I’d recommend the Nuobell adjustable dumbbells for most people after 60 hours of research and testing.
This guide on best adjustable dumbbells is BY FAR the most complex piece of content I ever had to write.
A few hours into research, I already had a feeling this was going to be my Everest.
Sixty hours later, I can only confirm the gut feeling was right.
I have 20 years of experience in the fitness industry – both as a personal trainer and writer, and I too found the topic overwhelming at times.
There are just too many moving parts – both metaphorically and literally.
I can only imagine what an average buyer goes through.
To get to the results below, I first compiled a longlist of 52 dumbbells. I then defined 17 quality criteria, including maximum load, number of weight increments, durability, and value for the price.
To make the ratings accurate, I also developed new metrics like Length per Load (LPL) and Price per Pound of Weight (PPW).
If you’re in a hurry – here’s an overview of the winners.
Among the quick-adjust dumbbells, the pair that stands out is the Nuobell 80 Classic. The transitions between weights are quick and seamless, the weight capacity is a high 80 pounds per hand, and it feels pretty much like a solid dumbbell. It’s not cheap, though.
If you’re looking for something conservatively priced – my top recommendation is the Bowflex SelectTech 552.
Among loadable dumbbells, my top overall pick is the RogueDB15. It boasts the heaviest weight capacity of them all. More weight = more versatility.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Take the time to actually read the guide below if you want to truly understand what you’re paying for and why…
SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
- Best adjustable dumbbells
- Best quick-change adjustable dumbbells – SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
- Most durable adjustable dumbbells – IronMaster 75
- Best slide-pin adjustable dumbbell – NordicTrack Select-a-Weight (orange-black combo)
- Top budget pick – Bowflex SelectTech 552 adjustable dumbbells
- Best block-type adjustable dumbbells – Power block USA Elite Series
- Honorary mention – JAXJOX digital adjustable dumbbell set
- Top 4 classic loadable dumbbells (and one honorary mention)
- Choosing the best adjustable dumbbells – a concise buyer’s guide
- How we assess and rate adjustable dumbbells
- FAQs about adjustable dumbbells
- Close-but-no-cigar dumbbells – other dumbbells we analyzed
- Adjustable dumbbells – the bottom line
Best adjustable dumbbells
|Top 5 quick-adjust dumbbells|
|Name||Best in category||Rating (out of 36.5)||Price||Capacity (lbs)||Type|
|SMRFT NÜOBELL 80LB CLASSIC||overall||26||$$$$||80||handle twist|
|IronMaster 75||most durable||23.75||$$$$$||75||spin-lock (quick lock)|
|NordicTrack 55 lb Select-a-Weight||slide-pin||23.625||$$||55||slide-pin|
|Bowflex SelectTech 552||budget||23.5||$$||52.5||dial|
|Power block USA Elite Series||block||22.75||$$$||50||block|
|Top 4 loadable dumbbells|
|Name||Best in category||Rating (out of 26)||Price||Capacity (lbs)||Finish (handle/sleeves)|
|Rogue DB15||Overall||22||$$$$||350||zinc or stainless steel/zinc|
|Gungnir Dumbler||Runner-up||21.55||$$$$$||264||stainless steel/nickel|
|Bells of Steel||Budget||21||$$||300||zinc/zinc|
|Northdeer Ultracompact||Ultracompact||19.75||$$$||50||hard chrome/hard chrome|
Below are the reviews of the top five best adjustable dumbbells in the quick-change category and the top four among the classic loadable dumbbells.
We also have two honorable mentions – a digitally-controlled adjustable dumbbell set in the former group and a water-filled set labeled “most portable” in the latter.
If that sounds complicated, just push through – it gets simpler.
Best quick-change adjustable dumbbells – SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
26 points out of a maximum of 36.5
With a rating of 26, NÜOBELL takes the best adjustable dumbbells title back to Sweden. Note that this is the rating for the 80 lbs set – these also come at 50 lbs max load.
Nuobell dominates in 3 out of 5 crucial quality aspects:
- maximum load per dumbbell
- speed of the weight change
- how natural the lifting experience is
If I was writing this a year ago, I could even say it’s unique because NÜOBELL pioneers the mechanism that locks the weight onto this handle.
Today, I can’t claim that because several (for the lack of a better word) “rip-offs” appeared in the meantime.
The few similar sets I’ve seen all seem to have a common major flaw – the subpar parts of the weight-shifting gears. And that’s a deal-breaker because a stuck gear renders the dumbbell useless.
Natural lifting experience
‘Lifting experience’ is fancy talk for “they feel just like a regular dumbbell.”
In this aspect, NÜOBELL shares the top spot with Ironmaster, and I would classify both as “almost the same as a regular dumbbell.”
Add to that the rugged knurled handle, and you get a dumbbell that feels just like the real thing.
Only two other sets on the list go this high in weight capacity – the PowerBlock Commercial Series and the Bowflex 1090. The Bowflex is way bulkier, limiting the number of exercises you can perform with it…and don’t even get me started on the PowerBlock (more on that in a minute).
- Shape similar to a classic dumbbell – the transition will be seamless, and you can do all the same stuff.
- High maximum load (5-80 in 16 increments) makes them more versatile. You can use the same set as you get stronger and for movements like squats or farmer’s walk.
- Classic handle – no extra parts to get in the way of two-hand lifts like overhead tricep extension or goblet squats.
- Quick and simple weight change – allows you to perform drop sets and supersets.
- Sturdy knurled handle – you’ll have a solid grip even at higher weights.
- Flat endssides – this makes them more convenient because you can rest them on your thighs when getting into position for heavy bench press lifts.
- The stand could be more robust – at the high weight capacity, you’d feel more confident if the stand was solid steel.
- Plastic parts in the mechanism – there’s a chance you’ll break something if you drop them regularly from hip height.
- Subpar warranty – at this price point, I feel they should do better than 2 years.
- Limited data volume – relatively new to the market and still need to stand the test of time. I’m not sure what we can expect from these in 5 or 10 years, which ties into my point about the warranty.
- I’d prefer slightly more weight – if these were available in up to 90lbs, it’d give them more use for heavier bench pressing
The bottom line
One of our core values here at Strong Home Gym is hunting for value in gym equipment. Typically, that means that products that deliver quality at a low price rise to the top.
That’s not the case with NÜOBELL – it’s at the top DESPITE the price tag, which makes its win all the more impressive.
Most durable adjustable dumbbells – IronMaster 75
23.75 points out of 36.5
In terms of sheer durability, IronMaster is the best adjustable dumbbell set on the market.
And it’s not even close.
It’s the only dumbbell on the quick-adjust list comparable to a solid or loadable dumbbell. The reasons are threefold…
- Low number of moving parts
- No gears
- And no plastic
You do need to screw the collar into the handle, but because of the quick-lock screw and the rectangular shape of the plates, it only takes seconds. In my experience, the simpler the mechanism, the better. Fewer moving parts almost always improves performance.
Opinion time: IronMaster aside, a screw-in spinlock is the worst adjustable dumbbell design
This part is my opinion, but I’m sharing it because it ties into what makes the IronMaster so good.
There are other sets that use the ‘system’ of screwing the collar into the handle (spinlock). That’s where the similarities end.
With that type of spinlock, it takes 10-15 seconds to unscrew the shaft and about the same to put it back in. Then there’s the overwhelming likelihood that even if you screw it back in tight, it’ll find a way of working itself loose during high intensity exercises.
And don’t we all love pausing mid-exercise to re-tighten our dumbbells?!
Add to that the time it takes to align the plates, and you have what I believe to be the worst adjustable dumbbell design.
I won’t name names, but these sets are not nearly as fast as the IronMaster or cost-friendly as the classic loadable dumbbell.
They’re just different for the sake of being different.
Not the case with IronMaster
IronMaster combines the best of two worlds – it looks and feels pretty much identical to a classic dumbbell, and it takes seconds to change the weights.
The key to the weight change is the quick-lock mechanism paired with the plates’ rectangular shape.
Only a part of the in-cap shaft is threaded. That’s the part that locks the dumbbell in. The rest is smooth and glides in and out.
- Robustly built and no gears – likely to last a lifetime and survive dropping (doesn’t mean you should drop them because you could bend the in-cap)
- Great handles – well-knurled and hard-chrome coated, the tactile feedback of the grip is superior to most adjustable dumbbells.
- Shape almost identical to standalone dumbbells – no need to change your movement and adjust to a new dumbbell shape.
- Flat endssides – you can comfortably rest them on your thighs between sets.
- Less prone to jamming – sets with more moving parts and gears (like the Bowflex Selecttech 552) are more likely to jam – especially frustrating if it happens during a set.
- Flat sides – more suitable for exercises like renegade rows and weighted burpees
- Expensive – will make a more serious dent in your budget than most adjustable dumbbells.
- Weight change is not instant – putting plates on and off is not as convenient (or fast) as just twisting a handle or sliding a pin.
- Handle is 6.5 ” long – the extra inch compared to most standard handles might feel awkward. If you don’t get used to it, the solution is getting the Heavy Handle Kit*.
*The Heavy Handle Kit is basically a thick plate cut in half. You slip it over the handle and lock it down with hex screws that go through.
Best slide-pin adjustable dumbbell – NordicTrack Select-a-Weight (orange-black combo)
23.625 points out of 36.5
There’s a bit of a confusion with the names of the NordiTrack sets.
The name “Select-a-Weight” seems to be used for two sets – the orange-black and the bulkier black-blue combo. Both have a listed weight max of 55 lbs, so it’s confusing.
To be clear – our top pick is the former (black with the orange selectors).
If you only watched the promo videos and never held these in hand, you could easily get the impression that these are the best adjustable dumbbells out there.
And that still might be true for some people.
Quickest weight change – check.
Solid total max load and weight increments – check.
Built like a tank – check.
…check, check, check…there’s plenty of stuff that makes a slide-pin superior to other types of adjustable dumbbells.
Yet, there’s one aspect that’s, well, not the best.
It’s the geometry.
Most people won’t notice it, but the geometric center (middle of the handle) is not the center of mass because the selector doesn’t insert symmetrically. At higher weights, this causes minor instabilities, rattling, and rotation. And for an experienced lifter, that changes the experience for the worse.
Will this be an issue for you?
Again, most people won’t even notice it.
But if you like to make the most of the slow eccentric movement and lift over 40 lbs per dumbbell, I’d stay away from all slide pins. None of them will be as stable as a conventional dumbbell or the IronMaster.
Still, compared to other slide-pins, the Select-a-Weight will be more stable because the plates are symmetrical.
We choose this set over the black-blue NordicTrack set for three reasons:
- The handle is knurled so it feels less “plasticky”
- It’s not as bulky
- We’ve seen reports of plates unlocking with the other set
All this (paired with the low price point) makes this NordicTrack our pick for the best adjustable dumbbells in the slide-pin category.
- Quick transition from weight to weight – more efficient for drop sets and supersets than any other adjustable dumbbell type.
- Free trial for the iFit app included – 30 days access to the iFit platform make it easier to craft a workout plan if you don’t have one in place. Great feature for beginners.
- Fewer gears/moving parts than the handle-twist or dial-type – likely to last longer than a Bowflex.
- Weight distribution is not symmetrical (center of gravity is not the middle of the handle) – this might cause rotation and instabilities.
- Some parts are plastic – won’t be as durable as an all-metal dumbbell like the IronMaster.
- Increments of 2.5 lbs throughout the weight range – makes it easier to plan a workout if you’re progressing slowly.
Top budget pick – Bowflex SelectTech 552 adjustable dumbbells
23.5 points out of 36.5
The Bowflex Selecttech 552 adjustable dumbbell set is our top budget pick and probably the most popular pair to ever hit the market.
And for a number of good reasons…
The weight goes up to 52.5 lbs per hand. You adjust it by rotating the dial on the sides.
It takes a bit longer than the handle-twist, though, because you’ll need to turn 4 dials.
The increments are 2.5 up to 25 lbs and then switch to 5 lbs, which makes them a good choice for beginners and intermediate lifters.
If you want to use Bowflex for heavier lifts, you’ll need to upgrade to the 1090.
The interesting part here is that, while the 552 is a budget option in its weight range, the Bowflex 1090 will set you back more than Nuobell or the Powerblock upgrades to 90 lbs.
My point here is that the Bowflex Selecttech 552 is excellent value for money.
It’s not as heavy or durable as costlier sets. Still, for most people, it will do the job just fine – better than any set in its price range.
As seen on TV – what it means for you
I’ve seen and talked to lifters with an aversion to the as-seen-on-TV aura that follows Bowflex.
I have no problem with that part.
Most similar companies went under a long time ago.
Bowflex stands tall 36 years in. That can only be a plus because it speaks volumes about the quality and customer service.
Pros of the Bowflex Selecttech 552
- Conservatively priced – lowest cost per pound of weight out of the top brands.
- Seamless weight changes – the dial is easy to work and click into place.
- They come with sturdy stands – easier to take out and back into the stand, which is included in the price.
- Magnets on the selector pin – these hold onto the rod and make for a more stable lift.
- Small footprint – most Powerblocks are about the size of a shoebox. The rectangular design is an additional space-saver compared to similar sets. Excellent feature if your home gym is tight on space.
Cons of the Bowflex Selecttech 552
- Initial unlocking – you’ll need to unlock the mechanism on arrival to start using them.
- A fair amount of rattle and movement – this might be a problem for complex lifts that include changes in movement planes, like twisting bicep curls.
- Plastic parts – it is heavy-duty plastic, but don’t expect these to last a lifetime like some other sets (read: Ironmaster) will. That’s the trade off you make with cheaper products.
Best block-type adjustable dumbbells – Power block USA Elite Series
22.75 points out of 36.5
If you’re looking for simplicity and durability on a budget, the Powerblock Elite Series deserves your attention. I used that median model for the ratings (50 lbs) but will dig deeper and touch on other versions of the Powerblock.
Budget-friendly and durable
For a pound of weight, these cost 10-20% less than Nuobell, depending on where you get them.
Powerblock is the runner-up in durability (second only to the Ironmaster). The weight change mechanism is simple, there are fewer moving parts, and the extra rods add stability.
At 10 lbs increments, the weight changes are on-par with the fastest sets out there (only second to digital). At 5-pound increments, things get more complicated, and the Powerblock becomes one of the slowest pairs here.
Let me explain.
To go from 20 to 30 lbs, you just slide the selector out and back in.
To go from 10 to 25 lbs, you need to open the chambers and take out the inner weight bars. These weigh 5 lbs each, and it’s how the 5-lbs increments are created.
What it all means for you
If you only lift in 10 lbs increments, Powerblock features the simplest weight change system out there. It’s the only quick-change adjustable dumbbell on our list that goes over 100 lbs per hand.
It also means that performing a superset at 5-pound increments will prove to be less than ideal. There are much better adjustable dumbbells for that kind of work out there, starting with the Nuobell.
To go that high, you’d have to get the set from their Commercial series (max capacity 175 lbs per hand), which would set you back over two grand. That’s serious money and could possibly be spent better elsewhere.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the Powerblock at heavier weights. They don’t feel natural in hand and are only good for basic dumbbell lifts. For example, they wouldn’t feel right for performing dumbbell snatches etc because of their shape.
In the weight range of up to 50 lbs, the boxy shape and framed handle are not deal-breakers.
- Durable – they come with a 10-year warranty and can take more ‘abuse’ than most adjustable sets and will be more resistant to drops (doesn’t mean you should drop them, the welds can still crack).
- Simple weight change – makes them a solid choice for drop sets and supersets.
- Clearly marked – you won’t have to do any weight math.
- Compact – the small footprint and boxy shape mean they’ll take less space than most adjustable dumbbells.
- Value for money – you can get more weight in the same price range.
- Expandable to high weight range – you can upgrade up to 70 or 90 lbs.
- Available add-ons – you can start lower and get the add-ons when you need to go heavier.
- Different shape than traditional dumbbells – boxy and caged, the Powerblock will take getting used to. The higher the weight, the more pronounced the difference.
- Plastic selector – doesn’t feel very durable. A urethane-coated metal selector would add so much value here.
- Handles knurled only in the PRO Series – the grip might not be as good, adding to the awkwardness of the movement at higher weights.
Honorary mention – JAXJOX digital adjustable dumbbell set
This guide wouldn’t be complete without the cutting-edge digital set of adjustable dumbbells by JAXJOX.
We still don’t have enough data on how reliable the JAXJOX DumbbellConnect is, but of this I am certain – digital is where the adjustable dumbbell technology is headed.
You just press a button and grab the dumbbell.
It doesn’t get more convenient than that.
Top 4 classic loadable dumbbells (and one honorary mention)
When you say “adjustable dumbbells,” most people think of the quick-adjust type like Bowflex or Nuobell.
Not everyone, though.
The classic loadable dumbbell also belongs to the ‘adjustable’ group. If that’s what you’re looking for, this section is for you.
Best loadable dumbbell overall – Rogue DB15
scored 22 out of 26 points
Rogue DB-15 is the most well-rounded loadable dumbbell out there.
It ticks all the boxes you’d expect from Rogue:
- High tensile strength – 190-200 K PSI, which makes it less prone to bending over time
- Long loadable sleeves (6.75 inches) – which means it can potentially hold up to 350 lbs
- Same knurling as the Ohio bar – standard knurling that’s fairly aggressive and offers a good grip without cutting into your hands.
- Highly resistant coating of both the sleeves and shaft (zinc and stainless steel)
- Smooth spin of the bronze bushings. This makes the lifts easier on your joints.
We chose the DB-15 over the DB-10 because of the longer loadable sleeves (6.75 vs. 3.625 inches), which means you can pack on more weight.
On the other hand, the extra length can be awkward to lift with. At over 20 inches, it’s going to be less than ideal for presses and curls, especially if you’re on the smaller side.
In this scenario, go with the DB-10…if the sleeve length of 3.625 is enough for the weights you’re lifting, of course.
- Same knurling pattern as on the Ohio bar – if you know and like the specific knurling Rogue uses on the Ohio bar, you’ll love the grip on these, too.
- Tight fit at every weight – smooth shaft paired with the Rogue OSO collars will eliminate any rattle.
- Finish choices for the shaft – you can choose between black zinc and stainless steel
- Premium OSO collars – rubberized and made from aircraft-grade aluminum, OSO collars are more durable and gentler on the sleeves than standard collars.
- Very long – at 20.5 inches, some people might find the DB15 too long for presses and curls).
- Smooth spin of the bushings – the sleeves might be too ‘spinny’ for powerlifters.
- Might not feel natural with bumper plates on – bumpers may be too big, so you’ll have to invest in smaller plates.
Bottom line – If you’re a Rogue fan, your search for adjustable dumbbells will probably be brief and end with either the DB-15 or the smaller DB-10.
Our premium loadable dumbbell pick – the Gungnir Dumbler
scored 21.55 out of 26 points
If you’re going to pay over 200 bucks for a pair of adjustable dumbbells, you better get something impressive.
And Gungnir of Norway is all that and a bag of chips.
Gungnir beats its main competitor in the premium category (Eleiko) in almost every objective category – from the coating to the max listed weight.
The unique part about the Gungnir Dumbler.
This is the only loadable dumbbell with built-in collars. The magnetic collars slide along the sleeve and fall into the groves. And more importantly, it’s a system that WORKS! Often innovation is flawed in the early versions, but not in this case – it’s a triumph.
The only downside here is the imperfect fit.
Because the notches are fixed, the collar will rarely press the plates closely. There will always be some space between the collars and the weight plates, which means they will move and rattle.
It’s a price you pay for convenience but I can see how it can be annoying, especially if you’re used to solid dumbbells.
Still, I wouldn’t say this is a deal-breaker. You can use a piece of rubber between the collars and the weight plates to stabilize the connection.
Bottom line – Gungnir Dumbler is a whole different beast, but the beastliness comes at a price.
- Built-in slide-lock collars – simpler/faster than any regular collars and allow you to use more of the sleeve.
- Extra durable materials – titanium sidelocks and stainless steel coating will probably last you a lifetime.
- Electroless nickel coating of the sleeves – ultra-resistant to corrosion and chipping (second only to cerakote and stainless steel)
- They look awesome – I rarely ever mention looks as an advantage, but these are a conversation starter.
- Expensive – second most expensive set of loadable dumbbells we looked at – the most expensive being Eleiko.
- Not a tight fit at every weight – the dumbbell might rattle.
Best budget loadable dumbbell – Bells of Steel
scored 21 out of 26 points
If you’re not a stickler for brand names, this pair can save you a pretty penny – 50 to 70% compared to Rogue or Gungnir.
Still, you sacrifice very little in terms of substance, so that saving is a huge selling point for the Bells of Steel..
They’re coated in black and bright zinc and feature brass bushings. In most aspects, they’re pretty close to Rogue DB-15 (rated only 0.55 points lower), except for the option to choose stainless steel for the shaft.
This set from Bells of Steel goes about its business without much pomp and over-delivers in value.
- Budget-friendly – cost much less than premium brands and deliver most of the value.
- Zinc coated sleeves and shaft – as good as it gets in this price range.
- Smooth rotation of the sleeves – the sleeves rotate smoothly but not too fast – this lowers the risk of injury, especially in any snatching movements and curls.
- Long – it’s as long as the Rogue DB-15, but there’s no shorter alternative. If you’re on the smaller side, 20.4 inches of length might feel too bulky for presses and curls.
- Knurling is not the most aggressive – if you like extra aggressive knurling, you might find that the coating dulls the grip.
Most compact adjustable dumbbell – Northdeer Ultracompact
rated 19.175 out of 26
Northdeer Ultracompact is an eye candy that can get serious if need be.
The compactness, paired with the stunning mirror finish, makes it a great pick for women.
I’m not sure if that’s OK to say in this day and age, but I’m less interested in social correctness than the realities of gym life.
And the reality is that the footprint of the 20 lbs version is only 10.63 x 3.86, making it much shorter than a couple of the rival dumbbells.
If the weight range works for you and you’re not big on drop sets, Northdeer has a lot going for it.
It’s nicer to look at, easier to use and store, and more convenient to use than bulky sets like Bowflex, Nuobell, or Core Home Fitness.
An obvious pro to these dumbbells is that they are probably the only ones out there that will be gentle on your gym floor.
If you want to learn more about gym flooring options, check out our best home gym flooring in-depth guide.
Anyhow, on to the pros and cons to the Northdeer Ultracompact dumbbells…
- Ultracompact – With a diameter of 4.9 inches for the 50 lb dumbbell, it’s more compact than Olympic weights, even if you’re using the 10-pound plates. This makes it more convenient if you’re on the smaller side. Plus, it takes up less space.
- Mirror finish – gives it an extra oomph. It stands out in the sea of black cast-iron weights.
- Rubber rings on the weights – these will protect your floor from scuff marks…great if you don’t have a dedicated gym space.
- Flat sides – you can rest them on your thighs or store them upright.
- Barbell functionality – makes it more versatile. Use the connecting bar to turn the set of adjustable dumbbells into a barbell.
- Foam handle on versions up to 30 lbs – won’t be as durable or live as long as the knurled steel on the 50 lbs dumbbell.
- Using the rubber rings is pesky – unless you have crazy expensive flooring, there’s a good chance you’ll give up the rubber rings.
Honorary mention – most portable adjustable dumbbells
Water-filled dumbbell set by Deiris
These are not the best adjustable dumbbells but any stretch of the imagination, but they are unique and have no competition in terms of portability.
We all have at least one story of someone working out with water bottles. It’s never a great story, though.
This set takes that concept and runs with it.
Without the water, the whole set weighs only 2.2 lbs and includes 24 pieces – eight balls, eight nuts, four handles, and four extensions.
Filled with water, each “ball” weighs 5.5 lbs, which brings the total weight to a decent 45 lbs.
Make no mistake; these are nothing more than a useful gimmick to get you through a week away.
They’re bulky and unstable, so the lifting experience is….well, not great. It’s a last resort if ever I’ve seen one, but sometimes needs must….
But you don’t expect that from a water-filled dumbbell.
Finally, there are versions of these with barbell functionality (like Aquoter). I believe these are more useful because the lifts are less awkward – the bulk of the water balls are at the sides and doesn’t get in the way.
Not great, but definitely worth knowing about.
Choosing the best adjustable dumbbells – a concise buyer’s guide
We’re looking at two separate groups of dumbbells here – the quick-adjust type and the classic loadable dumbbell.
A few rules to help you find your way around the guide:
- For the sake of clarity, I’ll use the term ‘adjustable dumbbells’ for the quick-adjust type (Bowflex and the like) and loadable dumbbells for sets like Gungnir and Rogue DB-15.
- I’ll focus on choosing adjustable dumbbells. For the loadables, I’ll only list the criteria and the ratings awarded.
- To illustrate my points, I’ll put it all into the context of how we rated the sets.
5 crucial factors in choosing good adjustable dumbbells
If you’re in a hurry and want a rundown of what to look at when buying adjustable dumbbells, this is it. Below are the make-or-break factors.
The five critical factors are:
- Maximum load
- Durability and longevity
- Lifting experience (how similar they are to a classic dumbbell)
- Speed of the weight change
- Price (value)
Let’s address each.
1 – Maximum load per dumbbell
(0 to 5 point in our ratings)
A maximum load of 55 lbs per dumbbell will be enough for most men. For women, I’d put that at around 30.
In your case, this will come down to three factors:
- Exercises you’ll be using it for
- How advanced of a lifter you are
- How fast you’re progressing
Heavy adjustable dumbbells with a high max load will be more versatile because you can use them for squats and deadlifts.
If that’s your intention, the NÜOBELL and the Ironmaster are the dumbbells for you (max load 80 and 75 lbs, respectively).
The Ironmaster offers expansion kits that go up to 120 and 165 lbs.
This factor alone is a big reason these are my top picks for most people.
2 – Durability and longevity of adjustable dumbbells
(0 to 1 point)*
I don’t typically lump longevity and durability into the same pot.
I’m doing it here because they both depend on the same stuff – the number of moving parts (levers and gears) and the amount of plastic used.
In other words – the parts that would give in if you started throwing them after a heavy set are also the parts that might break over time.
Let me be specific…
If I were to judge these based on type, I’d say that the Ironmaster is the absolute king of the hill for the reasons I explained in the mini-review (click here to skip back to that part).
The block type is the runner-up in durability because it has the fewest moving parts (not a close runner-up, though).
The slide-pin, handle twist, and (especially) the dial type like the Bowflex have multiple gears and plastic parts.
Granted, this isn’t just any plastic; it’s rugged and durable…but it’s still plastic.
*Why only 1 point if it’s a critical category?
Because our durability rating is only based on type, which makes it provisional. In other words, not all dumbbells of the same type are created equal, and I didn’t have access to all 50 sets to make a definitive durability estimate.
Durability will shine through in other categories like owner satisfaction, handle material/coating, and brand.
3 – Is the lifting experience the same as with regular dumbbells?
(0 to 3 points in our ratings)
This might not be a crucial factor for everyone, but it’s definitely huge for me.
As a rule of thumb, the heavier you go, the more important this will be. You don’t want awkward grips and clunky weights on a heavy overhead press. There are many different “types” of adjustable dumbbells as the image shows below…
Most adjustable dumbbell sets make for a lifting experience that I’d describe as “close” to the traditional dumbbell.
There are two outliers – Powerblock and Ironmaster. The first one is an outlier because it’s very different from a solid dumbbell and the second one because it’s almost the same.
At weights over 90-100 lbs, Powerblock becomes awkward.
You also sacrifice versatility when you move away from a traditional dumbbell shape – exercises such as renegade rows and snatches become more difficult when the dumbbells get bigger and clunkier.
Ironmasters are the closest you can get to the feeling of fixed dumbbells. It’s compact and flat on the sides, which means you can rest it on your knees as you’re preparing for a heavy set.
4 – How quickly can you change the weight?
(illustrated in two separate categories, one carries 3, the other 1 point)
This category is not absolute, meaning it will not carry the same gravity for everyone.
If you’re big on drop sets and supersets, you’ll want adjustable dumbbells that allow you to change the weights as quickly as possible…the faster, the better.
The speed of weight change is a twofold factor:
- How fast the change is between two consecutive increments (say, going from 25 to 30 lbs)
- How fast you can go from minimum to median and then to the maximum weight
That might sound complicated, but it’s really not.
It’s also the only fair way to compare the sets without comparing apples to oranges.
Let me explain…
How we approached things
We measured the times it takes to go from minimum to median and then maximum weight.
For example, if the weight range is 5-50 lbs, we measured how fast you can switch from zero to 25, and then from 25 to 50.
Why 5-pound increments?
Because of how Powerblock works. If they weren’t a contender, things would be simpler.
With Powerblocks, changing the weight in 5 lbs increments is more complicated than 10 lbs.
Going from 10 to 20 lbs will take but a few seconds, but to go from 10 to 25, you’ll need over 10 seconds to take the cylinders out.
I explained that in more detail in the mini-review of the Powerblock Elite – click here to skip back to that part.
The only set here that requires some math when switching the weight is the IronMaster because there’s no rotating handle or numbered dials.
5 – Price of adjustable dumbbells
(0 to 5 points)
The elephant in the room…
Are adjustable dumbbells worth it?
Yes, they are. They’re a space and money-saving alternative to the classic dumbbell, and they can replace a whole rack if you get a high-capacity pair like Nuobell.
So, how much should you pay?
My advice here comes down to two things – don’t buy cheap and don’t buy bells and whistles.
If I were buying an adjustable dumbbell set today, I wouldn’t go below $250.
For 50-pound sets, my upper price limit would be $450. For the heavier pairs, I’d go as high as $900. Sounds like a lot of money, but it’s a huge saving compared to buying the individual dumbbell sets. A commercial grade rack of dumbbells will cost thousands.
For the classic loadable, that range is wider because you can get a solid pair for as little as 150 bucks.
Getting a cheap pair will probably ruin the whole concept of adjustable dumbbells for you, primarily because of the plastic.
In and of itself, plastic is not a problem. Even the best adjustable dumbbells have plastic parts.
In fact, plastic makes for smoother gear changes than metal would.
Here’s the problem…
In cheap sets, those plastic parts are brittle.
For you, this means two things:
- They will break sooner
- The gears might not work to begin with
If the plastic is not rugged, the gears will jam or not click into place. It’s frustrating at best and dangerous at worst.
You buy cheap, you buy twice.
Other quality aspects of adjustable dumbbells
In the section below, I’ll list and briefly explain quality aspects that aren’t deal-breakers but make a substantial difference when choosing a good set of adjustable dumbbells.
6 – Weight increments in adjustable dumbbells
(zero to 2.5 points in our ratings)
Most of the best adjustable dumbbells have 10 or more increments, typically at 5 lbs steps.
That’s the sweet spot. Anything lower is unnecessary, and anything higher is too drastic.
When looking at the increments, think about your current workout routine. Do you need the 2.5 lbs increments?
I’d say most people don’t.
Go for simplicity and consistency.
Take the Nuobel, for example – you have 16 increments going from 5-80 in five-pound steps…clean and simple.
We awarded zero to 2 points for the number and 0.5 points for consistency of the increments, which is not a given.
7 – Stability and lateral rattle of adjustable dumbbells
OK, first of all, LATERAL RATTLE is a kickass name for a hard rock band…
…it’s up there with the likes of Skid Row and Twisted Sister.
With that brain f*rt out the way, let’s get back to dumbbells.
We made this a standalone quality category for one purpose only – to point out the issues with the slide-pin type. The lighting fast weight change comes at the cost of weights not fitting tightly against the handle and one another.
The other types have some rattle too, but not the kind that would interfere with the movement. If you want an adjustable dumbbell that just stays put, go with the IronMaster.
8 – Length, footprint, and bulk
(zero to one point in our ratings)
To avoid faulty comparisons, we’ve come up with a useful metric – Length per Load ratio (LPL in the rest of the text).
For example, Bowflex 552 is about 17 inches long, and the max load is 52.5. That puts the LPL at 0.28 (17 divided by 52.5). More on that in a second…
Here’s an unpopular opinion – most “experts” out there put way too much emphasis on the size of the adjustable dumbbells.
The height, the footprint…all of it makes very little sense without context.
Unless you have EXACTLY 15 inches of space, the difference between storing a PowerBlock and a Bowflex won’t be significant. If it goes under your bed or into your basement, you’ll forget about the size difference within a week.
That is ONLY true if the size works for you come workout time.
If you’re switching from the classic to adjustable dumbbells, the extra width and a different shape will take some getting used to.
That’s not a big deal.
What might be a deal-breaker is the extra length at lower weights.
Let me explain…
If you’re used to a solid cast iron dumbbell (typically 12-13 inches long), switching to Bowflex will change the mechanics of the movement. You’re suddenly lifting that weight on a much longer ‘stick.’ The difference in the LPL ratio is significant.
LPL ratios of the best adjustable dumbbells and one BONUS tip
I could beat this topic to a pulp and still fail to offer actionable advice.
Instead of doing that, I’ll put it like this – if you feel that the size might be a significant factor for you, go with a set that has an LPL that’s close to the weights you’ve been using.
To get the Length Per Load of your weights, divide the length (in inches) by load (in pounds) – the lower the number the more compact the dumbbell.
Below is a table with the LPL ratios of the top 5 adjustable dumbbells:
|Dumbbell||Length Per Load (LPL)|
|SMRFT NÜOBELL 80LB||0.21|
|Power Block USA Elite||0.22|
|Bowflex SelectTech 552||0.29|
|NordicTrack 55 lb Select-a-Weight||0.28|
It’s not surprising that the Nuobell and Power Block have the lowest LPL ratio due to their high weight capacity. It does show that the IronMaster’s are a pretty compact dumbbell too.
*the average LPL ratio of 20-lbs hex cast iron dumbbell is 0.6 to 0.7
*the average LPL ratio of 50-lbs cast iron dumbbell is 0.2 to 0.28
9 – Shaft/handle materials of adjustable dumbbells
(zero to three points in our ratings)
This one is pretty straightforward – if you’re a serious lifter, you’ll want knurled metal on the handle – 80% of the best adjustable dumbbells have it.
The exception is the Bowflex 552 (rubber handle).
But not all rubber is created equal. Our research found only one case of a torn handle surface in the Bowflex 552, and it was on arrival.
Still, for heavier lifts, nothing replaces the aggressive grip of knurled steel.
We awarded 3 points for knurled steel, 1.5 for rubber, 1 for bare metal, and no points for plastic and other finishes (like nylon).
10 – Handle/grip length of adjustable dumbbells
This one’s tricky because most of the top sets don’t even list it.
That’s fine because the one I’m concerned about does – the IronMaster.
The handle length of the IronMaster 75 is 6.5 inches, which is almost too long. Any longer than that, and it would feel wobbly.
The set feels better in hand when you add the Heavy Handle Kit because it effectively shortens the handle to 5 inches.
11 – What’s a good warranty on adjustable dumbbells?
(zero to three points in our ratings)
If you ask me, a product with this many moving parts should come with at least a year-long warranty.
Granted, one set with only a 90-day money-back guarantee slipped through the cracks as the budget pick – the NordicTrack 55 Select-a-Weight.
Let me give you a few warranty-related rules of thumb:
- Don’t settle for anything less than a year if you’re paying over $350 for a pair.
- If you’re paying over $500, make sure you get at least two years.
- If you’re paying over $800, look for a Lifetime Warranty.
12 – Where are the dumbbells made?
(zero to 0.5 points)
Outsourcing changed over the last few years, and stuff made in China cannot be disregarded.
In fact, 35.14% of the best adjustable dumbbells are made in China, and 45.95% have no listed country of origin. Most of the time, no info also means made in China.
That brings the total % to over 81.
Only one set is made in Europe (the top-rated Nuobell), and three entries are made in the USA – all three by Powerblock.
The takeaway – don’t dismiss anything just because it’s made in China. Those days are long gone.
Still, statistically speaking, gear made in the USA or Europe has a slight edge. To reflect that, we award 0.5 points to dumbbells made in North America or Europe and no points if made in China or if there’s no info on the manufacturing location.
13 – Adjustable dumbbell reviews (how satisfied are the owners?)
(zero to four points)
This one isn’t straightforward, for three reasons:
- Although we gather data from many sources, we can never be sure we got all of it.
- There’s always room for shenanigans by the manufacturers. By “shenanigans,” I mean attempts to manipulate the reviews and ratings, especially if the products are only listed on their own sites.
- The data volume is not the same for different products.
How we interpret the reviews
We gather all the data and sort the products into 5 descriptive categories of owner satisfaction: not satisfied, satisfied, very satisfied, loving it, and impressed.
The categories are the fruit of our own rating system and are not directly related to any single source.
How you should analyze the reviews
Glance at the overall ratings and then dig deeper.
Look for reviews of people who use the dumbbells as you would. ‘Best adjustable dumbbells’ means different things for a beginner and an advanced powerlifter.
It sounds like a platitude, but I don’t shy away from it because it’s true.
14 – How popular is the dumbbell among lifters?
(zero to two points)
This ties into the previous category, and the two only make sense together.
A set of adjustable dumbbells with a rating of 4.9 from 15 reviews on the manufacturer’s site is not the same as one with the same rating based on a large pool of data collected from a dozen sources.
As a rule of thumb – look for highly-rated adjustable dumbbells with a high number of reviews.
15 – Brand’s reputation and customer service track record
(zero to 0.5 points)
You’ll want to buy from a brand with a proven track record of superior customer service, especially when it comes to honoring the warranty terms.
We took a multi-faceted approach to assess this, from mystery shopping to gathering existing data.
How we assess and rate adjustable dumbbells
Here’s a short outline of my process of choosing the best adjustable dumbbells:
- I made a long list of 52 adjustable dumbbell sets – 34 of those are the quick-adjust type, and 18 are loadable.
- I gathered all the raw data to create a massive database of information – anything from maximum load to dimensions and warranties.
- I defined the quality criteria based on my two-decade-long experience as a personal trainer. These are separate for the two dumbbell types (17 for the quick-adjust and 16 for the loadable)
- For some quality aspects, I had to develop my own unique metrics – like Length per Load ratio (LPL) and Price per Pound of Weight (PPW).
- I rated all the dumbbells in the categories and chose nine to review in more depth.
- I included two honorary mentions because they’re specific and worth knowing about
List of all the quality factors with points awarded
Criteria and points for the quick-adjust dumbbells:
- Max load per dumbbell – zero to five points
- No. of increments – zero to two points
- Are the increments consistent? – 0.5 points if yes, zero if no
- Stability and rattle – zero to one point
- Durability estimate based on type – zero to one point
- How close the shape is to the traditional dumbbell – zero to four points
- Length per Load ratio (LPL) – zero to one point
- Estimated time to switch from min to median to max weight – zero to three points
- How fast the weight change is between increments in 10 lbs steps – zero or one point
- Shaft/handle material – zero to three points
- Does the Handle length make for a comfortable grip? – zero or one point
- Warranty – zero to three points
- How satisfied are the owners – zero to four points
- Popularity among lifters – zero to two points
- Where it’s made – zero or 0.5 points
- Is it made by a brand with proven customer service? – zero points if no, 0.5 if yes
- Price – zero to five points
The maximum potential score is 36.5.
Bonus or penalty points are awarded based on experience and opinion. An example is the Core Home Fitness adjustable dumbbells, which I feel have too many durability and jamming issues for the premium price.
Criteria and points for loadable dumbbells:
- Max load per dumbbell – zero to three points
- Price per pound of weight (PPW) – negative one to five points
- How close the movement is to a regular dumbbell – zero to three points
- Is the handle knurled? – zero to 1.5 points
- Handle finish/coating – zero to two points
- Can the set be used as a barbell? – zero to 0.5 points
- Is it ultra-compact? – zero to one point
- Loading speed – zero to one point
- Sleeve coating – zero to three points
- Do the sleeves fit Olympic collars? – two points if yes, zero if no
- Warranty – zero to three points
- How satisfied are the owner (based on our in-house stats) – zero to 4 points
- Popularity among lifters – zero to three points
- Where is the dumbbell made? – zero or 0.5 points
- How good is the brand’s customer service – zero or 0.5 points
- Brand level (from generic to high-end) – zero to three points
FAQs about adjustable dumbbells
Are adjustable dumbbells a good idea?
Adjustable dumbbells are a good idea and a great addition for your gym.
An adjustable dumbbell set such as the NÜOBELL 80LB Classic is versatile, multi-purpose, and practical.
Many gym owners cannot imagine their gym without at least a couple of adjustable dumbbells.
Which dumbbell is best for a home gym?
The NÜOBELL 80LB Classic is our pick for an overall best adjustable dumbbell set.
The maximum load of 80 pounds per dumbbell, along with the speed of weight change and the natural lifting experience that these dumbbells provide make them one of the best adjustable dumbbells out there – certainly top of our list.
Close-but-no-cigar dumbbells – other dumbbells we analyzed
(up to top 11 and 10 in both categories respectively)
Below is a list of other dumbbells we tested/rated – those that didn’t quite make it to the top but still deserve a mention.
Ranked 6-10 among adjustable dumbbells
- Core Home Fitness adjustable dumbbells – similar to Nuobel, but with a lower weight range. Dropped two penalty points for durability and jamming issues.
- Vevor – a good budget pick with a lower-than-average pounds per dumbbell.
- NordicTrack Speed Weights – pretty much the same product as the NordicTrack Select-a-Weight, only bulkier and more expensive.
- Bowflex 1090 – second-highest capacity on the list (up to 90 lbs per dumbbell). Too expensive, though.
- Snode Cast Iron Adjustable Dumbbell – another set similar to Nuobell. Well-made but could use a capacity upgrade (or a price downgrade) to run with the big boys.
- Ativafit Adjustable Dumbbell Set (pair) – its value for money is the reason this model made it in our close-but-no-cigar section. If you’d like to read more about it – check out our single product Ativafit dumbbell review here.
Ranked 5-10 among loadable dumbbells
- Sunny Health & Fitness dumbbell set – nice chrome-coated set with a weird warranty (28 years?!?). Low price point with a weight to match (16.5 pounds per dumbbell). Still curious about the 28 years, though.
- Amazon Basics adjustable weight set – a trendy basic set for beginners on a budget (38 pounds total).
- Yes4All Adjustable Dumbbells – if you’re a serious lifter looking for a classic spinlock set, this one deserves attention. It’s popular, highly rated, and transforms into a barbell. But Yes 4 All? Who’s coming up with these names?
- CAP adjustable dumbbell – a budget dumbbell from a well-known brand…needs a better warranty to get into the top 5. Lowest PPW among the top 10 loadables.
- Eleiko loadable dumbbell – a premium dumbbell with a price to match. It wasn’t a contender for the very top because we didn’t have enough data on it.
- REP Fitness adjustable dumbbells – a medium-level set (both price and quality-wise) that goes out of stock way too often. At the time of completing this guide, all sets and add-ons were sold out.
Adjustable dumbbells – the bottom line
Phew, that’s all I can say after completing this guide.
It took over 60 hours, but I feel it’s well worth it because we’re taking away some clear winners and priceless insights.
Let’s rewind and summarize.
The best adjustable dumbbells for most people are the NÜOBELL 80LB Classic. The margin between this set and the runner-up (IronMaster) is hefty – close to a full three points.
If you’re looking for a budget solution – go with either the NordicTrack Select-a-Weight or the Bowflex SelectTech 552.
The Rogue DB-15 is the highest-rated loadable dumbbell set. But the unique collars included on the Gungnir Dumbler make it a close second.
We update this guide regularly to keep it fresh and relevant. So, even if you didn’t choose a pair today, make sure you bookmark this for future reference.
If you feel like you missed something, click here to skip back to the table of our top picks.