According to the marketing, these adjustable dumbbells are the only thing you’ll ever need in your home gym. But are they really that good? You might have nearly burst a blood vessel when you saw the price of these hand weights so it’s time to answer the question once and for all: are adjustable weights really worth it?
What makes an adjustable dumbbell worth buying?
- Your body will thank you – Every muscle group in your body is slightly different in how much weight it can lift. You can likely bench press more than you can curl, for example. Adjustables are great for quickly picking a lighter or heavier weight.
- A zen gym or home – If your home is anything like mine, it could use some de-cluttering, especially when it comes to gym gear (I’m looking at you, old pull-up station. A weight that can do the job of 10 or more sets of dumbbells? Yes, please.
- Some great classes – One good thing about standardising adjustable weights so that everyone is on the same page is that there are some really good online classes (thanks, Youtube) where you can follow along with the instructor, so long as you have the weight they do.
- More time to train – If we’re talking about weights like the Powerblocks and the Bowflexes, there’s hardly any time in between changing weights. In contrast to the time-wasting never-ending spinning of spin-lock weights. A set of spinlock weights can add up to 10 minutes to your workout.
Example training video with adjustable dumbbells
Limitations & Drawbacks – Why adjustables might not be worth it for you
- They’re not cheap – We’ll cover and compare costs in a moment because it’s not as simple as ‘an adjustable costs way more than a dumbbell’ but there’s no getting around the fact that they cost more than your regular hand weights.
- A different feel and shape – One other problem you’ll have to weigh up is whether or not you like how these weights feel. Most adjustable weights clank around a bit, look a tad strange and have a design that will come into contact with your skin in a way rounder or hex weights won’t.
- You can’t use the weights for barbell – This drawback is levelled at the quick-selector weights like the Bowflex ones, where the weights are ‘built in’ and you can’t use the plates for anything else.
- There’s no ‘chucking them about’ – There are times when I’ve had to drop my hex dumbbells, and they really don’t care. They’re coated in thick, tough rubber. The same can’t be true for adjustable. While they’re tough, I wouldn’t like to drop my £300 hand weight on the rubber mats in my gym.
- You’re fixed to a set increment – While the different possible weights vary from one set to the next, you’re limited to the increments the weight goes up in. Whereas with regular dumbbells, or Olympic weights, you can go up in 1kg or less.
- You can’t expand ’em – While some of the adjustable weights we’ve seen have a pretty hefty upper limit, not all do. Take care there’s enough room to grow with the set you go for as once you’ve outgrown them, you’ll have to buy an additional set of dumbbells or sell these on.
Related Dumbbell Guides
- What’s The Best Adjustable Dumbbells You Can Buy In The UK Today?
- Bowflex vs Powerblock: Which One Should You Buy?
- Must-see Adjustable Steel Dumbbells
- Bowflex SelectTech 552 Review
- Adjustable Weight Kettlebells
Comparing costs – are they worth the cash?
So let’s deal with the elephant in the room, the price. In this next part of the guide, we’ll be comparing the price of adjustable dumbbells to fixed weight ones.
Bowflex dumbbells: (24kg) – Cheapest price found: £230
Increments (kg) : 3.5,4.5,5.5,6.5,8,9,10,11.5,13.5,16,18,20.5,22.5 & 24
Powerblock 32 dumbbells: (24kg) – Cheapest price found: £399
Increments (kg) 1.8, 3.6, 5.4, 7.3, 9, 10.8, 12.7, 14.5
Body Revolution Hex Dumbbells
Dumbbells (kg) 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12.5, 15
Price for 8 dumbbells of comparable size: £561
Verdict: Are adjustables worth the money?
While the initial outlay is more expensive for an adjustable weight system, even for the top brands, the cost of a similar set of rubber dumbbells soon starts to rack up (with the heavier pairs often costing as much as 3x the lighter ones!)
Adjustables will actually save you money over time. I didn’t include the cost of a rack here either which you’d definitely need for 8 sets of hex dumbbells if you value your sanity or your floor space.
Who will get the most out of adjustable weights?
- If you don’t want a rack full of dumbbells – Not everyone is building a monster home gym and, as cool as a collection of dumbbells looks, it’s not going to fit in most modern homes.
- If you need something you can stash in a cupboard – The adjustable dumbbells we’ve seen, like the Powerblocks and Bowflexes are really compact, smaller than they look in the product pics. They’re ideal for hiding out the way when you’re done working out.
- If you want to take them with you – I usually like going to the hotel gym, but more and more lately, I’ve been sneaking my dumbbells in the back of the car when I travel. As long as you don’t mind the extra weight on board, you can have a good workout wherever you stay.
- If you’re short on time – Shaving a few minutes off your workout here and there mounts up and adjustable weights are the way to go if you’re looking for the most efficient way to hop between weights in between sets.
The Verdict: Are Adjustable Dumbbells Worth It?
There’s no doubt that adjustable dumbbells are expensive, but the sheer variety of possible weights negates that initial investment. An investment that, over the long haul, makes these weights actually more affordable.
But they’re not for everyone.
If you’re short on space, and don’t mind their sometimes awkward shape and feel, they’re likely going to be your ideal training partner.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to train strength and have a garage or spare room to call your home gym, then you’re likely going to want a more traditional barbell, squat rack and bench set up.
References and further reading
- Our adjustable dumbbell guide
- Check out our guide on Hex Dumbbells, if you’re looking for a new set to get started
- Can you use dumbbells as kettlebells?
- Washington Edu has a good free paper on the best way to train for size.
- There’s also a brilliant guide over on sci-fit.net which condenses many studies into one superb guide about training for strength and hypertrophy
- Built with science has an excellent case study on building bigger arms fast