How To Use Bowflex Dumbbells: A Guide On Adjusting Weight, How They Work, And What They Can Be Used For

How to use Bowflex dumbbells

The Bowflex dumbbells are an intuitive adjustable weight to use. But if you’ve never used them before, it might be difficult to figure out how they work. This is a guide on how to use the Bowflex dumbbells, how they work, and what they can be used for.

The Bowflex SelectTech 552 and 1090 dumbbells are dial-a-weights. The adjustment knob is used to choose the desired weight, allowing the dumbbell to be pulled off the main base. Once the weight is finished being used, it can be put back into the base and a new weight selected.

Before I took the plunge and bought the Bowflex 552’s, I wanted to learn everything about them.

That’s why I’ve decided to write this guide.

Hopefully, it will benefit you as a potential buyer!

How I use the Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbells to build muscle and burn fat.

How The Bowflex Dumbbells Work

Each dumbbell unit features 5 components that are essential for it to work:

How the Bowflex SelectTech 552 weight plates work.
  • Weight plates- The Bowflex 552 dumbbells feature 15 weight settings that take it from 5-52.5lbs in 2.5 and 5lb increments. The Bowflex 1090 dumbbells feature 17 weight settings that take it from 10-90lbs in 5lb increments. Different combinations of weight plates make up different weight loads. The plates sit in the base by default. Turning the adjustment knob causes different plates to latch onto the internal locking plate of the handle. This allows you to pull the desired weight off the base, leaving the rest behind. 
How the Bowflex 552 dumbbell handle works.
  • Handle- the Bowfex 552 features a chrome-plated steel handle with an outer sleeve. The sleeve is made from a neoprene-type material that provides grip and does not emit a chemical odor. The Bowflex 1090 features a knurled (etched) steel handle that provides grip.
How the Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbell dial works.
  • Adjustment knob- the Bowflex 552 and 1090 both feature a neoprene-coated circular dial on either end of each dumbbell. Each dial adjusts weight independently on it’s respective side of the dumbbell. The dials are also marked with weight increments. Turning the dial allows the user to select a weight setting. The dial should be slick and easy to turn if it’s a real Bowflex. You can go to my other article tips to spot a fake Bowflex dumbbell.
The Bowflex 552 internal locking mechnaism.
  • Internal locking plates- each dumbbell handle extends beyond the hand region all the way to the adjustment knob. Here, you’ll see a series of plastic internal locking plates. These rotate as the adjustment dial is turned. The plates serve to select the desired weight plates as well as prevent them from falling off the handle when the dumbbell is being used.
The Bowflex cradle and base.
  • Base (cradle)- each dumbbell sits in a hard plastic cradle when it is not being used. The user selects a weight and then pulls the dumbbell out of the cradle to begin working out. The remaining weight plates are retained in the cradle. Weight plates can also be manually pulled out of the cradle for cleaning and maintenance.

Therefore the Bowflex SelectTech 552 and 1090 dumbbells work in similar ways. In fact, they even have a similar structure, shape, and design.

The main differences between the two are the weight settings and handle grips.

Example: How I Use The Bowflex SelectTech 552 Dumbbells

The Bowflex SelectTech 552 is used like any other dial-a-weight adjustable dumbbell. Turning the adjustment knob allows the user to select their desired weight. The dumbbell can then be pulled out of the main base and used for exercise. The remaining weight plates are left in the base.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how I use my Bowflex 552 dumbbells:

How to use Bowflex dumbbells step 1- place them on a stable sruface.
  1. Make sure the dumbbell units sit on a stable surface- these dumbbells are not designed to take hard knocks, falls, or drops. Abusing your dumbbells this way can break the weight adjustment mechanism, crack the weight plates, and split the fragile cradle. If you’re interested, you can check out my other post to find out how durable Bowflex dumbbells are and how to maintain them.
Step 2- adjust the desired weight using the adjustment dial.
  1. Select the desired weight- rotate the adjustment dial to unlock the desired weight. Each dial controls the weight independently on the respective side of the dumbbell. This means a different weight setting can be selected on each side. For example, selecting 52.5lbs on one side and 5lbs on the other side will give you a total weight of 28.75lbs (26.25lbs + 2.5lbs). In most cases, the same weight load is chosen on both sides.
Step 3- pull the Bowflex out of the base.
  1. Lift the dumbbell out of the base- the dumbbell should now pull freely away from the base. I like to do this gently rather than exert too much force. Why? In rare occurrences, the handle may become stuck/locked to the base. This is usually due to an incomplete dial turn (causing it to lock between two weight settings) or incorrectly positioned weight plates (caused by the weight plates being inserted onto the base in the wrong alignment). Use the maintenance guide linked in step 1 to troubleshoot a locked Bowflex dumbbell.
Step 4- perform your dumbbell exercise.
  1. Perform the desired exercise- the Bowflex dumbbells are versatile and can be used for a variety of training goals and workouts. I mainly use mine for muscle-building heavy lifting, but the lighter settings can also be used for HIIT-style dumbbell workouts to burn fat. I share 5 of my favorite Bowflex dumbbell exercises at the end of this post.
Step 5- reinsert the dumbbell correctly.
  1. Reinsert the Bowflex dumbbells correctly- this is done by realigning the dumbbell with the weight plates that are sat in the base. Do this from top-down to prevent damage. Do not re-insert the dumbbell from an angle. Doing this can damage the internal locking plates and the latches on the weight plates.

If you’re interested in getting a Bowflex dumbbell, you may want to check out my comprehensive Bowflex SelectTech 552 review here.

How Bowflex Dumbbells Adjust Weight

Bowflex 552 and 1090 dumbbells change weight by turning the adjustment dial. Doing this causes the internal locking plates to rotate and latch onto different combinations of weight plates. The dumbbell handle is then lifted out of the base to pull the selected weight plates along with it.

In most cases, changing the weight on the Bowflex dumbbells is a simple task.

If you select 5lbs on one side of the dumbbell and 5lbs on the other side, you end up lifting a 5lb dumbbell off the base.

But as I mentioned previously, each side adjusts the weight independently from the other side.

How to offset the weight in a Bowflex dumbbell.

This means each side of the dumbbell can be offset to a different weight.

Here’s how adjusting the weight on each side of the Bowflex dumbbells affects the final weight:

Weights are in lbs. Bold numbers indicate weight setting on Bowflex 552 dial. Unbolded numbers indicate the final dumbbell weight.

The offset weight mechanism mainly serves to increase the variety of weight settings available to the user.

Additionally, some people prefer offset weights in certain exercises like the leg raise and tricep extension, where the asymmetrical weight distribution can increase comfort.

Can You Add Extra Weight To Bowflex Dumbbells?

The Bowflex dumbbells cannot be upgraded with added weight or resistance. Each dumbbell has been manufactured with pre-defined weight settings that cannot be altered aside from the increments already provided by Bowflex. Resistance bands and wrist weights can be used to make the dumbbells heavier.

In my opinion, this is one of the main drawbacks of the Bowflex dumbbells.

Unlike their Powerblock competitors, the Bowflex dumbbells cannot be expanded or upgraded to accommodate for future strength progression.

For example, the Powerblock Elite base model weighs 50lbs. But using the retro-fitted stage 2 and stage 3 addon kits allows you to take the dumbbell to 70lbs and 90lbs, respectively.

This is something you can’t do with Bowflex dumbbells (you can go to my other post to learn more about how heavy the Bowflex dumbbells go).

That being said, there are 3 affordable ways to add extra resistance to your Bowflex dumbbells or make them feel heavier:

How to use resistance bands to add extra weight to Bowflex dumbbells which cannot be upgraded.
  1. Resistance bands- these can be looped directly onto the dumbbells or to different areas of your body as you lift your dumbbells. This is the most effective way to make your Bowflex dumbbells heavier. I use the Undersun bands. They’re slightly more expensive than their budget competitors but come with a lifetime warranty.
  1. Wrist weights- these wrap around your wrists to add extra weight to your exercises. They’re not as effective as bands in my opinion because you’re limited to a few pounds per weight. But they’re cheap and durable. The Fragraim ankle weights  are suitable for the wrist and have a lot of positive reviews.
  1. Practice time under tension training- this involves delaying the upward and downward phases of a lift to around 3-6 seconds each. Doing this increases difficulty and effectively makes your Bowflex dumbbells feel heavier than they actually are.

Still not convinced? You can check out my other post to find out if the Bowflex dumbbells are worth it!

What Bowflex Dumbbells Can Be Used For

Bowflex dumbbells can be used to build muscle and lose weight. The heavier weight settings are great for beginners and intermediates to perform exercises like the bench press and bicep curl to gain muscle. The lighter weight settings can be used in HIIT-style workouts to burn fat.

If your goal is to build muscle, you should be aware that different exercises require different weights.

That’s because different muscles (large and small) are utilized.

For example, most people can bench press a lot more weight than they can bicep curl.

The great thing about the Bowflex dumbbells?

All of the different weight settings combined make it suitable to cater to all exercises.

Bowflex dumbbell exercises.

Here’s an idea of how much weight you would expect to start with on 5 popular exercises as a beginner looking to build muscle:

Dumbbell ExerciseEstimated Starting Weight For Male BeginnersEstimated Starting Weight For Female Beginners
Dumbbell squat16lbs10lb
Dumbbell deadlift25lbs10lbs
Bench press with dumbbell25lbs10lbs
Bicep curl7lbs4lbs
Lateral raise4lbs2lbs
Weights are per dumbbell.

Want to learn more about how to use Bowflex dumbbells? You can check out my Bowflex dumbbell workout here!

You can see the Bowflex dumbbells not only provide enough weight for you to start strength training, but also give you redundant weight to accommodate for future strength gains.

If your goal is to lose weight and burn fat, then you can use the lighter-weight settings to do HIIT-style circuit training.

Therefore the Bowflex dumbbells can be used for a variety of training purposes.

You won’t get jacked like a bodybuilder (they don’t provide enough weight), but you can certainly expect to get more buff, toned, and even shredded!


I’ve explained how to use Bowflex dumbbells and what training goals they can be used for.

All Bowflex dumbbells work just like any other dial-a-weight selectorized adjustable dumbbell.

The dumbbell sits on a cradle from which you can rotate the adjustment dial to select a weight.

Once the mechanism has locked the weight plates onto the handle, you can pull the dumbbell off the base, leaving behind the remaining weight plates.

Since the Bowflex dumbbells have a variety of weight settings, you can use them for a variety of purposes.

Many people use the Bowflex dumbbells to build muscle, lose weight, or both!

Have you got any other questions on how the Bowflex weights operate?

Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions! You can find my details on the “contact us” page.

You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition (with printable worksheets) I used to go from skinny to ripped!

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,


(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)


I'm Kal (B.S, M.S)- a health & fitness writer and owner of Kalibre Fitness. I love to nerd out on weight training and nutrition. My primary interests are in muscle hypertrophy mechanisms and strength development. You can connect with me in the "Contact Us" section below!

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