If you’re trying to build a home gym, you need to think carefully about what kind of gear you’re going to buy. While gyms have hundreds or thousands of square feet to dedicate to all kinds of equipment, even the most significant home isn’t going to have that kind of space. At most, you’ll have a large basement. And realistically, you’re going to want to use a lot of that space for a weight bench, a treadmill, and other large equipment.
The problem is magnified if you live in an apartment or small home. In these cases, every piece of gear you buy is going to be a significant space investment. And free weights notoriously occupy a lot of space. By the time you stack up a bunch of weight plates, you can end up using a bunch of your living room just for a set of dumbbells.
One solution is to buy a set of adjustable dumbbells. These weights will occupy minimal space, while still giving you plenty of options in terms of how much weight you’re lifting. We’re about to review seven of the best adjustable dumbbell sets on the market. Afterward, we’ll explain the features you should be looking for, which will help even beginning weightlifters to make an informed decision.
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Top 7 Best Adjustable Dumbbells 2021
When you’re choosing a dumbbell set, there are several factors to consider. The method of adjustment, weight limit, weight increment, and even the shape are all important things to take into account. We’ve put together a variety of options, so you’ll be able to find something that fits your needs – whatever those needs are.
#1 Bowflex SelectTech Adjustable Weights
Bowflex SelectTech Adjustable weights come as a pair. These were the first adjustable dumbbells on the market to offer a dial a weight adjustment style. With this type of adjuster, you select the weight by turning a small knob on each end of the dumbbell. This allows for quick, easy adjustment since you can see which weight is selected. And because you can adjust both sides of the dumbbell independently, you can perform more advanced workouts that require an offset weight. Other manufacturers have since adopted a similar design, and we’ll be looking at a few of those models as well. But Bowflex’s offering is tough to beat, provided you’re willing to pay the higher price.
Each SelectTech dumbbell can be adjusted from 5 pounds up to 52.5 pounds. Up to 25 pounds, it adjusts in 2.5-pound increments. From there, it adjusts in 5-pound increments up to 50 pounds, with a final 2.5-pound adjustment that gets you to the total. As a result, these weights are well-suited for both toning and strength training, although dedicated powerlifters are going to want a heavier weight set. The weights themselves are round steel with a textured matte finish. The tops of the weights have a cutout, which allows the handle to lift out easily.
The handles on the SelectTech dumbbells have a rubberized finish, which is already beautiful and grippy. But they’re also textured, which makes them almost impossible to drop, even when your hands are slick with sweat. The red accents on the ends of the handles aren’t just a cosmetic feature. They’re also functional. They allow you to determine at a glance when the handles are properly oriented to re-insert into the weight plates.
These dumbbells also come with a pair of stands. They’re constructed from tough PVC plastic, and they sit low to the ground. Unlike a lot of other stands, they don’t take up a lot of space, so you can protect your floor without occupying half of your living room. The entire kit comes with a 2-year warranty, which covers the entire kit, including the weights, the handles, and all the other parts.
#2 PowerBlock Elite Dumbbells
PowerBlock Elite Dumbbells have a quirky design. If you’re not familiar with adjustable dumbbells, you may not even realize at first that they’re dumbbells. They’re square instead of round, which means that when you set them down on your floor, they aren’t going to roll anywhere on your own. Each one also has five different handles: one at each corner and one in the center.
The center handle is typically going to be your best option. But for some workouts, you might get better performance by lifting from one of the corners. This is particularly useful if you want to strengthen your hands and forearms since you’ll need to grip harder to keep them under control. The grips are foam-padded, which makes them comfortable and slip-free, although the foam isn’t as durable as rubber or steel.
These dumbbells come in a pair, and each one is adjustable from 15 to 50 pounds in 5-pound increments. But powerlifters will also appreciate the ability to expand the kit. There are two expansion packs available. The first will increase the overall weight to 70 pounds, and the second will get you to 90 pounds. The handles are already designed to accommodate these weights, so you won’t have to buy a new handle to get the same number of adjustment options.
The weight plates are wide, slim, and flat, with crossbars that extend across the center of the dumbbell, parallel to the grips. To adjust the weight, you remove a two-pronged plastic pin set that slides into grooves on either side of the handle. When the pin set is inserted, there’s a lever in the center of the handle that locks into place to keep the pins from dropping out on their own. This makes the PowerBlock Elite exceptionally secure, as well as being versatile enough to meet a variety of needs.
#3 Core Fitness Adjustable Dumbbell Weight Set
The Core Fitness Adjustable Dumbbell Weight Set is a pair of adjustable dumbbells that range from 5 to 50 pounds. Adjustments are made in 5-pound increments, which keeps the kit as simple as possible. With the option for 5 or 10-pound weights, you might be tempted to buy this set for toning. However, making the jump from 5 to 10 pounds can be a bit much for a beginner. If you’re looking for toning, look for a set with 2.5-pound adjustment intervals.
That said, the Core Fitness set has a lot to offer, particularly in terms of adjustment. It has a twist-lock adjustment style, which means you select the weight by rotating the handle itself. This is a nifty feature if you’re doing multiple sets at different weights. Suppose you’re doing a set at 50 pounds, a second set at 40 pounds, and the third set at 30 pounds. With most adjustable dumbbells, you’d spend half of your rest fiddling with weight adjustment. With a twist lock, all you have to do is rotate the handles. Just flick your wrist, and you’ll have time to grab a sip of water – or just sit down for a few seconds – before beginning your next set.
The weight plates are round, slim, and flat, and have a brushed matte finish. The handle is forged from the same material, making this one of the most rugged weight sets on the market. The grips have a rubberized wrap on the center portion, which provides for minimal slipping even when you’re in the middle of a sweaty workout. The set also comes with a pair of small stands. Much like the SelectTech stands, these stands are low to the ground, and they don’t take up much space. They’re constructed from steel for plenty of strength, but they have small rubber feet that keep your floor protected.
#4 Merax Deluxe 71.5 Pounds Adjustable Dial Dumbbell
The Merax Deluxe 71.5 Pounds Adjustable Dial Dumbbell, as its name implies, can be adjusted as high as 71.5 pounds. This makes it one of the heaviest dumbbell sets on our list, and an excellent choice for people who want a heavy adjustable dumbbell right out of the box. The adjustment intervals are a bit quirky, at 5.5 pounds, and start from a lower limit of 11 pounds. Adjustment is quick and painless, with a dial a weight adjuster on each end of the dumbbell. The weight plates themselves are solid steel, with a glossy black finish and a vertical slot for inserting the handle. These dumbbells come as a pair and include a stand for easy storage.
The stand is constructed from tough steel and includes a pair of plastic mounts on the top. It has casters on the bottom, which make it easy to roll out of the way if you so desire. That said, it still occupies more floor space than the weights themselves. If that’s a major concern, the plastic mounts are removable and can be used as mini stands on their own. This will significantly reduce floor space, and you can always throw the stand in your closet or storage space if you plan on using it later.
The handles on these weights have a rubber grip in the middle, with textured studs that allow for an exceptionally secure grip. They’re also easy to place back into the weight plates. The ends have a vertical design, which slides easily into the plates, so you won’t have to fiddle around with different angles to get the weights back into place. There’s also a red locking button on end, which is used to unlock the adjustment dials. As a result, there’s no risk of accidentally changing your weight settings.
#5 ATIVAFIT Adjustable Dumbbell 71.5 Pounds
This ATIVAFIT adjustable dumbbell is another dial a weight model, and it’s a feasible choice for both toning and strength training. It adjusts from 5 pounds to 7.5 pounds, and in 5-pound intervals from there to 71.5 pounds. Like the last dumbbell we looked at, this dumbbell has a safety release button, which prevents accidental adjustment. Unlike most of the other choices on our list, it comes as a single unit, not as a pair. On the other hand, it’s correspondingly more affordable. Depending on what you’re looking for, this might be right up your alley.
The weight plates are forged from steel, with a glossy black finish that’s easy on the eyes as well as being durable. The handle is also quite rugged, with a flat steel profile and a studded rubber grip in the center. This makes the ATIVAFIT dumbbell easy to hold, no matter how intense your workout and no matter how much you’re sweating. It also has vertical shanks on the ends, which slide easily into the vertical slots on the weights. As a result, the ATIVAFIT is easy to return to its base when you’re done pumping out a set.
This dumbbell comes with a small molded plastic base, which keeps it from rolling without taking up a whole bunch of floor space. The bottom of the base has small rubber feet to prevent it from scratching your floor. You also get a 1-year warranty that covers the weights and the handle, although it doesn’t cover any damage to the base.
#6 PowerBlock Sport 24 Adjustable Dumbbell
The PowerBlock Sport 24 Adjustable Dumbbell is the baby brother of the PowerBlock Elite Dumbbell we’ve already looked at. It has a similar, square design, with wide, flat weight plates and a central, plastic frame that holds everything together. Normally, we’re leery of dumbbells with a lot of plastic in the construction, but the PowerBlock Sport comes with a 10-year warranty. It won’t cover damage from dropping, but it will cover cracks that result from everyday use.
Like the PowerBlock Elite, the PowerBlock Sport 24 has a square handle with five grips. All five are foam-padded, which provides a grip that’s both comfortable and secure. The foam isn’t as tough as a rubber or metal grip, but that’s what the 10-year warranty is for. With this many grips, you can perform a variety of fast-twitch workouts, as well as hold the dumbbell at an odd angle to strengthen your hands and forearms.
A wide, plastic selector pin allows you to make easy adjustments, similar to the way you’d adjust a gym weight stack. However, unlike the PowerBlock Elite, the PowerBlock Sport 24 doesn’t have a locking lever. You’ll need to be extra careful to make sure the pin is fully inserted. Weight is adjustable in 3-pound increments, which is unusual but not unheard of. All in all, you can go from 6 to 24 pounds, which makes these dumbbells ideal for toning and beginners. If you’re strength training, though, you’ll want a beefier dumbbell; the Sport 24 does not support PowerBlock’s expansion packs.
#7 ATIVAFIT Adjustable Dumbbell 27.5 Pounds
Like ATIVAFIT’s 71.5-pound dumbbell, their 27.5-pound dumbbell comes as a single unit. However, that’s where the resemblance ends. It uses a quick-lock pin for adjustment, which is inserted through the top of the dumbbell rather than through the sides. This pin needs to be rotated to lock into place, which ensures that it won’t slip free of the weights while you’re in the middle of lifting. It also adds to the all-steel design, since you won’t have to worry about any plastic components failing before their time.
The weight indicators on the ATIVAFIT are a bit misleading. They display intervals of 2.5 pounds, while the actual adjustment interval is 5 pounds. Similarly, the weight shown on the adjustment bar is half of what you’re lifting. It shows what the weight is on each side of the bar, but this doesn’t make much sense. In actuality, both sides adjust simultaneously, so just mentally multiply the displayed weight by two, and you’ll have the right weight. The lowest weight displayed is 5 pounds, which means it’s 10 pounds. However, by removing the locking pin entirely, you can just lift the bar, which weighs 5 pounds all by itself.
The weight plates themselves have a slick black finish, which is attractive, and which also shows no defects. This tells us that, despite the low price, ATIVAFIT has put a reasonable amount of effort into the manufacturing process. There’s also a small, molded plastic stand included. It’s small in size to save space, with rubber feet to protect your floor and keep it from slipping.
Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Adjustable Dumbbells
Now that we’ve talked about our top choices, it’s time for our buying guide. As promised, we’re about to explain everything you need to know when you’re shopping for a new set of dumbbells. To begin with, we’ll talk about different varieties; then we’ll talk about specific features you should be looking at.
Different Adjustable Dumbbell Types
The most obvious difference between different adjustable dumbbells is the method of adjustment. What all of these varieties have in common is that they’re more compact that old-school free weights. In that sense, all of them will save you a lot of space. And they’re all easier to adjust. But there are important differences that you’ll want to think about before you spend your hard-earned cash.
Dial a Weight Dumbbells
Dial a weight dumbbells have a knob on each end, with markings on them that indicate what weight you’re selecting. In general, they’re easy to adjust, because the markings are easy to read and understand. They also give you the option for offset lifting – lifting with different weights on different ends of the dumbbell. The dial a weight system was first invented and patented by Bowflex. But in the last couple of years, other manufacturers have licensed and produced their versions.
Twist Lock Dumbbells
Twist lock dumbbells are popular because they’re the fastest type of dumbbell to adjust. To adjust the weight, simply twist the handle while the weights are inside the cradle, and the handle will add or release weights as needed. The amount of weight is typically listed at the end of the handle, where it meets the inner edge of the weight plates.
Once you’ve lifted the dumbbell out of the cradle, the weights will be locked into place, so you won’t have to worry about them falling off. This also prevents rattling, maintaining quiet operation, and good balance.
Selector Pin Dumbbells
Selector pin dumbbells work similarly to a weight set you’d see in a professional gym. With this design, all the weights sit within a stack, with the heavier, outer weights staggered towards the bottom. A selector pin is then removed and inserted in the desired weight. Because there are fewer moving parts, these dumbbells tend to be more durable than dialing a weight or twist-lock model.
This type of system is generally well balanced. Most other versions will release the inner weights as you go lighter, which can make light toning awkward. By contrast, selector pin dumbbells get narrower as you go lighter and wider as you go heavier, much like traditional free weights. The result is a better balance and a more comfortable lift, whether you’re strength training or toning.
Quick-lock dumbbells are the most durable variety of all. First designed by Ironmaster, they’ve since come into more common usage, much like dial a weights have been adopted by other manufacturers besides Bowflex. This design is similar to a selector pin set but more secure and with less rattle. There’s a single pin that locks into place on one side of the unit.
The way these pins work, they need to be twisted a half-turn, which adds extra security, since the pin can’t come out by accident. That’s not likely to happen on a selector pin dumbbell since the pressure of the weights will generally hold the pin in place. But if you’ve got any safety concerns or you’re doing a lot of fast-twitch movements, a quick lock keeps you safer. Because of this design, quick-lock dumbbells are available in heavier weights than other varieties.
Different adjustable dumbbell sets adjust in different increments. The most common increments are 5 and 2.5 pounds, although some lighter toning dumbbells can adjust in 1-pound increments. 5-pound increments allow for fewer weight plates, which means a simpler design and fewer individual parts that can break. That said, 2.5-pound increments are a better choice for beginners since increasing weight by 5 pounds might be a tall order when you’re first starting.
When you’re deciding on maximum weight, dumbbells will generally fall into two categories: strength training and toning. Dumbbells that are designed for toning will typically max out at 15 pounds or less. That’s just fine. For toning, you’re not going to need more than that. You’ll just need to do more reps.
For strength training, it can be tempting to ask yourself, “How much can I lift?” But that’s not going to get you very far. For example, if you can curl 50 pounds, a 50-pound dumbbell isn’t going to do much for you. You need a dumbbell that will allow you to increase your maximum limit, not stand pat. A better question to ask yourself is, “How much do I want to lift?“
A Word on Expansion Packs
Now, let’s assume you’ve done your research and bought a heavier dumbbell than you can lift. But a year down the road, you’ve reached your limit for that set. Does that mean you need to buy a whole new dumbbell set? Depending on the manufacturer, it might not be necessary.
Many manufacturers, including Bowflex, make expansion packs for their adjustable dumbbell sets. These devices allow you to add additional weight, increasing the overall capacity. This way, you won’t have to drop another $200, $300, or $400 on a new set.
Now, for the vast majority of people, this isn’t going to be a problem. Most people can’t curl 50 pounds with a single hand. And even most hardcore gym rats won’t need a dumbbell that’s heavier than 100 pounds. But if you have this problem – and it’s a good problem to have – an expansion pack can save time, space, and money.
Adjustable dumbbells already save you a log of space when compared to traditional free weights. So right off the bat, you’re going to be saving a lot of space. But for small homes and apartments, space might still be a concern, particularly if you already own a bunch of other workout equipment. Think about the overall dimensions when you’re making your decision, and this won’t be a problem.
Do You Need a Stand?
Many adjustable dumbbell sets ship with a stand, which makes the set easier to store. Stands can also protect your floor, since, unlike many dumbbells, they’re generally designed not to scratch your hardwood or nick your tile. That said, stands take up a lot of space, which means they aren’t necessarily ideal if you’ve got limited space.
Shape and Quality of Manufacture
One often-overlooked aspect of adjustable dumbbells is that they’re available in both square and round varieties. Round dumbbells generally provide better balance, since the weight is evenly distributed around the handle. However, square dumbbells have their advantage: because the edges are flat, they won’t roll around, even without a stand.
Another thing you should look at is how smooth the edges are. This isn’t the be-all and end-all of design. However, it’s a good indication of the overall quality of manufacturing. If a dumbbell set has deformed or irregular edges, there’s a good chance that the manufacturer has cut some corners in other aspects of the manufacturing process. Proceed with caution.
Handle Length and Grip
Handle length is something that many people overlook when looking for a set of dumbbells. It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but an awkward handle can cause you trouble while you’re working out. As a result, it’s an important factor that you should take into consideration.
Shorter handles can be awkward for people with larger hands since you won’t be able to spread out your grip. But shorter handles will provide a better feel, similar to traditional free weights. For most people, they’re going to be a better choice.
The reason for this is that longer handles can cause you to use poor form inadvertently. When you’re curling, they can smack into your hips more efficiently. When you’re pressing, they can bang together over your head, or even worse, smack you in the face if you’re not careful. While it’s possible to get used to longer handles over time, they’re not going to be ideal for most people.
As we said, handle length is a secondary consideration. But the quality of the grip is a far more critical consideration. Rubberized grips are comfortable to lift, and generally have a tacky finish that won’t slip easily. Similarly, a textured handle can provide a more secure grip.
The one thing you absolutely, positively don’t want is a smooth handle with no grip or texture. As soon as you start sweating, your grip is liable to start slipping. Unlike with handle length, this isn’t just a matter of comfort and form. It’s a matter of safety. The last thing you want is to drop your dumbbell on your foot. Not only will this hurt, but it can also keep you out of the gym for a few weeks.
Durability vs. Floor Protection
Two different materials can be used for constructing dumbbells: metal and plastic. Now, the handle is almost always going to be metallic, even if it’s still coated with a rubberized finish. But the weights themselves can sometimes be entirely plastic.
If the entire weight plates are plastic, they can potentially break easily. This is particularly problematic if they’re dropped. For example, some of the most rugged adjustable dumbbells on the market are the PowerBlock Elite Dumbbells we reviewed. While the weight plates are metal, the frames are plastic, and they’re only rated for a 12-inch drop. As a result, you won’t be able to train to failure with this kind of dumbbell. Worse yet, drops are generally not covered in your warranty protection.
So, metal dumbbells are the best, right? Well, not exactly. Generally speaking, it’s going to depend on your floor. While we wouldn’t normally recommend working out on hardwood or tile, there’s not always a better choice. This is particularly true if you live in an apartment. And plastic dumbbells are less likely to scratch your floor than metal ones. Of course, there’s a simple solution: a small mat or area rug can protect your floor, while still allowing you to use metal dumbbells.
Another important consideration is how much you’re willing to spend. Some of these options may appear expensive, but only when you compare them to the alternative. For example, individual free weights can run as high as $15 or $20 a piece, depending on the weight. And you’ll need to buy several of them to have a variety of options. Similarly, fixed weight dumbbells can also be expensive. And once again, you’ll need to purchase several pairs if you want to vary your weight.
Another alternative is to buy a gym membership. That can be cheaper than buying your weights in the short run, but over the long term, those monthly fees can add up. And a recent study (paywall) shows that 67 percent of people who buy a gym membership doesn’t even go to the gym a single time. Compared to a gym membership or any other options, even the most expensive adjustable dumbbell is a bargain.
Somewhat related to cost and durability is the manufacturer’s warranty. Don’t just look at how long the coverage lasts. Look at what it covers. For example, do you have a satisfaction guarantee? Does the warranty cover manufacturing failures, or just the parts themselves? These are essential things to know if you’re going to get the best bang for your buck.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into choosing a quality adjustable dumbbell. So, how can we apply what we’ve learned to the choices on our list?
To begin with, both PowerBlock choices are great if you’re looking for relatively inexpensive purchase. While they use a lot of plastic in their design, PowerBlock offers an excellent warranty to protect you from damage due to everyday use. Not only that, but the square design eliminates the need for a stand to keep them from rolling around.
The ATIVAFIT options are also great for the price, but they don’t skimp on quality. They’re constructed entirely from steel, which makes them exceptionally durable. That said, they come as individual units, so you won’t be able to work both your arms at once. Either that, or you’ll have to buy two, which negates the advantage of the low price.
And the Bowflex SelectTech is the best overall. Others have imitated the dial a weight design, but Bowflex did it first, and they still do it best. Besides, it combines smaller weight increments with a relatively heavy total weight, so it’s equally well-suited for toning and strength training.
Last updated: 01/2021
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Last update on 2021-01-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API