Things to look for when buying adjustable dumbbells

15 Things To Look For When Buying Adjustable Dumbbells In 2021

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The adjustable dumbbell market is HUGE. And along with the variety, there’s also a large variability in price. These are pricey bits of kit, and I’m guessing you want to find the best dumbbell for your money? If you want to prevent yourself cluelessly wasting time, then keep reading. Because today I’ll be sharing 15 things to look for when buying adjustable dumbbells.

Having been through the beginner stages of weight training myself, and had the privilege to test different types of adjustable dumbbells myself, I’m here to help you make your own informed decision!

So let’s get straight to it.

1) Spinlock Vs Selectorized Vs Quicklock.

This will be the first and most important decision you’ll make when buying adjustable dumbbells.

There are currently 3 main varieties of adjustable dumbbells:

  • Spinlock- comprise a handle with threaded ends on either side to add/remove weight plates. Secured by spinlock nuts.
  • Selectorized- comrpise a collection of weight plates packaged into a single unit and adjsuted using a selecting mechanism.
  • Quick-lock- patented technology by Ironmaster. Comprised of a handle upon which you add weight plates. The weights are then secured by a threaded pin.
The 3 main types of adjustable dumbbell are selectorized, spin lock, and quick lock

Spin-lock dumbbells are the old-school weights you all know.

They have a limited weight capacity (around 55lbs per dumbbell) and are slow to change weight.

But they are the cheapest of all dumbbells.

Selectorized adjustable dumbbells offer the most balanced benefits

Selectorized dumbbells are the modern types that you see everywhere online.

They are more expensive, but many models hold more weight than spin-locks (around 90lb per dumbbells).

These are also extremely convenient, have a low footprint, and allow quick weight changes.

Quick-lock dumbbells are only made by Ironmaster and are a hybrid of the other two.

These are very expensive, but allow you to go up to 165lbs per dumbbell (which is pretty insane).

In general, selectorized dumbbells will offer the most balanced benefits in terms of functionality, weight, durability, and price!

2) There Are 3 Types Of Selector Mechanism.

Next, you should consider the type of selector mechanism on the dumbbell, I.e. how you will adjust the weight.

Spin-lock dumbbells all utilize the same threaded locking nut. So nothing to expand on there.

Just be aware that cheaper spin-locks usually have low-quality nuts that can become loose.

It’s especially important to consider the selector mechanism when buying modern adjustable dumbbells.

Modern adjustable dumbbells have 3 types of selector mechanisms:

  • Dial select- rotate the dial located on the side to adjust the weight.
  • Pin-select- remove and re-insert a pin to adjust the weight.
  • Rotating handle select- rotate the dumbbell handle to adjust the weight.
Consider the selector mechanism when buying adjustable dumbbells

Other than aesthetic distinctions, the different mechanisms will also affect weight-adjustment speed.

Adjustable Dumbbell Selector MechanismExample ModelApproximate Weight-Adjustment Speed
Pin selectorPowerblock series3 seconds
Dial selectorBowflex SelecTech series2-3 seconds
Rotating handle selectorNuobell series1 second

Having personally tested all 3 types, I can say that the rotating handle selectors are the most rapid.

Dial and pin selectors are by no means slow, just not as fast as rotating handles.

An important point to note- the Bowflex SelecTech adjustable dumbbells use a dual-dial system.

This requires you to turn BOTH dials on EACH dumbbell to select different weights on both sides. As a result, adjustment speed takes a further hit (around 3 seconds).

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells Review
Go to 0:41 to see how the Bowflex dual-dial system works.

As you can see, each selector mechanism is distinct.

And you should try to test them out before purchasing adjustable dumbbells!

3) Weight Range And Increments Vary (A Lot).

Adjustable dumbbells can range from 30lbs all the way to 90lbs, so how heavy should your adjustable dumbbells be?

This is another important factor to consider when buying adjustable dumbbells.

Training LevelStarting WeightAfter 6 Months
Beginner30lbs60lbs
Intermediate50lbs80lbs
Advanced60lbs90lbs
Typical dumbbell weight requirements for the 5 core compound exercises.

Your dumbbell weight should reflect your current training level and future goals.

Choose an adjustable dumbbell weight based in your training goal

A beginner who’s looking to improve general fitness or tone up can make-do with 30-50lbs per dumbbell.

But if you have more ambitious goals and want to build muscle, get ripped, or become big, then you need to be buying as heavy adjustable dumbbells as you can afford.

This will allow you room to progress on the 5 muscle-building core lifts:

  • Bench press.
  • Overhead press.
  • Row.
  • Squat.
  • Dedlift.

You should also be aware of the differences in weight increments.

Most adjustable dumbbells increase weight by 5lb per adjustment.

But some can go as low as 2.5lb per adjustment. And these are great for making steady progress (walk before you run kinda thing).

4) Buy An Adjustable Dumbbell With A Good Shape.

Adjustable dumbbells come in many different shapes.

And the shape heavily influences the dumbbell’s ergonomics and overall user experience.

pick the best shape when buying adjustable dumbbells

Each shape will affect the overall balance and feel of the dumbbell.

Those with a traditional or Bowflex shape are what many people find the most natural.

But Powerblocks are square.

This alters the balancee and can take time to get used to.

Additionally, you should consider whether the bottom is flat or rounded.

Adjustable dumbbells with a flat bottom are always the best since they won’t roll on uneven ground.

Adjustable dumbbell base and end cap shape are important for user experience

Finally, you should also consider whether the endcaps (end of the dumbbells) are flat or pointed.

Unlike pointed endcaps, a flat endcap allows you to comfortably rest the dumbbell on your thighs.

And this is extremely beneficial for exercises like the dumbbell bench press which requires you to kick the dumbbells up from the thighs.

So carefully consider shape when buying adjustable dumbbells!

5) Weight Plate Material Affects Cost & Durability.

Next, you should consider the material when buying adjustable dumbbells.

And in particular, the material of the weight plates themselves.

Any dumbbell worth buying will be made from iron, steel, or an aluminum alloy.

But there’s a lot of variability in the material used for the outside coating:

  • Naked- cast iron, steel, or aluminium with no outside coating.
  • Painted- paint is applied directly to the metal surface.
  • Chrome- a layer of resistant chromium is applied to the surface for increased longevity.
  • Rubber- a layer of rubber is moulded around the weight.
  • Urethane or neoprene- a layer of urethane or neoprene is moulded around the weight.
  • Machined- cast iron plates are machined down to a smooth surface.
You need to factor in what dumbbells are made of because there are different types of dumbbell material

There’s a tradeoff in cost, durability, and user experience between the materials.

Rubber, urethane, and neoprene-coated dumbbells are rust-resistant, quiet when dropped, and are less abrasive on the floor and other belongings.

But they’re also more expensive than naked or painted dumbbells, and they can also have that rubber smell.

Naked, painted, and chrome-plated dumbbells are cheap.

But they are also susceptible to scratches, rust, and dents.

Most selectorized adjustable dumbbells will be coated in rubber/urethane/neoprene, and these offer the best balance between benefits and drawbacks.

But some of the cheaper models are simply coated in a lick of paint which begs to get scratched-up.

So watch out!

6) Plastic Components Can Break!

A common question regarding adjustable dumbells is how long do they last?

In general, adjustable dumbbells should last you for many years.

But as with all products with moving parts, they can also fail.

Although adjustable dumbbells are generally made from metal, even the best brands have plastic components which are susceptible to damage.

These form weak points in the dumbbell.

Adjustable dumbbells can break especially at the plastic weak points
Adjustable DumbbellArea of Plastic Weakpoint
Bowflex SelectTechDial and handle bridge
Powerblock SeriesPin-selector
Ativafit SeriesSafety switch
Nuobell SeriesCradle endplates
Cheap DumbbellsAll over!

For example- the Bowflex dial and bridge connecting the handle to the weight plates are made from plastic.

Similarly, the Powerblocks have a plastic-like pin-select mechanism, Ativafit adjustable dumbbells have a plastic safety switch, and Nuobells have plastic endcaps on the cradle.

Furthermore, cheaper models can be made entirely from plastic (avoid at all costs!).

Plastic is normal.

And although 100% metal adjustable dumbbells are rare, the idea is to find one with the LEAST plastic.

Or at least one that has a good overall build quality (check reviews).

It also helps to identify these weak points and lift with caution!

Find out the 15 reasons why adjustable dumbbells are worth the money in my other article!

7) Handle MSS (Material, Shape, & Size).

The dumbbell handle is one of the most important aspects to consider when buying an adjustable dumbbell as a beginner.

Here’s what to look for in a dumbbell handle:

  1. Material.
  2. Shape.
  3. Size.

1. Handle Material:

Adjustable dumbbell handles should always be made from steel/iron/aluminum (for strength and durability).

Stay away if the handle is made from plastic!

Consider handle material when buying adjustable dumbbells

Furthermore, the handle can be bare metal or they can be wrapped in a rubber/urethane/neoprene sleeve.

Synthetic sleeves often provide a better lifting experience for beginners as these materials are softer than metal.

Additionally, bare-metal handles will often have knurling (see next) and this can be uncomfortable for beginners.

2. Handle Shape:

There are 2 main dumbbell handle shapes- straight or contoured.

Straight handles are, well…straight. Like a traditional barbell.

Contoured handles are thicker in the middle and taper out to thinner ends on both sides. Like a cigar.

Handle shape is also important when buying adjustable dumbbells

Beginners often find contoured handles easier to grip, especially when lifting heavier poundages.

Contoured handles will also distribute weight more evenly, making for a more comfortable experience.

Experienced lifters tend to prefer straight handles for their resemblance to the beloved barbell.

But they also have a lower surface area and can dig into your hands.

Having personally tested both types of handles, I can say that contoured handles are suitable for both beginners and pros, whereas straight handles are more for the pros.

3. Handle Length:

Finally, you should consider the length of the adjustable dumbbell handle.

Large hands may struggle with dumbbells with a short handle.

Choose a dumbbell handle which is not too long or short

For example- the Powerblocks have a small handle cavity which may be hard to use if you have King Kong hands….

8) Consider Knurling When Buying Adjustable Dumbbells.

Knurling is the cross-hatching etched into the dumbbell handle to provide a better grip.

It can be found on both metal and rubber handles.

Furthermore, knurling can also be aggressive or mild.

This is something you NEED to consider when buying adjustable dumbbells.

This is the effect of aggressive knurling on my hands:

Different types of adjustable dumbbell knurling are suited for different people

Ain’t pretty is it?

If you don’t want calloused hands, then go for a rubber-sleeved handle.

These have milder knurling compared to bare-metal handles.

In comparison, aggressive knurling will help you to lift heavier and at a higher intensity due to the added grip.

So if you don’t care about your hands and just want to get the most from a workout, then go for knurled metal handles.

The choice is yours- do you value delicate and presentable hands or heavy and intense workouts?

Bowflex dumbbells have have adjustable knurling

Some adjustable dumbbells like the Bowflex SelecTech 1090 also feature adjustable knurling. You can rotate the handle to have your grip resting on either a smooth or knurled surface, depending on preference.

I’d advise you to personally test a dumbbell before buying. And if you can’t do this, then look for user reviews.

Go to my other article to find out how to build muscle with 20lb dumbbells!

9) Don’t Buy An Adjustable Dumbbell That’s Too Long.

Have you noticed that all commerical dumbbells are as small and compact as possible?

Well that’s not a coincidence.

Compact dumbbells allow you to lift with a natural range of motion.

Simply put- this means your hands can move without the dumbbells bashing into each other.

This “bashing” can be especially annoying in exercises like the dumbbell bench press where dumbbells clash at the top, or the bicep curl where the dumbbells bump into each other on the way up.

This is why it’s important to consider buying adjustable dumbbells with a smaller length.

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells, Honest Review: Should You Buy Them? Worth the Money?
Skip to 2:54 to see why long adjustable dumbbells can be cumbersome to use.

A long dumbbell can also negatively affect your balance.

As a result, you need to put more effort into stabilising your dumbbells, and this can ruin user experience.

The Bowflex adjustable dumbbells are notorious for this issue.

These dumbbells have the same width regardless of whether you’ve selected a light or heavy poundage.

In comparison, other adjustable dumbbels such as the Nuobells become shorter at lower poundages (much better design in my experience).

Alternatively, the Powerblock adjustable dumbbells are generally very compact.

In general, avoid any adjustable dumbbell that’s longer than 44cm (17″) length.

10) Poundage Readouts Are Often Overlooked.

When I say guided poundage readout, I refer to the way the dumbbells indicate how much weight you’re lifting.

A high quality dumbbell has clearly marked weight readouts.

And this provides an overall better user experience.

Who has time doing weight arithmetic these days?!

Choose your favourite weight readout when buying adjustable dumbbells.

The good news is that most adjustable dumbbells have intuitive weight readouts.

The majority use a dial, with poundages clearly marked into the dial.

Powerblocks use a color-coded readout. This can take time to get used to, but once you get it, you get it.

Nuobells have a square hole that highlights the selected weight and hides the others. It’s amazing to have the selected weight presented straight to you without clutter, especially during an intense workout.

All 3 are intuitive to use.

But I’d take some time to really consider which you think is the MOST intuitive for YOU, before buying adjustable dumbbells.

It’s a minor detail that can potentially become very annoying (if chosen incorrectly).

Read my other article to find out why a home gym is worth it!

11) Buy A Good Looking Adjustable Dumbbell.

Many of the above points come together to produce the final look of the dumbbell.

As this is a highly subjective factor, I won’t expand too much on it.

Just make sure you choose one you like the look of.

Bowflex, Ativafit, Powerblocks, and their competitors are modern and sharp-looking.

In contrast, Nuobells and Ironmasters have a minimalistic and slick design.

Although aesthetics aren’t as important as the other factors to consider when buying adjustable dumbbells, it shouldn’t be overlooked.

There’s a reason why Iphones are so successful- they’re sexy AF (amongst other reasons).

My point is this:

The more you like the look of something, the more likely you’ll use it.

And the last thing you want to do is to spend hundreds of $’s on adjutable dumbbells, only for it to sit in the closet right?

Also, you can’t beat the feeling of unboxing a great-looking product!

12) Consider Buying An Adjsutable Dumbbell Stand.

Have you considered where you’re going to store your adjustable dummbbells?

If you own a house from MTV Cribs, then you can skip this section.

But if you’re a mere simpleton like me, then every square foot counts (especially in a small home gym).

Furthermore, you’ll want to avoid storing your dumbbells on the bare concrete floor of a garage gym (trust me even the toughest of paints and metal will scratch and scuff).

Premium brands like Ironmaster, Bowflex, Powerblock, and Nuobell manufature their own stands.

Dumbbell StandUS PriceUK PriceDimensions
Ironmaster$139.00 (comes free with dumbbells)£139.005″ x 21″ x 24″
Bowflex$179.00£169.0025″ x 26″ x 27″
Powerblock$139.00£89.998″ x 22″ x 28″
Nuobell$195.00£549 (import)20″ x 24″ x 22″
Adjustable dumbbell stand price and dimensions comparison.

These can often be bundled with the dumbbells for a cheaper price. And Ironmaster gives you a complementary stand with their dumbbells.

So consider adding a stand option when buying premium adjustable dumbbells.

Not only do they serve as storage, but it can also be more comfortable to adjust weight at elevated heights, rather than having to bend down each time.

All this being said, stands are a luxury and not a necessity.

And if you have other ideas to store your dumbbells, go use that instead!

CHeck out my other article to learn how to get ripped using dumbbells!

13) Buy Adjustable Dumbbells With Brand Reputation.

The elephant in the room- should you choose a preium or budget brand when buying adjustable dumbbells?

It depends.

A strong brand label IS important.

The big companies (Powerblock, Bowflex, Ironmaster, and Nuobell) all have patented technologies with dedicated R&D.

And their products undergo stringent quality testing before release.

These dumbbells are durable, comfortable, convenient, and all come with long waranties.

PowerBlock Adjustable Dumbbells | Are they worth the purchase?

In comparison, the budget brands don’t have this going for them.

Most of the budget-brand adjustable dumbbells are actually generic copycats designed and made in China.

The dumbbell is then rebranded and repackaged in the destination market.

This is why they can be sold so cheaply.

It’s also why most of them look the same (because they are!) and often come with waranties which don’t even last a year….

Ultimately, it depends on your budget and needs.

If you’re looking to casually workout at home on the cheap, then budget brands will do that perfectly.

In fact, I’ve tested a few budget brands and they actually feel pretty nice. I’m not sure how long they’ll last though..

If you want a product that will last, and you have the money, then I would go for a premium brand.

Find out the 9 heaviest adjustable dumbbells in my other article!

14) Warranty and Customer Support.

Delving deeper into the previous point, premium brands generally offer a much better warranty and customer support (not all so make sure to check my list below).

This is something you should consider when buying adjustable dumbbells.

All adjustable dumbbells are designed to last.

But in reality, mechanical issues DO arise (even on the premium dumbbells).

The dial mechanism may break, the pin-selector may bend, weight plates become misaligned, damage can occur in transit….

And when this happens, you’ll be praying for great customer support and warranty protection.

Here’s a summary of the warranty periods for different adjustable dumbbell brands:

Premium Brands

  • Powerblock- 5 years.
  • Bowflex- 3 years.
  • Ironmaster- Lifetime
  • Nuobell- 2 years.
  • Ativafit- 1 year.
  • Core Home Fitness- 2 years.
  • Nordic Track- 3 months.

Budget Brands

  • Net Fit Boss- 1 year.
  • Skyland- 1 year.
  • Skonyon- 1 year.
  • Flybird- 1 year.
  • DN Fitness- 2 years.
  • Braingain- 6 months.
  • Entersports- 1 month.
  • Proform- 3 months

Brand warranties are subject to change. So please do your own diligent research before purchasing.

If a good warranty is top of your agenda, then consider Powerblock adjustable dumbbells.

They offer 5 years, and their customer support is well-known to be awesome.

Learn how to use dumbbells to build a bigger chest in my other article!

15) Justifying Price When Buying Adjustable Dumbbells.

Finally, taking all previous points into consideration- are adjustable dumbbells worth it?

Adjustable dumbbells are worth the money for most people. They are a cheap, convenient, and an effective way to perform home workouts. Adjustable dumbbells replace an entire set of fixed-weight dumbbells which would cost around 2-3x the price of adjustable dumbbells.

So if this sounds like something you would benefit from, then you should by an adjustable dumbbell set.

Here’s how much adjustable dumbbells should cost:

  • Ironmaster Quicklock 165- $1447 / £1447.
  • Bowflex SelecTech 1090- $799 / £750.
  • Bowflex SelectTech 552- $399 / £380.
  • Powerblock Pro series- $479-817 / £530-910 (depending on weight).
  • Powerblock Elite series- $329-627 / 734-£1000 (depending on weight).
  • Nordic Track Select-A-Weight- $599 / £520 (ebay).
  • Core Home Fitness- $349 / £434.
  • Ativafit- $219-571 / £271-664 (depending on weight).
  • Skonyon- $160-292 (dpeending on weight).
  • Flybird- $219-339 / £354 (depending on weight).
  • Muscle Squad- £150-450 (depending on weight).
  • DN Fitness- £499.
  • Nomad Fitness- £399.
  • Braingain- £399.

Premium brands can be as low as $329 and as high as $1447+.

Budget Brands can be as cheap as $219.

Ultimately, you really do get what you pay for.

And a higher price tag often comes with a heavier weight.

Check out my other article for 36 of the best dumbbell exercises for skinny guys!

Conclusion

Today I’ve shared 15 things you need to look for when buying adjustable dumbbells.

The first thing you naturally gravitate towards is price.

But price alone is not a good indicator for how suitable the adjustable dumbbell is for your needs.

The price should also be justified by:

  • The type of adjustable dumbbell- selectorized is the most popular.
  • Selector mechanism and weight readout- find a type that resonates with you.
  • Weight range- should be heavy enough for your training goals.
  • Dumbbell materials- should be long-lasting and non-abrasive.
  • Dumbbell handle- find one that’s comfortable for your hands.
  • Durability, lifespan, and warranty- you want your asset to last!

Can you think of any additional factors to consider before buying a set of adjustable dumbbells?

Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

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

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