Fitness Equipment

You've made a commitment to start working out and stick to it. Maybe due to health reasons, or maybe just to help you build muscle and strength. However, now you need to consider which type of dumbbell to purchase, to lead you to the realization of your fitness goals. There are two types of dumbbells: Fixed and adjustable dumbbells. So, between these two which should you buy? First of all, let's take a moment to distinguish between fixed dumbbells, and adjustable ones.

Differences: Fixed Dumbbells vs. Adjustable Dumbbells

This particular type of dumbbell is also known as a regular dumbbell. Some refer to them as traditional dumbbells because they have been around for a long time, as compared to adjustable dumbbells. The weights on a regular dumbbell are fixed and cannot be adjusted. Regular dumbbells come in two styles: hex and pro style, which are usually distinguished by the shape of the weight heads.

An adjustable dumbbell, however, can be adjusted. In other words, the weights can be increased or decreased to suit your workout. There are two types of adjustable dumbbells: selectorized, and plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells.

Let's look at the pros and cons of these two different types of dumbbells

Affordability

Traditional dumbbells appear to be a lot more affordable compared to the adjustable variety. However, you will need more than just one set of dumbbell to fit the different types of exercise you might want to take part in. Adjustable dumbbells allow you to change the weight as you wish. Hence, you’ll probably only need one set of adjustable dumbbells.

A pair of good, cast iron dumbells start at around $10 and move upward in price depending on the weight. After adding the cost of all the individual dumbbells you need, you may quickly approach or exceed the price of adjustable dumbbells. Conversely, those with modest needs that gravitate towards 5, 10 or 15 pound weights can save money by going with traditional dumbbells. So the better bargain depends on your needs.

Space and Storage

Adjustable dumbbells take up very little space in your exercise area or room. The regular ones require you to buy more than one set and end up taking up a lot more space. Hence, can lead to a cluttered room and could be dangerous if not put out of the way; so you’ll want to invest in a dumbbell rack.

Configuration

Each type of dumbbell is structured differently. The regular dumbbells are usually set hence the weights cannot be shifted or changed. This gives the individual working out confidence that the weights won't fall out and cause injury during the workout. As previously mentioned, the weight heads of the regular dumbbells come in two shapes: round and square shaped. The square ones stay in place and do not roll over, reducing the chances of an accident. Furthermore, the weight heads are usually rubber coated to protect floors from getting scratched.

Flexibility

This is where adjustable dumbbells really take the cake. With just one set of of adjustable dumbbells to focus on, it’s much faster to transition to the next set of the workout. Bowflex in particular has made it really easy to change the amount of weight. Simply turn the dial at the end of the barbbell in increments of 2.5 or 5 pounds to reach the desired setting.

Durability

Adjustable dumbbells have wow factor and are certainly impressively engineered, but the plastic and rubber components may wear down or break more easily than a bullet-proof traditional dumbbell. There’s more to go wrong.

On the other side of the coin, adjustable dumbbells are rugged in their own right. And in real world applications few people complain about failed parts or wear.

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Photo: Bill Couch

Bowflex 1090

Whether it be exercises for legs, back, chest, abdominal, arms or shoulders, Bowflex adjustable dumbbells are a good choice for those interested in total body workouts.

The adjustable dumbbell craze was propelled by the 552 with its the innovative, space-aged design. In late 2011 Bowflex added a new model based on its wildly successful cousin but with notable changes and improvements.

For the most part the Bowflex 552 and 1090 aren’t meant to directly compete against each other as these two models serve different needs. Most notably the 1090 can be adjusted up to 90 lbs., while the 552 maxes out at 52.5 lbs. but allows for more exacting weight adjustments.

That said, engineering improvements were made to the 1090 that in some aspects put it in a different league in terms of quality. The base is lighter, handles have been upgraded, etc.

Differences Between the Bowflex 552 and 1090

The Base

The 1090s have a plastic base which may seem like a disadvantage, however in this case it isn’t because it’s rigid, strong and much lighter than the base on the 552s.

If you don’t mind the weight the metal base on the 552 is good too, but to most this will be viewed as an improvement.

Bowflex 552

Weight Specifications and Adjustment Increments

The 552s use a dial system that moves in increments of 5 lbs., or sometimes 2.5 lbs. strategically placed on the dial where finer adjustments are most advantageous.

The starting weight on the 1090 is 10 lbs. and it can go up to 90 lbs. It’s adjusted in increments of 5 lbs.

Due to these differences in capability the 1090 is better suited to bodybuilders and heavy lifters. The 552 is no slouch for building strength and there is indeed some overlap, but this model is best for people that tend to use the lower settings more often as more flexibility is provided for those who do.

Handles

The rubber elements added to the handles on the Bowflex 552 do provide nice grip. However, the price for this product design decision is the rubber may get worn down or even split with heavy use.

In contrast Bowflex switched to all-metal handles for the 1090. Most won’t miss the rubber as the pattern for grip on the metal handles works well too.

Size

Size may matter but in this case the difference isn’t huge. With the 552 each dumbbell is 15.75” long x 8” wide x 9” tall. The 1090 dumbbells measure 17.5” long x 10” wide x 10” in height.

Conclusion

The 1090 may currently be the latest and greatest design offered by Bowflex, but if you’re buying now its best to focus on how much weight you plan on lifting. If that figure is more than 52 lbs. per arm the choice is simple: go with the 1090. If not, the 552 despite lacking the noted improvements is still the best choice.

CAP-dumbell-setMuch like the previously reviewed Yes4All dumbbells, CAP Barbell’s 40-pound adjustable dumbbell set is an affordable entry-level option for beginners and frugal enthusiasts alike. At just over $40 it’s priced nearly the same as it’s closest competitor.

The design is straightforward and classic as you’d expect at this price; no fancy spaced aged engineering here. Just solid durable cast iron plates, rubber trim collars and ergonomic handles.

The 40-pound set includes two handles, four 2.5-pound plates, four 5-pound plates, 4 collars, and a plastic storage case.

The molded case is a great idea and really handy for people like me who like to change up their location to keep their exercise routine interesting. Inside there are recesses for each iron plate, which do a good job of keeping everything in place. I found I especially appreciated this while it was in the back of my vehicle.

One major difference between these and the Yes4All dumbbells is the shape of the iron plates. The CAP plates have nicely rounded edges while Yes4All’s edges are sharply squared off. This of course comes down to personal preference, though I will say I preferred smooth feel of the CAP plates when adding or removing weights to the handles.

This line in the description on Amazon.com shocked me a bit.

Warning: This product contains one or more phthalate chemicals known to the state of California to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm

While I appreciate the disclosure it makes me ponder the costs of buying cheap Chinese goods.

The smell may be overpowering to some and definitely compounded with the health warning to make me weary of spending much time with the plates until thoroughly aired out in the garage.

Although 40-pounds isn’t much weight and it would be better if this was available in more weight configurations, additional plates are available from CAP. Adding a few more five or ten pounders isn’t a big deal. However, if you want absolute certainty you won’t outgrow your dumbbell set I’d look to the Yes4All sets that range from 40 to 105 lbs.

The rubber washers in between the cap screws and the plates may fall out, since they are not secured in any way. You may opt to either superglue the washers on or remove them entirely. The caps tighten just as well without the washers.

You’ll need to tighten the caps fairly tightly to avoid any possible “clanging” noises.

CAP Barbell 40-pound Adjustable Dumbbell Set with Case CAP Barbell 40-pound Adjustable Dumbbell Set with Case
List Price: $49.99
Sale Price: $39.98

The Verdict

These dumbbells by CAP Barbells provide a good start. Flaws such as the bad odor and easy-to-lose washers are pretty standard at this price. I wouldn’t be surprised if these dumbbells were manufactured at the same factory as the competition (Yes4All). Still at a little over $40 it’s hard to complain with all solid components and iron plates with a professional look and feel. If you’re a beginner or short on the funds needed for an adjustable dumbbell set from Bowflex or Powerblock, don’t hesitate to give these a go.

Yes4All-dumbbellsAdjustable dumbbells such as the popular Bowflex SelectTech 552 are amazing feats of engineering, super fast to adjust to the amount of weight you need, etc. However for many there is one key disadvantage: the price. While worth it if you workout regularly, not everyone can justify paying this much on fitness equipment, period.

Yes4All has answered the call for those seeking an affordable solution with adjustable dumbbell sets with configurations of 40, 50, 52.5, 60 and 105 lbs. The price starts at just over $40 and the weightiest model goes for under $100 on Amazon.com.

Don’t let the price fool you. These will easily beat the generic dumbbells sold at Walmart or Target. And just like much more expensive options they don’t take up much space or require a rack like traditional dumbbells.

These are classic adjustable dumbbells in form and function. The components are all solid, made up of cast iron plates, solid chrome handles, and spin-lock star collars. Screwing on the end pieces may take a bit longer than the fancy weight adjustment mechanism featured in the Bowflex, but it’s a tried and tested method of keeping everything in place. If you aren’t changing the weight of you’re dumbbells that often the minor inconvenience won’t matter much. The collars may slowly come loose as you workout so you might need to tighten these intermittently as you exercise.

Yes4All dumbbell sets have the advantage of growing with your needs. Even if you’re an absolute beginner lifting 10 lbs per arm and dream of becoming a triathlete some day, the right set could get you there.

Some people have noticed an odd odor coming from the paint on the plates. This goes away after a while. The paint may also flake off over time if you’re rough on them, so if you don’t workout in the garage, preferring a carpeted area, the resulting mess may be an issue.

There are rubber O-rings on the end caps that help create a tight seal between the caps and plates. Annoyingly, the O-rings aren’t attached to the cap so you’ll either have to be careful not to lose them or superglue each on.

The Verdict

Yes4All dumbbells have their flaws, however at this price that is to be expected. The only thing you’ll need to get the most out of one of these sets is a bit of patience. The design is classic and far less refined than high-end adjustable dumbbells by Bowflex or Powerblock, however the quality of materials used is pretty impressive. If you’re not sure how serious you’ll be about your workout regimen, or are on a strict budget, Yes4All dumbbells will give you good start.

As great as home gyms are, all the gear can quickly eat square footage. Traditional dumbbell sets take up considerable space against the wall, which is the most valuable real estate of all in a home or apartment.

In contrast, Bowflex SelectTech 552s can neatly be tucked away in the corner or closet. Each dumbbell is 15.75" by 8" so even those living in a cozy apartment can consider these.

The 552s employs a dial system that moves in increments of 2.5 lbs. Depending on the exercise and your fitness level, each dumbbell can be anywhere from 5 to 52.5 pounds.

This ability to increase or decrease weight in small increments is one of the biggest advantages the Bowflex has over a traditional set. Sometimes moving up 5 pounds can be overwhelming and this makes harder for you to transition into lifting heavier weights. Bowflex has found the sweet spot with 2.5 lbs increments.

It’s wonderfully engineered and unlike any other adjustable set available. The spindles are made of hard plastic that on rare occasion can break. Fortunately Bowflex has been good about sending out replacements in just 5 days when this happens.

The included DVD is surprisingly good because the exercises show you how to get the most out of SelectTech equipment specifically (and use it safely). You’ll learn how to perform over 30 exercises with over 80 variations.

When lifting, the weights feel tightly constructed. The plates firmly lock onto the handle so there is no rattling or movement of the plates. The feel is very similar to the old school dumbbells we’re all accustomed to.

The 15.75” length is fairly long which tends to make the dumbbells great for most exercises but slightly awkward for a few such as Congdon Curls and Flip Grip Twist Kickback.

The Verdict

Although I was skeptical at first due to the bright red plastic components, the Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbells have proven to be a workhorse set that can handle the abuse of daily workouts.

Even if you have loads of space, the 2.5 lbs increments have turned me into a believer and at this point I’d find it hard to go back to my basic set made up of 5s, 10s, 15s, and 25s.