A pair of dumbbells are the most basic piece of exercise equipment.
For over 300 years, their form has remained essentially the same – a short bar with plates either permanently fixed on either end or able to be adjusted so you can change the resistance.
In recent times, however, the humble dumbbell has had a technological make-over.
This has allowed a single weight ‘block’ to take the place of dozens of individual bells, saving you both space and money.
In this article, we go deep into the adjustable dumbbell market.
We’ll consider the options that are out there, take a look at what you need to be looking for when purchasing these types of dumbbells dumbbells for your home gym.
We'll review and rank the 10 top performing adjustable dumbbells.
As a bonus, we'll add in a awesome 30-minute strength workout featuring only adjustable dumbbells that can be done anywhere, anytime.
Why Adjustable Dumbbells
Working out at home is a great option if you’re self motivated, have the space for a decent set up and can afford it.
No longer do you have to contend with a long commute to the gym, waiting around for equipment and putting up with the sweat and smells of fellow gym patrons.
One of the biggest hurdles that the home gym trainer faces, however, is the problem of progressive resistance.
The principle of progressive resistance is the foundation of weight training.
It states that in order to make progress in terms of building muscle and getting stronger, you need to be adding more resistance.
That either means putting extra plates on the barbell, investing in heavier dumbbells or adding plates to adjustable dumbbells.
In the gym, that’s not a problem.
Just grab some more plates off the rack or pick up a heavier pair of dumbbells.
At home, though, it’s a different story.
Most of us can’t afford to be going out every month and buying extra dumbbells or weight plates.
So, what’s the solution?
Up until a couple of decades ago, adjustable dumbbells were simply bells that had removable collars that allowed you to take off or add plates to either end of a short bar.
Now, though, you are able to buy adjustable dumbbells that come in the form of a weight block that allows you to select the poundage that you want.
This new take on the traditional dumbbell are a great solution for home trainers.
Now, you are able to afford the equivalent of the complete rack of weights that are lining the wall of the gym downtown.
For somewhere in the neighborhood of $175 – $300 you can get a full complement of dumbbells.
You don’t need to purchase an additional dumbbell rack and the whole deal takes up only about a square foot of space.
The Adjustable Dumbbell Market
A dumbbell is a short handled barbell that is designed to be used mainly with one hand.
Dumbbells are generally 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30cm) in length.
They feature a knurled part, which is 6 inches (15cm) long.
Fixed dumbbells are solid steel and have either round or hexagonal ends.
If buying fixed dumbbells, the rubber encased hexagonal bells are a great option.
The have a very comfortable grip, won’t smash into your forearms and won’t roll around.
The adjustable dumbbell market is now clearly divided into the traditional single adjustable design and the new selectorized adjustment system.
Traditional Adjustable Dumbbells
Traditional adjustable dumbbells come in the form of a pair of 8 to 12 inch handles, with 6-inch knurling handle grips.
Some models feature plastic rubberized handle grips.
At the extremes of the knurling there is a raised stopper to prevent the weight plates from sliding toward your hands.
On the outside of this is a 2-3- inch length to load weight plates onto.
Some bars will have spinlock ends that feature grooves that allow you to spin provided spinlock collars onto the bar to quickly lock the plates in place.
Others will come with plastic or metal screw up collars.
The major problem with these types of dumbbells is that they don’t provide you with much space to load extra weight onto the bar.
If you are using plastic coated weights, this issue is heightened.
You may also find that placing large plates that were made for a barbell onto the ends of a dumbbell will makes it difficult to perform such exercises as dumbbell curls and presses as the weights will bash into your body as you go through the range of motion.
A second issue with traditional adjustable dumbbells is that the collars are liable to come loose, with the result that the plates become loose and move around.
In a worse case scenario, the collars can fail completely, with the weights slipping off one end.
Selectorized Adjustable Dumbbells
Selectorized adjustable dumbbells were pioneered by Bowflex some 20 years ago.
Now there are a large number of competitors in a whole new market sector.
Selectorized adjustable dumbbells feature a platform or bed which each dumbbell sits in.
The dumbbell itself consists of handles with selector dials on their ends.
The handles sit on the platforms which also house weight plates.
When the dial is turned to a certain resistance, the handles lock in that level of resistance from either end.
The weight increase usually go up in 5 pound increments.
The majority of selectorized adjustable dumbbells on the market provide resistance levels between 5 and 50 pounds.
Some suppliers, however, provide heavy duty sets that go up as high as 100 pounds.
Adjustable Dumbbell Buyer’s Guide
It is vital that the adjustable dumbbells that you equip your home gym with provide you with the quality and performance that you need.
When you’re talking about hoisting a sizeable amount of weight over your body, you don’t want to take any chances with loose collars or slipping plates.
Here are the essential things to look for, starting with traditional adjustable dumbbells:
Handles – the handles need to provide you with a good level of both comfort and grip.
You don’t want the skin on your palm pinching into the point where the handle meets the plates.
Nor do you want the ends of the plates smashing into your forearms when doing pressing movements.
Collars – the integrity of the collars is crucial.
The most reliable, and the quickest to apply, are the spin lock collars that features groves on the ends of the bar for them to fit into.
The least reliable are the screw up type collars.
Bar length – you need a decent length at each end of the bar to allow for plates to be loaded.
Bar strength – you should only buy solid steel bars; you don’t want some cheap aluminum product breaking apart when you load up your max lift.
Progressive resistance increments – the majority of the models will increase in 5lb increments.
If women will be using the set, this may be too large a jump, so you’ll want a set that goes up in 2.5lb increments.
However, this will mean that you’ll get a lower total weight.
Max weight – for serious weight trainers, a 55lb max will be a must.
This narrows your options considerably.
After 6 months, you’ll be wanting to advance to a heavy duty set.
Minimal moving parts – the more moving parts, the greater the opportunity for things to go wrong or parts to get lost.
Easy interchange – check online reviews for the ease if changing the resistance.
Some sets can be hugely frustrating when things don’t click into place – especially when you’re in the middle of a workout.
Stand – some sets come with a free standing weight stand to keep everything looking smart.
Plate sizing – you don’t want a set with bulky plates that will bang into your forearms, so look out for compact plates.
Guarantee – you will want a product that carries at least a 12- month guarantee.
The 10 Best Adjustable Dumbbells
The Bowflex 552 is the original and best adjustable dumbbell.
It features 15 dumbbell variations, in increments from 5 to right up to 52.5 pounds.
The easy side dial switch is quick and easy.
It’s also reliable, allowing you to make your change in just a few seconds.
You also get a handy tray to house the set and keep everything together.
The handle grips of the Bowflex 552 feature tapered sides to enhance the feel along with a non-slip palm grip to prevent your hand from sliding around.
As the original designer of the selectorized adjustable dumbbell system, Bowflex are the most trusted and reliable supplier on the market.
The system comes with a very informative DVD guide.
In terms of price, the Bowflex 552 sit at about the mid range of the market.
Your purchase of the Bowflex 552 is covered by a full 2-year warranty.
- 15 dumbbell variations
- Reliable side dial
The PowerBlock Elite is an extremely compact, stylish and streamlined adjustable dumbbell set.
It is also extremely quiet to operate.
Weight adjustment is quick, easy and reliable.
The weight increments go up in progressions of three pounds to a total weight of 24 pounds.
The pin adjustment method used here seems to be less problematic than the dial up method used by some other models.
It is also faster, meaning that there is no interruption between your sets.
The PowerBlock Elite features a user friendly ergonomically designed handle which conforms to your hand and provides a soft rubber grip.
The weights come in an attractive black color scheme with color coding to differentiate the weight increments.
It is not as bulky as many other adjustable systems, coming in a square block design. The system comes with its own stand for easy storage.
You get an impressive 10-year warranty on this product so it is built to last.
- Stylish and compact
- 3-pound weight increments
- Ergonomic handle design
- Pin attachment is a little difficult when attaching multiple layers of weight plate
Bowflex Selectech 1090 adjustable dumbbells are the heavy hitters of the adjustable dumbbell market.
This set provides you with all of the benefits of the market leader and originator, the Bowflex 552, but adds extra weight allowance.
In fact, with the 1090 you get an adjustability range of between 10 and 90 pounds.
The weights are adjustable in 5 pound increments, providing you with a huge range of options.
You get 17 different weight settings.
That means that this set replaces 34 individual dumbbells, saving you thousands of dollars.
The dial a weight system is very fast and reliable.
The Bowflex 1090 comes with an impressive 3-year warranty.
You also get a very unique 6-week Fitness Results Guarantee.
Included is a comprehensive bonus workout DVD.
The Bowflex 1090 is the Big Mack of the adjustable dumbbell market.
This is the one to get if you can afford it.
- 10-90-pound weight increments
- 3-year warranty
- 17 weight settings
- Dumbbells are a little difficult to work with in chest presses
The Ironmaster 75lb Quicklock adjustable dumbbell system is the fastest change system that we have come across, as well as being among the most reliable.
This set provides up to 3 times as many pounds of weight as many other systems on the market.
They go up in increments of 2.5 pounds, giving you a wide range of selection options.
This set comes with a full cabinet to allow you to securely and smartly store the weights.
A heavy duty construction makes this a very durable, hard wearing set that will handle whatever punishment you throw at it.
It features a welded steel core, along with chrome plated handles that are extremely comfortable and highly grippable.
The set comes with a wall poster that describes a large range of exercises that can be performed.
You are able to purchase extra plates to increase the weight to 120 pounds.
Your purchase comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
- 75 pounds resistance
- Full storage cabinet
- Comfortable grips
The XMark Adjustable dumbbell set is able to be purchased as either a single dumbbell or as a pair.
Each dumbbell has a maximum weight of 25 pounds.
The weights go up in increments of 10 pounds, which provides rather limited options.
This set will be great for beginners and those wanting to perform isolation type exercises, but will be of limited value for compound exercises.
To adjust the weight on this set, you simply slide along a lever.
This makes it a quick, user friendly way to change the resistance.
On the downside, you only get a one year warranty on this product.
- Can purchase single or both dumbbells
- Great for beginners
- Quick resistance change
- Limited weight selection
- Only one-year warranty
The Bayou Fitness Adjustable dumbbell set provides you with a streamlined play system that comes with its own tray for ease of storage.
Each side of the dumbbell tray houses 25 pounds of resistance in 5 pound allocations.
The plates have a chrome finish to enhance durability and finish as well as making them rust resistant.
The Bayou system makes use of a dial up process for changing the resistance.
The hand grips are comfort styled for a true anatomical fit.
They are also slip proof and comfortable.
These adjustable dumbbells give you a very durable, compact set of dumbbells that will take up very little weight in your home gym.
The heavy duty tray that accompanies the set keeps everything neat and tidy.
This dumbbell set comes with a clearly explained DVD that shows you precisely how to use them for best effect.
- 5-pound weight allocations
- Chrome finish
- Comfortable hand grips
- Plastic tray
- Weight selection system is a little tricky
- Nautilus Universal PowerPak 445
The Nautilus Universal PowerPak 445 allows you to change weights in increments from 4 to 45 pounds.
It comes with a plastic workout stand, manual and workout guide.
The system uses a knob turn device that allows you to select the weight in the increments that you want to use.
It works quickly and reliably.
This is a compact unit that is 24 inches tall by 17 inches wide.
The weights go up in 5 pound increments on this unit.
It comes with comfort soft grip handles that are sweat resistant.
This system will replace 18 dumbbells, saving you time, space and money.
The detailed workout guide features more than 30 exercises to provide you with a whole raft of training options.
- Easy knob turning device
- Detailed workout guide
- Limited to 45 pounds per dumbbell
- Stairmaster Twistlock
The Stairmaster Twistlock Adjustable dumbbell set provides you with a very user friendly option.
A major advantage of this set is that you are able to change the weight setting without taking your hand off the handle grip.
This greatly speeds up your time to change, which is especially beneficial if you are doing down the rack style training.
The Stairmaster Twistlock also features handy weight selection window, allowing you to easily see what weight the system is set at.
This system also features enhanced safety, as the weights are firmly locked in place until you place the handle in the dock of the plate tray.
It has soft, comfort grip handles that are so comfy that you won’t even need to wear workout gloves.
You get a limited two-year warranty with the purchase of this product. It is a stylish, compact and safe set.
However, your weight options are quite limited.
- Can change weights with handles on grips
- Soft, comfortable hand grips
- Stylish and compact
The ProForm 25-lb single adjustable dumbbell set is a very functional set for beginners.
It has a maximum weight allowance of 25 pounds per dumbbell.
It comes with an easy storage rack that can be easily slid out of the way when you’re workout is done.
This set is adjustable in 5 pound increments.
The Pin Drop select a weight system is functional and fast.
The compact, round weights are very easy to work with.
This product is manufactured by ICON Heath and Fitness, and comes with a manufacturer’s warranty.
- Round plates
- Pin Drop selector system
- Tray included
The IronMaster Quicklock 45-Pound Adjustable dumbbell set is a square set that allows you to quickly change between weight settings.
In fact, IronMaster guarantee that you will be able to change the settings in 15 seconds or less!
The weights can be increased in either 2.5 or 5 pound increments.
This is a compact set that is very easy to handle.
On the downside, you are limited to a maximum of 45 pounds per dumbbell and the square design may make it difficult to get a full contraction on such exercises as seated dumbbell curls.
Also, it does not come with a stand or tray so this makes a great choice for adjustable dumbbells if you're on a budget.
- Quick weight change
- 2.5 or 5 pound increments
- Square design may limit some range of motion
The Ultimate Dumbbell Workout
- Dumbbell Halo – 30 seconds
- Standing Dumbbell Reverse Fly – 10 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift – 10 reps
- Farmer’s Walk – 10 steps each leg
- Plank – 30 seconds
- Jump Squat (unweighted) – 30 seconds
Complete this circuit with no pause, then rest for 2 minutes. Work up to going through the circuit three times.