Best Adjustable Dumbbells
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A friend of mine asked,
“If you could only choose one piece of fitness equipment, what would you choose?”
I thought about it for a moment … then I told him:
“Dumbbells … check that … adjustable dumbbells!”
You can get lean, build muscles, they’re affordable, and they take up virtually no space.
You get all of that in one … or two.
Dumbbells are essential to any fitness program and if you can, you should try to incorporate them in your routines.
Legs, arms, chest, back, lats, and shoulders … you can literally target EVERY major muscle group.
They give you the ability to perform an array of exercise routines without requiring a lot of space.
Just add them to the mix and you’ll end up having a scalable workout program.
What to Expect
If you’ve been in the fitness game for a while like I have, you’ve seen adjustable dumbbells undergo some changes.
The threaded collars and clamps are gone on the new dumbbells – replaced by new, creative designs that make adding and removing weights simpler. And with their own unique locking mechanisms, they make working out much easier.
A good pair of adjustable dumbbells can cost you anywhere from $100 to $400+ depending on the make and model whereas a rack of dumbbells can cost you more than double.
Some Problems with Adjustable Dumbbells
Depending on the type you choose, you may come across some issues.
No one said adjustable dumbbells were perfect.
If you decide on the old-fashioned collared dumbbells, it may take a little bit of time to unscrew the collars and add/remove the weights – not to mention the fact that you’ll have the unused weights sitting around the floor.
Another issue is that some of the adjustable dumbbells can’t be treated as rough as you would with regular dumbbells.
Even though you shouldn’t be dropping dumbbells anyways like some knuckleheads in the gym, some adjustable brands have mechanical parts that can bend or break if they are dropped too hard.
They’re just not meant to be dropped…even with padded flooring. You don’t have to treat them like glass but you have to be careful.
So do yourself, your floor, the dumbbells, and everyone else around you a favor and STOP dropping them!
The last problem that we came across is not really a problem for 90% of the users out there but for those who are serious lifters – you won’t hit your max.
I wish they could go heavier but finding one that pushes the 100+ mark is only available on the collared dumbbells.
So, Which are the Best Adjustable Dumbbells Out There?
Since there are a few adjustable dumbbell manufacturers out there, we have pulled together a shortlist of people’s favorites and with the fewest amount of complaints, for your convenience.
A few of us have used each of the following dumbbells and continue to use a couple of them – because they work!
We mention which ones at the end of the review.
… remember, these are just opinions and our preferences.
Like any fitness program or tool, your views or preferences may be different from ours.
Just use common sense and do your own due diligence and test any fitness program or products yourself before purchasing.
Everyone has heard of Bowflex – especially their home gym equipment.
With a price tag that starts around $299, the Bowflex Selectech is one of the more popular brands.
It brings name recognition along with dependability and ease of use.
Although it also comes in a heavier version, the 1090, for purposes of this review, we will focus on the 552 which has a range of 5 to 52.5 lbs.
In case you’re wondering, the only major differences between the two are the weight range, overall dimensions, and the 552 comes in pairs where the 1090 only comes with one – don’t ask because we have no idea.
Update (2020): It appears that they now offer the 1090 in a pair … at double the cost.
Despite being a bit on the long side, the dumbbells are fairly comfortable to use for most of the routines we performed.
We were able to get a good grip on the contour handles and finish each exercise with relative ease.
Changing the weight is a breeze as well.
All that’s required is a spin of the turn dial and the locking mechanism secures the selected weight.
Just lift and start using it!
Here’s a breakdown of important elements covering the Bowflex Selectech:
- The Bowflex Selectech 552 is the more affordable of all 4 dumbbells reviewed but just as effective.
- The Bowflex allows the user to adjust the weights in seconds with just a turn of a couple of dials. There are two dials located on both ends of the dumbbell that triggers a unique mechanism that locks the weight selected on the turn dials. Once the desired weight is set, just lift with the contoured handles and the unused weights are left on the tray. It’s that simple.
- You can adjust weights in small increments.
- Another advantage is that the Bowflex allows weights to attach or detach on one or both sides. Convenient for overhead tricep extensions.
- The Bowflex is the largest out of all the dumbbells reviewed. It is very bulky. It has a length of 15.75 inches which remains the same regardless of the amount of weight selected. This can make things a bit uncomfortable for the smaller user, especially when performing chest or arm curls.
- Another disadvantage is that the racks are not included. Most of the other brands include the racks.
- If you drop them, the weights will get damaged along with the locking mechanism. So don’t drop them, period.
The PowerBlock is another popular brand.
With the same starting price tag as the Bowflex, it’s a solid, durable dumbbell used by many serious lifters.
They come in three different series, the Urethane, Sport, and Classic and there are different models for each series but for purposes of this review, we’ll stick with the Classic Elite 50 Set.
The only significant differences between the model series are the shape of the weights, grip, and material.
Many people wonder about the enclosure surrounding the handle/grip and wonder if it would impede your workout in any way.
To give you a simple answer – yes, it did get in the way of a few routines which was disappointing.
- The PowerBlock Elite 50 is compact and in many cases shorter in length than other regular dumbbells.
- It has straight handles and uses removable pins to select the weights. Each weight is color-coded and defined on the top of the weights. You simply insert the pin on the side of the desired weight and lift.
- You have the option to increase or expand the weight up to 130 lbs.
- Not a fan of the pin mechanism. Easy but sometimes the pins get misaligned so you have to double-check to make sure they are inserted correctly.
- Don’t drop them. The weights are supported by a narrow steel bar. If you drop them, chances are they’re gonna break or bend. One of our guys lifted a little too much and ended up dropping one and bent a couple of the weights. Not good.
- The bars on the outside restrict you from most routines you would typically do with two hands.
Although it’s a bit pricier than its counterparts ($529 with stand), the Ironmaster Quick-Lock is very durable and safe.
The locking mechanism consists of a one-inch steel lock screw inserted at both ends that just requires a short turn to add or remove the iron plates.
You can adjust the dumbbell from 5 to 75 lbs in 2.5 lb increments.
The Ironmaster also comes in a 45 lb. set for about $80 less but since the 75 lb. set is adjustable to a minimum of 5 lbs. it makes sense to cough up the additional money and go with the higher model.
Performing routines feels just like regular dumbbells.
The handles provide a comfortable grip and dumbbells are balanced well.
One of our colleagues in all his wisdom decided to drop one of the dumbbells from a standing position to test its durability and after yelling at him for several minutes no damage was discovered.
Note: This was done over a rubber mat. The stock weights are thin cast iron and if you drop them with enough force onto a hard surface, they will break.
Considering the price for these dumbbells we were a little reluctant on testing it further so we concluded that the Ironmaster dumbbells were strong enough to withstand a drop from about 3 feet on the concrete floor.
- Extremely durable and sturdy.
- Aesthetically pleasing. More so over its counterparts.
- The quick-lock mechanism makes it easy to change the weights.
- Includes stand.
- Able to expand to 165 lbs.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Costs more than the other adjustable dumbbells.
- Despite what some may say, cast iron will break. Unless you expand to the heavier kits which have thicker cast iron plates.
These bad boys are the original cast iron adjustable dumbbells that are still used in our arsenal of home gym equipment.
If you have 1-inch plates lying around, just throw them on as they use any 1-inch plate and come with 50 – 100 lbs. per dumbbell.
There are various weight increments as small as 1.25 lbs. to the heaver 10 lb. weights which makes it ideal for users of all levels … and the best part?
You can add 100+ lbs.
No other adjustable dumbbell mentioned has that weight capacity except the Ironmaster.
These are all extremely durable.
You’ll find a few vendors selling this dumbbell with slight variations but they all have the same durability for the most part.
Despite the pretty and shiny appearance of the chrome, it will eventually “flake” and may get pretty messy. Some of the flakes are thick so may run the risk of getting cut. Just take a metal filer and to smoothen it.
Another small problem is the collars occasionally coming loose. We’ve improvised by sliding a rubber gasket purchased from Lowes before screwing on the collar.
Overall, these are excellent dumbbells that are durable and will last virtually a lifetime.
- Extremely durable and sturdy.
- Can increase and decrease weights in small increments
- One of the more affordable adjustable dumbbells
- One of the original adjustable dumbbells and still being manufactured.
- Takes a bit longer than other adjustable dumbbells to change the weights.
- Chrome may flake. Thick pieces may be sharp.
Everyone has their own preferences. Some want durability while others want simplicity.
While each dumbbell has its own advantages and disadvantages there are several important factors you should consider: price, durability, weight range, and comfort.
You can’t always base your decision on just a single factor as one always affects another.
For example, the price may be an issue so you may be leaning towards a Bowflex but what if the 52.5 lbs. becomes too light?
If you’re just looking for lean muscle, then it’s probably perfect for you but what if you’re looking for strength and mass?
Since the Bowflex doesn’t expand you’re stuck with buying another heavier set.
So careful consideration is important since these types of dumbbells aren’t cheap … unless you’re rich.
With all of that mentioned, the ones that we favor are Ironmaster. Although this is on the pricier side, this bad boy is worth every penny.
It’s tough, comfortable, and pretty much what an adjustable dumbbell should be.
The weights are easy to change, although may not be as fast or convenient as the other two but that didn’t phase us.
Just remove or add the desired amount of weight.
We also choose the good ole’ fashioned cast iron adjustable dumbbells, you know, the one with the screw on collars.
They’re incredibly durable and can hold enough weights for any user.
What About Other Brands?
They’re all good.
But we lift heavy and can be clumsy with the weights.
If you don’t need anything too heavy, then any one of the ones we mentioned are good. Just pick the ones with the most weight so you don’t end up limiting yourself.