratio is a secret that is kept by each manufacturer. Only the most highly skilled workers are involved in this process.

You may hear that a certain manufacturer claims to use 100 percent original rubber. That is certainly not the case. Every factory will add a certain amount of styrene-butadiene rubber and recycled rubber.

There are distinctions between different recycled rubbers. The most common types of recycled rubber are tire rubber and sole rubber. Tire rubber is far superior to sole rubber.

It is important to realize that all rubber will inevitably produce an odor. The greater the smell, the lower the quality of rubber that has been used.

Structure of Rubber Dumbbell

Rubber dumbbells are non-integrally formed. The head is cast iron while the handle is usually steel. The two materials are quite different, which makes it difficult to weld them together. The strength of the weld will obviously affect the durability of the dumbbell.

Generally speaking, when the dumbbell weight is more than 10kg, the handle will be welded with some raised points, and then pressed into the dumbbell head with a hydraulic press.

Shape of Rubber Dumbbell

In terms of shape, rubber dumbbell is quite versatile. It includes round, hexagonal, and 12-sided. The classic shape is the round dumbbell. However, round dumbbells easily roll around on the ground and cannot adapt to diverse training requirements, such as push-ups with dumbbells. As a result, it is not as popular as the hex dumbbell. When doing push-ups with dumbbells, the user should select a heavy dumbbell to prevent loss of balance.

2.4 Type #4: Vinyl Dumbbell

Vinyl dumbbells are usually designed to be used as fixed-weight dumbbells between the 1-10kg range. These are used mainly by ladies. The vinyl dumbbell is durable and not easy to wear out. Vinyl dumbbells come in various shapes and styles. In addition to the common round head dumbbell and hex dumbbell, there are bones, flowers, apples and other shapes of dumbbell, which are designed to appeal to women. These dumbbells are almost completely odorless.

These dumbbells can be divided into vinyl and neoprene. When your palms are sweaty, vinyl dumbbell can be slippery, whereas neoprene doesn’t easily slip. On the downside, neoprene dumbbells are a bit harder to clean than vinyl ones.
To produce vinyl dumbbells, cast iron dumbbells are hung by thin wire and then immersed into a plastic liquid. After cooling and solidifying, the cable is taken out, which will leave tiny holes on the surface.

2.5 Type #5: PU Dumbbell

PU is the safest, most advanced material applied to the dumbbell. This material can even be applied to make medical products. As a result, it is the most expensive type of dumbbell. It is not only odorless, but also safer, more durable and more wear-resistant. The durability of this dumbbell makes it cost-effective for long-term use. However, longer durability equals higher prices.

PU dumbbell can be divided into two categories:

  • TPU dumbbell
  • CPU dumbbell

There are some key differences between TPU and CPU. TPU is created by injection method under high temperature while CPU is melted in mold. CPU is more durable, with a life of around 8 years, compared with 4 years for TPU. As you’d expect, CPU is more expensive. This is based on its greater durability and the fact that the extra CPU materials used in the production process cannot be recycled.

  1. NOT environmentally friendly as CPU material is not recyclable.
  2. Regarding wear impact: resistant/strength/tensile, hydrolysis resistant and tear-resistant, CPU is better than TPU.
  3. CPU treatment needs longer time.  It takes 50 minutes to make 1 piece of 1.25kg/2.5kg/5kg; it takes 80 minutes to make one piece of 10kg/20kg.
  4. The molding fee of CPU is cheaper than TPU.
  5. The surface of CPU dumbbell shows a water flow mark clearly.
  6. CPU dumbbell head is made of steel.
  7. The price of CPU dumbbell is higher than TPU dumbbells.
  1. Environmentally friendly as TPU material is recyclable.
  2. Regarding wear impact: resistant/strength/tensile, hydrolysis resistant and tear-resistant, TPU is not as good as CPU.
  3. Made by injection processing method, which provides faster delivery than CPU; it takes only 200 seconds to make 1 piece of 10kg/20kg.
  4. The molding fee of TPU is much more expensive than CPU.
  5. The surface of TPU dumbbell doesn’t have water flow mark.
  6. TPU dumbbell head is made of cast iron.
  7. The price of TPU dumbbell is lower than CPU dumbbells.

3. Dumbbell Manufacturing Process

Take rubber dumbbell as example:

The rubber dumbbell production process is quite simple and doesn’t require much of a technical threshold. The factory profit is low. If the supplier offers very low prices that are far below the normal prices for the industry, you have to be careful that they are not selling you a shoddy product.

4. Industry Insider Information

  • In this industry, dumbbells allow for a 3% error range. Generally speaking, to save costs, manufacturers will usually meet the -3% error range rather than the +3%; However, such companies as Life Fitness, Rogue Fitness and other international brands, only allow a 1% error range. Of course, the cost of their dumbbells will be higher.
  • Quality problem for rubber dumbbell: shortening the handle to save the cost, which will affect the firmness of the connection with the dumbbell head, resulting in hidden dangers.
  • Anything made of rubber has an odor. Original rubber cannot be added alone to a dumbbell; it needs styrene-butadiene rubber. So, there is no 100% original rubber dumbbell.
  • For cheap rubber dumbbells, there can be only recycled rubber without any original rubber or styrene-butadiene rubber added. This type of dumbbell has an inferior quality, and a life span which is half that of the more expensive types.
  • Injection-molded dumbbells (TPU dumbbell) and vinyl dumbbells have tiny holes on the surface. This is due to the manufacturing process rather than the quality of the product.
  • Generally speaking, the round dumbbell usually uses a straight handle while the hex dumbbell usually features an arched handle. If you want hex dumbbells with a straight handle rather than an arched handle, you can request your manufacturer to change it, at no additional charge.

5. Best Buying Tips

TIP #1

Weight: compare the actual weight and the marked weight; the error range is generally within 3 %.

TIP #2

Smell: the more inferior recycled materials there are, the heavier the smell will be.

TIP #3

Finish: the surface of a good dumbbell is smooth and flat with fine seams. In addition, the thicker the surface coating or rubber layer, the more durable it is.

6. Conclusion

I hope this commercial dumbbell buying guide can inspire you to determine what kind of dumbbell you really want.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

What’s the next fitness equipment line you’d like me to do a guide on?

Let me know by leaving your comment below.

Related reading: top 10 gym equipment brands in China

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