You’re thinking about finally getting in shape, but don’t want to have to go to a gym every day? You’re experiencing sticker shock when looking at the price of home fitness equipment?
Relax. If your primary (or initial) goal is building muscle, developing better-looking abs and increasing upper body strength, there’s no reason to shell out thousands of dollars. A set of the best adjustable dumbbells is the perfect way to start your bodybuilding program – and they’ll only cost you hundreds of dollars, not thousands. Just as attractive as their price is their durability; if you don’t abuse adjustable dumbbells, they should last a lifetime.
The best manufacturers feature adjustable weights sets which hold a maximum of 50 pounds per weight (or 100 pounds per set), but also offer similar sets which are lighter and heavier. The Groom+Style review team will primarily focus on those 50-pound weights in this review of the top 5 best adjustable dumbbells for resistance training, but be aware it’s usually easy to find basically the “same set” with a higher or lower weight maximum.
1. Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells (Pair)
It’s nearly impossible to watch late night TV for more than an hour without seeing ads for Bowflex products. If you didn’t know anything about fitness equipment, you might think Bowflex was just another fly-by-night company pitching sub-standard products on infomercials. Guess again. Bowflex is well known for making terrific equipment and their SelectTech 552 dumbbells are just one example.
The first thing you notice with the 552s is that they feel solid and comfortable, thanks to rugged steel construction and ergonomically-designed, textured rubber grips.
What’s also obvious is that these dumbbells are the “dial-a-weight” style, meaning you don’t have to manually add or remove weights; you just select your preferred amount of weight while the dumbbells are in their holder, and when you pick them up, the system will have added the correct number of plates to the bar. This style of dumbbell is more expensive than the ones which require you to do the work manually, but it’s incredibly convenient.
Another plus to this Bowflex SelectTech model is that it gives you a bigger choice of adjustable weight than most competitors, from five pounds all the way up to 52 ½ pounds (the adjustable dial system increases weight in 2 ½ pound increments). That may not be enough for competitive athletes or advanced workout warriors, but it’s a great weight range for those who are just starting out and slowly building their strength.
The 552s have been among the world’s best-selling dumbbells for several years, and it’s easy to see why.
Specifications for the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells:
2. Power Block Elite Dumbbells
This set of versatile dumbbells is also adjustable, but in a different way than the Bowflex model. These have selector pins which you move while the dumbbells are in their holders, to choose how much weight you want on the bars when you lift them; the process takes only a few seconds if you’re adding or removing ten pounds of weight at a time, but requires switching out weights if you only want to move up or down in 2 ½ pound increments.
That makes them less convenient than dial-a-weight dumbbells, and selector pin models are a little more likely to have weights become loose during use. Even so, they’re still a lot easier to use than models where you have to add and remove each weight manually.
The real advantage to the Power Block Elites is that you can buy expansion weight kits which let you go all the way up to 70 or 90 pounds without having to buy a completely new set of dumbbells.
These are made of durable steel, and the grips are the traditional “cage” style which may be a bit less comfortable for new users but protect users’ wrists better than most designs. The weights are also more compact than many competitors, lessening the chance that you’ll hit yourself with the dumbbells as can happen during some exercises.
The Power Block Elites are durable, relatively easy-to-use, and basically a professional-level dumbbell at a home gym price. Looking at the specs for the Power Block Elite Dumbbells:
3. Ironmaster 75 Lb. Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbell System With Stand
This “traditional” set of dumbbells is more expensive than our first two choices. The upside is that it comes with a standard weight range from 5 to 75 pounds, so there’s no need for most users to add extension modules or buy a second set of dumbbells.
By traditional, we mean that you must add or remove plates whenever you want to change what you’re lifting – but the “quick-lock” feature makes that process fast, easy and secure, requiring only 15-20 seconds to unlock the weights, make the changes, and snap everything back into place with no danger of the plates falling off.
These are well-made dumbbells made to last, constructed from chrome-plated steel. They don’t have the bells and whistles of adjustable models, but they’ll do what they’re supposed to do without making the process difficult.
A somewhat-bulky storage stand comes with this system so you’ll need a little more space than you would with the Power Blocks, but the stand is quite convenient.
You can save a little money on this Ironmaster system if you downsize to the option which only has 45 pounds worth of weights, but 75 pounds seems like a value to us. An add-on kit taking each dumbbell up to 120 pounds is also available.
A closer examination of the Ironmaster 75 Lb. Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbell System’s specifications:
4. Bayou Fitness Adjustable Dumbbells
Here’s another set of easy-to-adjust dumbbells which won’t take up much space in a home or apartment. The Bayou Fitness set includes storage trays that hold the weights, and all you have to do to select your preferred level is to slide a metal locking pin down the middle of the track – the correct number of plates will then be ready for you to lift.
Unlike some lesser competitors, these dumbbells are designed to ensure that the plates are firmly attached and won’t fall off.
You can choose to lift between ten and 25 pounds of weight on each of the two included chrome-plated steel dumbbells; you add plates in increments of five pounds. The review team likes this set a lot, but only knocked it down to #4 on our rankings for two reasons. First, the plates are very wide so they take a little time getting used to, second, the handles are only textured metal without rubber grips. They’re still comfortable, but some may find that the grip isn’t ideal for them.
Generally less expensive than our first few choices, the Bayou Fitness Adjustable Dumbbells are a great choice for those who want a simple, compact set of hand weights that are easy to adjust. A similar Bayou Fitness set holding 50 pounds on each dumbbell is also available.
Looking deeper at the Bayou Fitness Adjustable Dumbbells:
When shopping around for adjustable dumbbells, you may come across an interesting-looking Select-a-Weight system from the well-known sports equipment company NordicTrack. Here’s what the Groom+Style review team has discovered, though: NordicTrack sells the exact same product on Amazon under the name “Speed Weights” at a much lower price.
Each of the dumbbells can handle 15 weight increments, from 10 pounds to 55 pounds. A selector system built into the bases, somewhat similar to the one on the Bowflex SelectTech, allows you to quickly increase or decrease the amount of weight on each bar by moving a lever. The choices are in odd increments, starting at 10 pounds but then increasing by 2½ pounds, 2½ pounds and then 5 pounds, so there’s no option for 17.5, 27.5, 37.5 or 47.5 pounds. It’s not a big problem once you get used to the way the system works.
The plastic-covered metal weight plates are durable, but there’s one thing to know about them: it’s extremely important to be sure the lever is completely locked into position when you change weight levels. Otherwise, the plates may fall right off while you’re exercising. That’s not a concern with the Bowflex or Power Block models, and we don’t think it’s a problem that should stop anyone from buying the NordicTrack weights either – it’s just something to pay close attention to.
The Speed Weights (and the more-expensive Select-a-Weights) don’t have quite the solid feel of all-metal dumbbells, but they the job, they’re easy to use and they’re a good value.
Looking closer at the NordicTrack Speed Weights:
And some Bonus Budget Options that are well worth considering…
Bonus Budget Options – Unipack Adjustable Cast Iron Dumbbells
Here’s another pair of traditional dumbbells, which require you to manually add plates and lock them into place with a screw collar when you want to lift more weight. Each of the two Unipack dumbbells comes with eight five-pound weights, two 2½ pound weights and two 1¼ pound weights, and the cast iron bars are five pounds apiece. That makes a maximum weight of 52½ pounds per dumbbell, easily incremented by 2½ pounds and even allowing you to create weird totals like 23¾ pounds if you choose. Unipack sells extra ten-pound plates separately.
The chrome handles are covered with a layer of paint which has a somewhat-distinctive smell (which wears off after a while) and may occasionally fleck off, and the knurled handles can be uncomfortable when lifting a lot of weight. However, the dumbbells are manufactured well and do their job just fine.
The biggest drawback of the Unipacks is that manually adding and removing weights (thankfully, no tools are needed) makes it difficult to do timed workout sets with increasing weight levels. For many people, though, the low price of these dumbbells – quite a bit less expensive than our other choices – is well worth the extra time and effort to change weight plates.
As long as their quality is acceptable, there’s not a lot to standard dumbbells; they’re basically bars with weights on them. The Unipacks are a good choice if you don’t mind changing the weights yourself and are shopping primarily for the best price.
More info on the Unipack Cast Iron Dumbbells:
Bonus Budget Options – Yes4All Adjustable Dumbbells
Here’s the budget option in the G+S rankings. The Yes4All Sets do require you to change plates manually, but you get a lot of dumbbell for a low price. You can choose sets with weight totals of 40 pounds (20 pounds per hand), 50, 52.5, 60, 105 or 200 pounds, and each comes with an assortment of 2.5, 5 and 10 pound weights.
Needless to say, the custom choices are nearly infinite. And even the 200-pound set is much less expensive than the competition.
The weight plates are made from cast iron and fit on standard one-inch or 1.15-inch standard bars depending on the total weight of the set. The handles are made from diamond-knurled chrome for a good grip (no rubber grips, unfortunately), and the threaded ends with star-lock collars keep the weights secured tightly.
Changing weight levels isn’t as convenient as it is with some of the one-touch models we’ve ranked higher on this list, but it takes just seconds.
It’s a bit more work to manually adjust the weights on the Yes4All dumbbells, but you save a lot of money for just that little bit of work, and these well-made models should last for many years.
More info on the Yes4All Adjustable Dumbbells:
Universal Power-Pak 445 Adjustable Dumbbells With Stand
* Unfortunately it looks like the Universal Power-Pak dumbbells might not be available, so please consider the Bowflex dumbbells for now.
For those whose fitness equipment will be in a living room instead of a garage or basement, Groom+Style think the Universal Power-Pak is by far the most attractive set of quality dumbbells on the market. There’s a beautiful, ergonomically designed silver-colored stand, which matches the silver-and-grey design of the dumbbells. The unit looks great – at least, to us.
Of course, what really matters are features, durability, and performance, and the 445s hold up pretty well in all three areas. They are dial-a-weight style, with dials conveniently located on both ends of the bar. The dumbbells are well-built, although it’s important to note that the weight plates are coated in plastic, so it’s crucial not to drop the dumbbells on the ground.
The grips are no-slip thermoplastic, which is extremely easy to hold for long periods of time. One drawback, as with some of the models lower on this top 5 best adjustable dumbbells list, is that weight increases are limited to increments of five pounds.
The Power-Pak 445 and Bowflex Select-Tech 552 are both designed by Nautilus, so they are often compared to each other. The Power-Pak is less expensive with fewer features and a bit less durable, but they’re both good products. We prefer the Bowflex.
Examining the specs of the Universal Power-Pak 445 Adjustable Dumbbells:
StairMaster Pair of TwistLock Adjustable Dumbbells
* Unfortunately it looks like the StairMaster dumbbells might not be available, so please consider the Bowflex dumbbells for now.
Another system based on the same dial-a-weight approach as the Bowflex SelectTech (but patented by StairMaster under the name “TwistLock),” this set of dumbbells is more compact than other sets we’ve seen – but you’ll pay for the convenience, as the StairMasters are definitely more expensive.
That’s one of two reasons why they don’t rank higher on our list because this is a very nice piece of equipment. (The other reason they rank lower is that you can only add weight in five-pound increments, rather than adding 2 ½ pounds at a time.)
You can feel the quality of the TwistLock adjustable as soon as you pick them up because they feel like something you’d use in a professional gym: strong and well-built. Their grips are contoured, soft and textured for a comfortable feel, and the ability to adjust weights just by turning a dial lets you change your workout level without even having to take your hand off the dumbbell. Aluminum weight cradles are also included.
It would seem to us that they could charge a little less for this system, and you may be able to find it for lower than StairMaster’s list price; if you can, it’s a great product.
Examining the specs of the StairMaster Pair of TwistLock Adjustable Dumbbells:
Looking for something slightly different why not check our Top 5 Best KettleBell Reviews.
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