Getting a set of cheap dumbbells can be as easy as heading over to Wal-Mart. Or, you can score a perfectly decent set for much less if you know where to look. Either way, there are some things to consider before plunking down hard-earned money on your new training equipment.
What to Look For When Buying Dumbbells
You can spend a bundle on the latest, quick-adjusting dumbbell "system" advertised on TV, or you can pick up a set of cheap dumbbells on sale for a pittance. If you're frugal, you'll gravitate towards the latter -- and that's when to think about these factors:
Fixed or adjustable dumbbells
Moving plates around can be hassle that breaks up the rhythm of the workout. The aforementioned quick-select dumbbell system addresses this, but the trainer on a budget may not be able to afford that. Thus, the choice is getting a couple different sets of solid dumbbells with fixed weights, or one adjustable. The recommendation here is obvious: go for the adjustables, as much of a hassle as they may be, or you'll have to buy new ones down the road as you "outgrow" the current sets.
Regular or Olympic size
There are two size standards for plates, regular and Olympic. This refers to the size of the holes on the plates, where Olympic is considerably larger. If you buy a cheap, pre-packaged set, you'll most likely get regular. No problem there. However, if you're like some home trainers and build a modest basement gym piecemeal, pay attention so you don't have an Olympic barbell and weights, and then buy a regular dumbbell set with tiny or no weights thinking you'll cleverly use the plates you already own.
Some dumbbells are threaded where you screw on a collar to keep the plates in place, while others have a smooth surface that relies on clamps that you apply by pinching and sliding on. Either way is fine -- if it works properly. Weak clamps can be a serious hazard when you're doing hammer curls, for example. Having the clamp suddenly give way and a 25 lb plate dropping onto your toes is not fun.
A "Made in the U.S." set of dumbbells is bound to be expensive thanks to details like workers' rights, environmental issues and so forth, so if you're getting cheap dumbbells, they will all but certainly be made elsewhere. Because of recent lead concerns from countries that don't have stringent policies in place, play it safe with your cheap dumbbells and wash your hands after each workout.
Sources of Cheap Dumbbells
Of course, you don't have to get a brand new set. After all, it's not like an all-metal item gets that much wear and tear by being picked up and hoisted around a couple times a week.
Goodwill and other thrift stores
Old exercise bikes and similar machines are largely unsellable, but free weights tend to disappear quickly. If you have a couple thrift stores in town, do the rounds and ask them to give you a call if they get any cheap dumbbells in stock.
Likewise, skim the classifieds for your cheap dumbbells. Craigslist.com and other sites like it offers you the opportunity to advertise in the Wanted section for free. Who knows, maybe someone decides to clean out the attic once and for all that weekend and are more than happy to let you have the stuff for a pittance.
For the really hardcore (or cheapskate), you can even make your own cheap dumbbells. For example, check the garage for plastic jugs with good handles, old gasoline cans and the like. For lighter weights, fill with water. For more of a challenge, fill with sand, then add water. Just try to match jug size with contents so that you don't get any sloshing around, as this will destabilize you during exercise. Good luck!