A pair of dumbbells are the most basic and the most versatile piece of exercise equipment, and adjustable dumbbells go further to make them even more accessible to everyone.
Dumbbells are arguably the most important exercising equipment ever made. With a pair of dumbbells and a flat bench, it’s possible to exercise just about every major muscle group in the body. Thousands of exercises rely on dumbbells, and many others that use large tools can be successfully replicated by a pair.
For centuries the design of the dumbbell has remained more or less the same, and while it’s efficient, it does take up a lot of space. We’ve all seen the large huge rows of free weights hanging on stands in gyms, and while that set-up has its own elegance, it’s impractical if you want to build a gym at home.
The Best Adjustable Dumbbells
Adjustable dumbbells are there to remedy the problem perfectly. Without taking up much space, these incredible products of mechanical engineering grant a huge range of weights without taking up even 3 square feet of area.
In fact, adjustable dumbbells have quickly changed the game, and many gym owners are adjusting their own business models to replace contemporary weights with adjustable dumbbells to save space. Not only do they take up less space, adjustable dumbbells have also become increasingly durable, with many of the top brands offering a decade or even more of warranty.
If you’re looking to build a home gym, adjustable dumbbells are absolutely the way to go. A full range of standard dumbbell weights will end up costing you well over $1000 and an entire cabinet’s worth of space. Whereas even the highest quality adjustable dumbbells will cost you $600 max for a huge range and little more than a corner’s worth of space.
A decade ago there was very little choice to make when it came to adjustable dumbbells. It was a new idea and the world wasn’t fully ready to embrace it. Move to the present now and adjustable dumbbells are widely available, and in different styles manufactured by different brands.
There’s lots to choose from, which can be a little intimidating since investment in a large range of weights is an expensive endeavor. For this reason, it’s important for you to be buying what suits you best so your hard-earned money doesn’t go to waste.
We have chosen what we believe are 5 of the best adjustable dumbbells in the market right now. Our considerations while choosing these products included reliability, performance, ease of use, quality, ease of adjustment, usage of space, and market availability. Let’s get started.
Our Top Pick
The Best Adjustable Dumbbells
The PowerBlock Elite is one of the two most popular adjustable dumbbells on the market. Strange shape, but incredibly compact and very reliable.
BowFlex SelectTech 552
Incredible Atlernative To PowerBlock
Alongside the PowerBlock, the BowFlex SelectTech has dominated the market since 2008 due to its excellent design, build, and reliability. This is the dumbbell that started the trend of modern adjustable dumbbells that are compact in design and easy to use.
When you research adjustable dumbbells, you’ll often see series of SelectTech vs PowerBlock comparison videos and articles.
PowerBlock has an innovative approach to adjustable dumbbells. At first, the Powerblock dumbbells look rather odd. You’d think it’s inconvenient to have rectangular shaped dumbbells with seemingly no handle. Yet a closer look and hands-on experience gives sense to the design decisions.
Although bulky-looking in pictures, the PowerBlock Elite is an adjustable dumbbell set with one of the smallest footprints in the market. The design allows them to be placed anywhere without fear of rolling around, and their collective weight obviously keeps them securely in place.
Functionally, it’s a little odd at first due to the unconventional design. You must stick your hand between two poles to reach the rubber handle and grab it. It feels strange the first couple of times and can be difficult to get into position initially with it.
However, this design serves a very specific purpose. We found that it is one of the most comfortable to use during the workout. Be it bench presses, bicep curls, shoulder presses, or triceps extensions, the ergonomics of the PowerBlock Elite make it extremely easy to use during the workout process. All motions seem unobstructed, which in turn allows for high quality reps to maximize your workout efficiency.
The adjustable dumbbells also stay surprisingly quiet. Adjustable dumbbells are notorious for being noisy due to the rattling of the individual pieces, but we found the PowerBlock Elite to be mostly sturdy and quiet during workout.
One potential downside is the adjustment system, though. PowerBlock Elites use a pin system that has you insert a steel pin through the handle to select the weight level. With heavier weights the pin doesn’t cause much annoyance, but during lightweight exercise it can go through the handle and protrude out the other side. You’ll have to turn it away from the body to make sure you don’t get prodded and scratched by it. Even if this isn’t an issue, the pin design is generally a tad more complicated than other adjustment systems.
Overall, the functionality, ergonomics, and ease of use of the PowerBlock Elite are praiseworthy. What’s also brilliant about the PowerBlock Elite is that its range can be extended with additional purchase all the way to 130 pounds (the standard is up to 50lbs, by the way).
This makes it an incredibly compact and efficient home workout tool that should have you covered for all your free weight exercises. But wait, there’s more! The PowerBlock Elites can be combined with the Urethane EZ Curl Bar, which makes them incredibly versatile.
In our opinion, the ergonomics, small footprint, ease of operation, comfort, and huge weight range makes the PowerBlock Elite the best adjustable dumbbells one can buy.
- Great range of weights to push the limits
- Incredibly compact and convenient design
- Won’t cost you an arm and a leg for the starter pack
- Great performance during workouts that allows you to repeatedly pump quality reps
- An impressive 10-year warranty on the product
- Takes a few sessions to get used to due to the unconventional design
- Pin adjustment system isn’t the sleekest
The Bowflex SelectTech 552 is the other extremely popular adjustable dumbbell set in the market.
The Bowflex 552 starts at a base unloaded weight of 5lbs and caps it off at 52.5lbs. What’s great about the dumbbell set is that it allows for a very appropriate incremental change of 2.5lbs for the first 25lbs of weight, which in our opinion is better than what the PowerBlock offers, specifically for beginners looking to gain muscles quickly.
One of the best aspects of the Bowflex 552 that it nails is the fast adjustment system. All that is required is to dial in the weight you desire on both sides, then lift the dumbbell from the tray that you get with the set, and you’re ready to go. This makes it extremely convenient and allows for almost uninterrupted variation for power sets and different exercises. This system also allows you to utilize staggered resistance (unequal weight on each side of the dumbbell) for specific exercises, an option unavailable in the PowerBlock.
The design choice of the Bowflex SelectTech 552 is decent, as it combines the conventional shape of dumbbells with a hi-tech adjustment system. The handle grips feature tapered sides with stud ridges that enhance the feel and improve the grip. This allows for good use for prolonged periods and ensures that it does not slip despite the sweating.
We did used the word “decent” to explain the Bowflex SelectTech 552 deliberately. It isn’t without its flaws, especially when compared to the PowerBlock. The primary purpose of adjustable dumbbells is to get rid of the huge space individual weights take and make them as compact as possible.
In an attempt to mimic the conventional dumbbell design and cram it with adjustment features, the SelectTech has a much larger footprint than the PowerBlock. This can make it quite difficult to do full compressions during exercises like bicep curls, as you’ll find the large radius weights smacking your sides.
Additionally, the length of the dumbbells also makes them comparatively unwieldy, particularly during exercises like bench presses where there is a tendency of the dumbbells to twist and turn in your hands. It also makes it virtually impossible to bring the dumbbells together during the full compression of a bench press to active the inner chest muscles.
The weight range is also where the Bowflex 552 fails to beat the PowerBlock. A heavier version of the SelectTech (called the SelectTech 10/90) is available for purchase, but that costs you extra and is a separate product. There’s no way to add additional weights to the standard 552.
All those factors don’t take much away from Bowflex SelectTech, but one flaw that is hard to ignore is the build quality. The rubbers on the weights have a tendency to wear out, and there have been reports of the knob system breaking if the dumbbell accidentally falls.
The Bowflex SelectTech 552 has a few flaws, but it is definitely still one of the two best adjustable dumbbells in the market. Many swear that it is better than the PowerBlock. While we don’t necessarily think so, it is certainly an incredible product that we highly recommend to any individual trying to build a home gym.
- Excellent adjustment system that makes changing weights a breeze
- Ergonomic, comfortable grip makes using the Bowflex for extended periods very easy
- Rubber padded weights make them bounce off the individual which prevents the discomfort felt by metal contact
- 2.5lb increment up to the first 25lbs is excellent for steady and tangible gains
- Conventional dumbbell design makes them intuitive to use
- Size of the dumbbells prevents you from getting the best out of certain workouts
- The weight range is limited; separate product needs to be bought to go higher
- Reports of the selector plates breaking very easily
If it weren’t for the high price tag of $599, the Ironmaster Quick-Lock adjustable dumbbells could’ve gone toe to toe with the Bowflex SelectTech 552 and PowerBlock Elites. In fact, from a pure quality standpoint the Ironmaster trump the Big Two in certain aspects. This makes them the best adjustable dumbbells outside our two top picks.
What makes the price of the Ironmaster Quick-Lock skyrocket isn’t just the quality of the dumbbells itself, but also the peripheries that come with it. These bad boys come with a full cabinet that acts both as a stand as well as a storage space for the individual weights. Although the stand is fantastic, we wish it would come with wheels, but that isn’t a real negative since most people won’t be moving the cabinet around.
The Ironmaster Quick-Lock also comes as a 75lbs set, which is greater than what many others offer. The weight increment is 2.5lbs, which we’re a fan of. The locking mechanism isn’t as seamless as the Bowflex SelectTech’s or even the PowerBlock’s though; you must manually add and remove the plates like you would with a normal set.
While this may not be an issue for individuals used to conventional dumbbells, moving plates around after the umpteenth set feels like an unnecessary chore when you have the more easily adjustable PowerBlock and Bowflex staring at you from the other side of the room. Many of the plates have different values, so switching around the weights in haste between exercises can disorganize your shelf, making it a nuisance to dig around for the right ones.
Note: There is also a 45lbs version that does not include a cabinet which costs around $385, but we feel that the smaller version is trumped by both PowerBlock and BowFlex, so we won’t be considering it in this short review.
The Ironmaster has a heavy-duty construction that makes it not only good for home usage, but also extremely viable for commercial use. In fact, we highly recommend these over all other adjustable dumbbells if you plan to buy them for your gym. Not only are they extremely durable and tough, they also come with lifetime warranty which makes them an incredible commercial investment.
- Heavy duty construction makes these dumbbells very solid and durable
- Lifetime warranty would encourage any gym owner to invest
- The cabinet provides extra storage space
- 2.5lb increment is great for steady and tangible gains
- Manually displacing weights in a modern adjustable dumbbell
- Expensive for home usage
- Handle might be uncomfortable for smaller hands
The Bayou Fitness is in our opinion the best adjustable dumbbells set for beginners. Unlike the others in this list, Bayou offers both a standalone 50lbs range dumbbell for around $150 as well as a pair for $288. For those on an even tighter budget, a pair of 25lbs models can be purchased for a mere $155.
This makes the Bayou an excellent choice for starters, and we highly recommend it to those on a budget. Let’s clarify one thing though: Bayou does not compromise on the quality of the dumbbells.
In this case low price does not equate poor quality. We feel the Bayou Fitness Adjustable Dumbbells are very sturdy and well made. The weights are all high-quality metal, and the chrome looks fabulous. These dumbbells stand up to rigorous and frequent exercise without damage.
The design is very compact, which we absolutely love as we feel it’s the crux of making and owning adjustable dumbbells in the first place. The weights have a unique design that is a blend between contemporary round weights and something quite different. Clearly there is inspiration taken from BowFlex, but in our opinion Bayou has gotten the size right with their product.
The adjustment feature of the Bayou is also clever. It’s a simple knob that is removed and then placed in a position that coincides with the amount of weight needed. There is no need to handle the plates yourself, which makes swapping the weights extremely simple. You can even have staggered weights since each side has individual knobs.
There have been some complaints of the knob getting stuck after repeated use. This can reportedly be remedied with some WD-40 before putting the knob is, though. Regardless, we feel this is a problem that needs to be pointed out to anyone thinking of purchasing these weights, even though we don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
The weight increments of the Bayou Fitness are somewhat limited. There are only 5lbs increments to choose from from 5 to 50lbs. We feel the increment is a bit too large – we prefer smaller increments of 2.5 or 3lbs to get gradual gains without risk of overtraining.
Overall, the Bayou Fitness Adjustable Dumbbells are, in our opinion, the best in the category for beginners and individuals on a budget. They aren’t without flaws, but with a bit of WD-40 and a slightly altered workout program they can serve the purpose of a compact home dumbbell set extremely well.
- Good build quality and design
- Simple and effective adjustment system
- Very compact that gives them a small footprint
- Affordable compared to other adjustable dumbbells
- The weight increment at 5lbs is too large, in our opinion
- You’ll need to buy some WD-40 with these weights
- The weights tend to rattle a bit when being used
The StairMaster Twistlock adjustable dumbbells come with very cool adjustment system that is both very easy to operate and also very safe. This had made the StairMaster Twistlock a very popular choice among hard trainers.
We are also a huge fan of the classic design. It is conventional, familiar, and above all extremely functional. This no-nonsense design gives the StairMaster Twistlock a modern-classic look. The central bar is capped with rounded weights that would normally roll around if left to their own device, but thanks to the reliable two plastic stands it ends up being both elegant and safe.
The weight adjustment system is really neat; it is a dial that is embedded into the handle, which makes it very comfortable to work with. Simply place the dumbbells in the stand and twist the handle to adjust the weights.
The numbers indicate the weight, and the plus & minus signs tell which direction you must twist to add or remove weights respectively. This feature is also foolproof; it locks up when the dumbbells are removed from the stand to prevent any accidental adjustment during the workout. This in our opinion is the most streamlined adjustment system out there as there are little to no additional moving pieces; everything is integrated into the main handle and freeweights.
While the StairMaster Twistlock excels in its ease of adjustment and simple design, we’re not huge fans of the handle itself. It’s a rubberized grip with slight grooves for additional gripping power. This makes it quite comfortable for extended periods, but it can get very slippery if you have sweaty palms after a while. This makes gloves essential while using the StairMaster Twistlocks.
Another big downside to these dumbbells is the 5lbs increment to adjust the weights within its 5 to 50lbs range. If you’ve read the entire article, you’ve probably guessed by now that we’re not big fans of large increments and prefer smaller ones for better progression.
Finally, there’s the price tag. The StairMaster Twistlock usually come around a price of $499, which is nearly $100 more than the Bowflex SelectTech. This puts the StairMaster Twistlock at a huge disadvantage since the Bowflex SelectTech do offer more functionality. In fact, the two main reasons to prefer the StairMaster Twistlock are the adjustment mechanism and sleeker design. Whether that’s worth an additional $100 is up to you to decide.
Overall, we’re quite happy with the performance of the StairMaster Twistlock, even though we dislike a couple of things. The price is probably the biggest negative. Outside that, they’re still a great choice for adjustable dumbbells in 2018.
- Great minimalistic design that instantly makes them feel familiar
- Convenient and highly safe adjustment system that we think is one of the best in the market
- Reliable build quality – we’ve experienced no damage or dysfunctional parts
- Built-in automatic timer
- The product is overpriced
- We’re not a fan of 5lbs increments
- The grip can get very slippery with sweaty palms
As mentioned at the start of the article, perhaps the biggest advantage of adjustable dumbbells over regular dumbbells is how little space they occupy.
If you’re a regular gym goer, you probably already know what we’re talking about; regular dumbbells even up till 50lbs can take an entire cabinet’s worth of space. Plus, frequent usage of the dumbbells by many individuals results in them being placed randomly and out of order, making it more difficult to find the right one.
Even if you’re alone, you’ll likely swap and switch dumbbells so often that you’ll have placed different plates in different places. This entire back-and-forth adds to your gym time that would be better invested in actual workouts instead.
Adjustable dumbbells provide a compact solution that won’t get jumbled or lost. Most of these dumbbells are also very easy to adjust, taking less half a minute to change the resistance value.
And of course, the biggest factor of all: they save money. Buying individual dumbbells or plates with varying weights can cost you a lot. Within the same resistance change, you’ll find adjustable dumbbells to be much cheaper. We encourage you to do the calculation yourself. You’ll be surprised how cost effective an adjustable dumbbell can be.
The weight range varies from one adjustable dumbbell to another. We recommend getting the highest range possible for the best value. If you workout regularly, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll increase the resistance, especially in the first few months.
Even with small increment increases, you’ll end up hitting the 50lb mark for most compound exercises very early even when starting from scratch. Maximize your workout by buying a product that has a huge weight range. If that’s currently out of your budget, at least consider a product that allows for expansion.
Reliability covers aspects such as build quality, tightness of the locking mechanism, as well as ease of use. Adjustable dumbbells have the disadvantage of being made up of a few moving parts. The parts may not move all the time, but they still suffer from the same nature of moving parts: they tend to degrade.
For this reason, locking and adjustment mechanisms should be durable, as should the weights themselves. Many weights are rubberized for additional comfort, but rubber can wear easily compared to steel, so it’s important to consider which one is suited to you.
Last but not least, the stand or mount for the dumbbells should be sturdy, durable, and rigid. A cheap stand will break from the the fatigue induced by regular removal and mounting of the dumbbells.
How much range and increment should I look for?
This really depends on you. If you’re a beginner or intermediate lifter, you should look for a medium range and as small an increment as possible. We don’t recommend the 5lb increment weights unless they are the only choice in the price range. A steadier increment will help you gain muscle better than a big leap.
For a beginner, a range up to 45 to 50 lbs per dumbbell should be adequate and will last you quite a while. The real speed and level at which you progress will depend on your physique and genetics, but up to around 50lbs should be adequate. To be on the safe side, we recommend adjustable dumbbells that you can buy extra weights for separately to be your starter pack.
What type of adjustment system is the best?
Currently, there are quite a few different variations on two main types of adjustment systems. These are the dial type system and the pin type system.
Overall, the dial type system seems to be far better than the pin one. The twist system used by StairMaster is also really fancy and convenient and is a variation of the dial, except it is embedded within the handle for extra safety and convenience. Pin systems like the one on the PowerBlock are a little more inconvenient to use, but they’re not time wasters like regular dumbbell sets.
The adjustment system shouldn’t be the biggest factor in your decision. It can be a factor that splits between two evenly matched adjustable dumbbells, but apart from that we can assure you that most systems are far better than switching entire plates or swapping one dumbbell for another.
Who are these products made for?
We think you know the answer to this. Majority of the adjustable dumbbells are made for men and women looking to setup a home gym. They are compact and user-friendly for this very reason.
However, we do feel that commercial buyers can also greatly benefit from certain adjustable dumbbells. The IronMaster ones, for example, are an incredible investment as they are heavy duty dumbbells with lifetime warranties and a great range. Having half a dozen IronMaster adjustable dumbbells will probably cost less than having a huge range of conventional dumbbells for any gym owner.
Is it true that you can do most exercises on dumbbells?
We certainly believe so. Dumbells are incredibly versatile free weights that have added advantages over barbells because the can be used by a single hand. You’d be surprised just how much you can achieve with nothing but a pair of dumbbells and an exercise bench to use them on.
Most professional athletes and body builders shun complicated machines and other sophisticated equipment and use free weights instead. Free weights (dumbbells in particular) can be slightly harder to use because your form and rep quality largely depends on yourself.
However, they also provide extended range, control, and versatility. By merely changing your incline or alignment, you can completely alter which muscles you target and how you target them.