Are adjustable dumbbells worth it?
Adjustable dumbbells have surged in popularity in recent years.
What used to be a market dominated by a small handful, is now a market with countless brands to choose from!
With space a premium in home gyms, a rack of fixed weight dumbbells (like you see in commercial gyms) just isn’t a viable option for those who are trying to fit this all into a garage.
Not to mention how expensive it is to put together a set like that!
Adjustable dumbbells solve both problems. They offer you a range of weights, without taking up the space.
Happy days, right?
Well, they’re great. They’ll allow you to get in some awesome home workouts. But there are also some drawbacks that are worth mentioning.
In this post I’ll evaluate whether adjustable dumbbells are worth the investment.
The answer is, it depends.
What Are Adjustable Dumbbells?
Adjustable dumbbells are a versatile and space-saving alternative to traditional fixed-weight dumbbells.
Instead of needing a separate set of weights for each poundage, adjustable dumbbells allow you to quickly switch between different weight levels using a single set of handles.
This is typically accomplished through a dial, pin, or clamp mechanism that lets you add or remove weight plates as needed.
Imagine a bar with multiple slots for adding plates, except it’s much more compact and the changeover process is quicker.
Most brands offer options that range from as little as 5 pounds up to 50 or even 90 pounds per dumbbell, making them incredibly flexible for a wide array of exercises.
The “adjustable” part comes in when you have to switch weights. This can be as easy as turning a dial (as seen in some of the more premium models) or manually removing and adding plates secured by clips or collars.
Regardless of the method, the goal is the same: to give you a quick and relatively hassle-free way to change the weight you’re lifting, thereby making your workout more dynamic and efficient.
One of the most appealing aspects of adjustable dumbbells is their space efficiency.
If you’ve ever been to a commercial gym, you’ll know that the dumbbell rack takes up quite a bit of floor space. For those with home gyms, especially if you’re confined to a small area like a garage or bedroom, every inch counts.
With adjustable dumbbells, you get an entire rack of weights in the footprint of just one pair.
In terms of cost, adjustable dumbbells can seem like a steep upfront investment.
However, when you consider the range of weights they replace, they can be much more cost-effective than buying multiple sets of fixed-weight dumbbells.
Additionally, if you’re serious about your fitness journey, they’re a one-time investment that could last you years, making them far more economical in the long run.
Key Features of Adjustable Dumbbells
Quick Change Mechanism
One of the most appealing features of adjustable dumbbells like the Bowflex and PowerBlock types is the quick-change mechanism. This feature allows you to switch from one weight to another in a matter of seconds.
For example, you can easily transition from doing a set of heavy squats to lighter bicep curls without needing to unscrew anything or manually add or remove plates. This convenience is a game-changer for those who value efficiency in their workouts or follow programs that require quick transitions between exercises.
Adjustable dumbbells are highly versatile tools. With just a single pair, you can perform a myriad of exercises that would traditionally require multiple sets of fixed dumbbells. Whether it’s chest presses, lunges, squats, bicep curls, or shoulder raises, adjustable dumbbells can accommodate them all. This makes them particularly valuable for individuals who like to vary their workouts or engage in cross-training.
For those working out at home or with limited space, the compact design of adjustable dumbbells is a significant advantage. Unlike traditional dumbbell sets that require a separate rack and a substantial footprint, adjustable dumbbells neatly combine various weights into a single pair.
This space-saving attribute makes them ideal for apartment dwellers or anyone looking to maintain a clutter-free workout space.
Adjustable dumbbells typically offer a wide range of weight options, giving you the flexibility to scale your workouts as you progress. Some sets start as low as 5 pounds and can go up to 50, 70, or even 90 pounds per dumbbell.
Systems like PowerBlock and Ironmaster even offer expansion kits that allow you to increase the weight capacity as you become stronger. However, it’s essential to note that the initial cost may rise if you opt for sets with broader weight ranges or choose to purchase additional expansion kits later.
Pros and Cons of Popular Adjustable Dumbbell Brands
When it comes to adjustable dumbbells, you’ll find several types available on the market, each with its own set of pros and cons.
Bowflex Quick-Change Type
- Speed: The most significant advantage of the Bowflex quick-change type is the speed with which you can adjust the weights. A simple turn of the dial is all it takes.
- Convenience: These are extremely user-friendly. Even a beginner would have no problem figuring out how to adjust the weights.
- Smooth Operation: With a sophisticated design, these dumbbells offer a smooth and balanced feel, similar to what you’d experience with a gym-quality fixed dumbbell.
- Price: They are one of the more expensive options on the market.
- Bulk: Despite their adjustability, the overall dimensions can be somewhat bulky, especially at lower weight settings, which may not be ideal for certain exercises like wrist curls or skull crushers.
- Fragility: You will need to treat these really carefully. You can’t drop them. They have plastic parts inside which are crucial to the weight changing mechanism. If any of those break, they won’t work anymore.
- Weight: They’re not expandable, and while 90 lbs might seem like more than you’ll ever need, many people will in fact outgrow them for some movements.
- Affordability: These are generally more budget-friendly than other types.
- Durability: Spinlocks often have a rugged design, making them highly durable.
- Customization: You can often add more plates of varying sizes, allowing for more weight options.
- Time-consuming: Adjusting the weight involves manually adding or removing plates and securing them with a spinlock, which can take a lot more time.
- Less Balanced: They can feel less balanced compared to other types, especially at higher weights.
- Not comfortable to set on knees: The dumbbells do not have a flat base. The bar sticks out at each end, meaning it is very painful to set the dumbbells on your knees before “kicking them up” to begin a set of heavy presses. This makes them basically unusable for presses once you get to a certain level of strength.
- Heavy Weight Option: Ironmasters usually offer a higher maximum weight compared to many other adjustable dumbbells, up to 165 lbs per dumbbell (starting at 75 lbs).
- Durable: Made of heavy-duty materials, they are built to last.
- Secure Locking: The locking mechanism is very secure, which provides added safety during workouts.
- Price: These are also on the higher end of the price spectrum.
- Adjustment Time: While nowhere near as time-consuming as spinlocks, they do take a bit more time to adjust compared to quick-change types.
Despite the cons, Ironmaster was my dumbbell of choice for my main set of dumbbells that I use most of the time. I highly recommend them.
- Compact Design: Ativafit dumbbells are often praised for their sleek and compact design, which is great for smaller workout spaces.
- Ease of Use: Similar to Bowflex, they generally offer a quick and easy way to change weights.
- Affordability: They tend to be more affordable than the Bowflex and Ironmaster types but offer similar convenience.
- Weight Limit: Typically, Ativafit dumbbells have a lower maximum weight, which might not be suitable for those looking to lift heavier.
- Durability: While decent, the durability may not match up to the Ironmaster or spinlock types.
- Compact Design: One of the standout features of PowerBlock dumbbells is their unique, compact design. Unlike other types, they manage to pack a lot of weight into a relatively small space.
- Quick Adjustment: PowerBlocks offer a pin-based system for changing weights, which is usually very quick and straightforward. You can adjust the weight in seconds.
- Expandable: Many PowerBlock models offer the option to expand the weight range at a later date, giving you flexibility as you progress in your fitness journey.
- Learning Curve: The pin-based system and blocky design can feel a bit awkward at first, especially for exercises that require holding the dumbbell close to your body.
- Contoured Handle: For some reason, Powerblock choose to use a contoured handle in their dumbbells. This is not knurled, it’s smooth. It also doesn’t feel as comfortable as a straight handle would.
- Price: Similar to Bowflex and Ironmaster types, PowerBlocks are on the pricier end of the spectrum.
- Availability: Due to their popularity and unique design, PowerBlock dumbbells often go out of stock, making them sometimes hard to get.
When considering whether to invest in adjustable dumbbells, one of the crucial factors to weigh is the long-term value you’ll derive from them. Here’s a breakdown comparing the cost with traditional dumbbells and gym memberships.
Cost of Adjustable Dumbbells
Adjustable dumbbells come with a wide range of prices depending on the brand and features. For high-quality sets like Bowflex, Ironmaster, or PowerBlock, you could be looking at a price that starts somewhere around $700, more if you want the more premium models or expansion kits.
While this might seem steep, remember that you are essentially purchasing a whole rack of weights in a single pair.
Cost of Traditional Dumbbells
A complete set of traditional dumbbells can run well into the thousands of dollars, especially if you’re looking to buy a wide range of weights.
In addition to the cost of the dumbbells themselves, you’ll likely need to purchase a storage rack and potentially even additional floor space.
While each individual dumbbell might seem cheaper, the costs quickly add up when you consider the full range of weights you’ll need for a versatile workout.
Cost of Gym Memberships
Gym memberships are another option but come with their own sets of pros and cons.
The average gym membership can range from $20 to $50 per month, which translates to $240 to $600 per year.
Over several years, this recurring cost can easily surpass the one-time investment in a good set of adjustable dumbbells.
Plus, the gym comes with additional “costs,” like commute time, potential inconvenience, and lack of 24/7 access, which you might want to consider in your cost-benefit analysis.
With adjustable dumbbells, the initial investment provides you with a versatile, space-saving, and convenient option for strength training that can last many years with proper care.
You get the freedom to workout whenever you want, and you save time not having to commute to a gym. Over time, this convenience might even contribute to more consistent workouts, leading to better fitness outcomes.
In summary, while adjustable dumbbells might seem like a significant investment upfront, their long-term value, especially when compared to traditional dumbbells and gym memberships, is quite favourable.
For those committed to maintaining a consistent workout regimen, adjustable dumbbells offer excellent value for the money.
I chose Ironmaster as my adjustable dumbbells of choice.
I started with the 75 lb set.
I’ve since purchased the add-on kit to take each dumbbell up to 125 lbs.
If I’m ever strong enough to need the 165 lb add-on kit, I’ll be very happy (but currently I’m not).
I am very happy with my decision. I’ve been using them for over a year, and they’re still holding up well (which they will for decades based on online reviews).
I also have a pair of Ativafit dumbbells to use as a second pair for lighter movements. I received these as a gift in exchange for my honest review.
I use those as my “second pair”. I do my main work with the Ironmasters, especially heavier movements.
As it takes time to change the weights on the Ironmasters, I’ll often then grab the Ativafit dumbbells to quickly do a lighter exercise. This saves me taking weights off my Ironmasters and then having to put them back on again at the start of my next workout.
Alternatives to Consider
While adjustable dumbbells offer a host of advantages, they are obviously not the only equipment available for weight training at home.
Depending on your specific needs, workout space, and the type of exercises you wish to perform, other types of equipment might better serve you. Here are some alternatives to consider:
Barbells are an excellent option for those who prioritise compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. They allow you to lift heavier weights and engage multiple muscle groups at once.
Barbells can also be more stable for certain lifts, which can be helpful for beginners.
However, they do require more space, especially if you’re planning to do exercises like deadlifts or Olympic lifts.
You can work every major muscle group if you have a barbell, olympic weights, a power rack and a bench.
This is probably the most cost effective way to purchase a full gym for the home that allows you to work everything.
Cable Machines/Functional Trainers
Cable machines and functional trainers offer a level of versatility similar to dumbbells but with the advantage of providing constant tension throughout the exercise.
This can be beneficial for isolating muscle groups and for functional training that mimics day-to-day or sport-specific movements.
However, like power racks, these machines require more space. This is also likely to be your most significant home gym investment.
How They Compare to Dumbbells
Adjustable dumbbells certainly win when it comes to space-saving and convenience.
While barbells and power racks offer heavier lifting options, they come with the cost of space and potentially higher financial investment.
Cable machines, on the other hand, offer a unique tension that dumbbells can’t provide but require more room and can be pricey.
In summary, your choice between adjustable dumbbells and these alternatives will largely depend on your training goals, available space, and budget. Each option has its pros and cons, so consider what aspects are most important to you when making your decision.
Adjustable dumbbells are a solid option for any home gym.
If you’re on a budget, dumbbells plus a bench probably makes the most sense.
You can easily get enough equipment to keep you progressing for a long time for under $1,000.
When you weigh that against the cost of a gym membership over the years, and the additional costs associated with going to a gym, starting your home gym with adjustable dumbbells seems like a great idea.
You can always add equipment later if barbell lifts or the additional possibilities presented by a cable machine are a strong attraction for you.