Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Home Gym Equipment vs Dumbbells (Which Is Better for You?)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Last updated: January 31, 2023

For many people who are trying to set up a home gym, the decision often comes down to whether they should invest in gym machines or just have a few free weights like dumbbells.

As a personal fitness coach, I see advantages in both options, but when I talk to clients about this topic, they are often surprised about the important factors to consider.

So, I spent a day calling all my friends and colleagues who are fitness coaches to ask them how they would advise people on this choice.

Here’s what I gathered.

Quick Summary

  • Home exercise equipment can give you a great range of strength exercises for both isolation and compound movement.
  • While dumbbells might seem like they offer a more limited range of workouts, there are clever ways to target almost every single muscle.
  • Starting with adjustable dumbbells can be an inexpensive way to build your home gym, allowing you to later add more equipment and machines.

How Do You Decide Between Dumbbells and Home Gym Machines?

A woman deciding between dumbbells or gym machines

You can decide between dumbbells and home gym machines by taking a careful look at what kind of strength and fitness goals you have.

Both types of equipment have their advantages, and you can tailor a workout routine around them.

In my experience, many athletes shy away from free weights as they have to learn every precise movement.

With gym equipment like a cable pulley machine, you can kind of follow the natural movement of the machine.

I’ll look at the advantages of both shortly, but at a high level, free weights tend to give you more flexibility for isolation exercises, while machines offer a wider range of compound movements [1].

“Unlike isolation exercises that are performed with commercial weight machines, compound exercises focus on functional fitness developed by exercises that simulate real-life activities.”

- Tara Laferrara, CPT at

Advantages Of Dumbbells

One of the main advantages of dumbbells is that you are set up for a workout within seconds.

You might need a bench and a yoga mat, but there’s no wasting time on adjusting a cable pulley or Smith machine before a set.

The other great thing is that you can use them while moving around, which will allow you to do things like walking lunges.

That would be impossible with a regular gym machine.

You’ll also be surprised at how easily you can do exercises like dumbbell rows that have the same effect as you’d get with a cable machine.

And finally, dumbbells will allow you to do exercises like bench presses and squats without needing a spotter for safety assistance.

As long as you have heavy enough dumbbells, you’ll be able to target pretty much every single muscle in your body.

Advantages of Home Gym Machines

A woman doing workouts on a home gym machine

One of the big advantages of using home gym equipment like machines is that most of them will, in some way, guide your movements.

That can make it more likely to keep good form for a more effective workout.

The other advantage is that there’s a lower chance of dropping a heavy weight. Even if you lose your grip and the weight stack drops, you’re going to be far enough away from it to avoid getting hurt.

And with home gym injuries more common than people would think, it’s a good idea to always stay on the safe side [2].

And the final thing to point out is that the total weight load you can set up on cable pulleys and Smith machines is a lot higher than what you’d get with dumbbells.

That’s a possible issue for high-performance athletes and bodybuilders looking to work with heavy weight ranges.


Are Home Workouts With Dumbbells Effective?

Yes, home workouts with dumbbells are effective. With a wide range of weights, a yoga mat, and a workout bench, you can have everything you need in order to effectively build up muscle mass.

Are Dumbbells Necessary for Home Gyms?

No, dumbbells aren’t necessary for a home gym, but they can give you much more flexibility for certain lifting techniques. It’s also possible to get an affordable and easy-to-store option with adjustable dumbbells that give you maximum flexibility.

Make the Right Investment for Your Needs

If you’re still new to working out with gym equipment, then a cable pulley machine might be the best option for you. It’s a lot easier to learn the right movements without a personal trainer at home.

But if you know how to use dumbbells, then I’d highly recommend that you invest in dumbbells for more flexibility.

There’s a reason why bodybuilders prefer working with free weights, and we have tested dozens of the top dumbbell racks.

Take a look at our research into the ideal dumbbells for use in a home gym, and see which one will best suit your budget.


Was this article helpful?

About The Author