How Do Adjustable Dumbbells Work? Which System is Best?

Close up of a man's hand holding the bar of an adjustable dumbbell

Adjustable dumbbells generally look like one large traditional, fixed dumbbell. But, their significant difference is that you can make adjustable dumbbells lighter or heavier in stepped increments with the touch of a button, dial or pin mechanism.  

Your average gym rat spends anywhere from an hour to three hours in the gym every single day – and they love it.

But how much better would it be if your gym was in your home? 

Home gyms are all the rage right now, but they can be massively expensive to put together. The expense is all too real when you add up all the weights you’re going to need.

That’s why many people are investing in a good set of adjustable dumbbells to complete their home setup. But avoid the expense and space required to cover all required weight weights.

These babies get the job in one easy way, so don’t stop reading here. 

What is an Adjustable Dumbbell?

An adjustable dumbbell set includes two dumbbells with adjustable weight. Sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right? 

That’s because it is!

For quick and easy understanding, we can categorize adjustable dumbbells into two different types: plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells and selectorized adjustable dumbbells

We’ll take a look at how each of these dumbbells works, respectively. 

Plate-Loaded Adjustable Dumbbells: How They Work 

Plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells are pretty self-explanatory. With these dumbbells, you can adjust their weight by adding or subtracting plates. 

These types of dumbbells usually have one of two locking mechanisms: 

  • Spin locks
  • Quick locks

Spin-lock adjustable dumbbells feature a nut-and-bolt type situation. You slide your plates onto one side and lock them into place using a spinning lock that you screw into place like a very large nut. 

Some people like this system because it’s affordable and easy to use, but your lock is more likely to come loose with these dumbbells. 

On the flip side, you have quick-lock adjustable dumbbells. These dumbbells are also plate-loaded, but their locks are different. Rather than a lock that screws into place, these dumbbells have partially threaded pins that you insert and turn just a half rotation. 

This system locks into place, so you don’t have to deal with your plates coming loose and making a ton of noise and movement. However, quick-lock systems tend to be more expensive than spin-lock weights. 

In both these cases, you will still need a number of loose plates.

Selectorized Adjustable Dumbbells: How They Work

Many athletes believe that selectorized adjustable dumbbells are the best of the best when it comes to adjustable systems. These dumbbells take all the grunt work out by removing the need for loading and unloading plates.

Instead, you can adjust the weight of these dumbbells by simply turning a knob, dial, or moving a selector pin into the desired position.

Each of these systems lets you quickly switch from plate to plate or several plates already included in the dumbbell set. The change is automatic, so there are no loading or unloading plates.

There is no time wasted while you find the right plate, load and fasten the lock. It’s fast and easy, which is what you want in an efficient and effective workout.

What Are the Benefits of an Adjustable Dumbbell?

Adjustable dumbbell systems come with a lot of benefits. It’s these reasons below why many people choose these systems for their home gyms over traditional, fixed dumbbells. 

They Save Space 

One of the most significant benefits of using adjustable dumbbells over traditional sets is that they take up a lot less space. Usually, if you want a full range of weights to select from, you have to keep buying different sized fixed dumbbells.

But adjustable dumbbells include a wide range of weights in one small package, which saves you a ton of space. That’s why they’re ideal for home gyms where you might not have room for a big weight rack. 

They’re More Affordable 

In many cases, adjustable dumbbell systems save you money. 

Anyone who has built a home gym knows how expensive weights can be. If you can buy weight for a dollar per pound, you’re lucky.

It might be easy from the start to purchase one or two weight sizes that you need, but as you get used to the world of strength training you’ll want more variety and so more weights. 

Those costs add up quickly. 

Some exercises require heavier weights, while others use lighter weights. You might need a heavier dumbbell for leg exercises but a lighter weight for curls. 

Instead of buying a few different sets, you can use one system and save money. 

Easy to Transport 

Whether you feel like exercising outdoors or want to work out at a friend’s house, you can take your adjustable dumbbells with you. 

Imagine how much of a hassle it would be to transport several different fixed dumbbells. With an adjustable set, you can grab the whole thing and move it wherever you need it to go. 

Smaller Adjustments

Unless you’re working out at a large gym that has all the dumbbells you could ever want or need, you likely don’t have access to weights with small increments. Typically, you can expect a small dumbbell set to adjust by 5, 10, or even 15 pounds.

True athletes understand how critical that small half-pound or single-pound increment can be for training, and a lot of adjustable dumbbell sets let you do that with in-between weights. 

Which Adjustable Dumbbell System is the Best?

There are tons of adjustable dumbbell systems on the market today, and you want to know you’re getting the best for your money. We’ve picked our top three favorites for you listed below with a little bit of info to get you started. 

This article includes affiliate links. If you choose to purchase any of the products we have discussed in this article, we may receive a small commission.

PowerBlock Elite Dumbbells

The PowerBlock Elite Dumbbells is a system like none other. It’s definitely our favorite and is the preferred choice of the Fitness Blender team.

Pair of Powerflex Elite adjustable dumbbells

The weight ranges from 5 to 50 pounds per dumbbell using a secure magnetic pin. Choosing your weight is super easy, and the weight increments are enough to replace as many as 16 pairs of dumbbells.

We also love their square shape, which makes them perfect for a wide range of workouts and placements. And they won’t roll away. 

The Powerblock and Bowflex systems are two of the most popular adjustable dumbbells available and we have written a comparison guide here.

Bowflex SelectTec 552 Adjustable Dumbbells

The Bowflex SelectTech 552 adjustable dumbbells make for an excellent equipment choice. Each dumbbell in this two-piece set adjusts up to 52.5 pounds. The first 25 pounds adjust in 2.5-pound increments for easy fine-tuning. 

Pair of Bowflex SelectTech 552 adjustable dumbbells

The dial system lets you choose your weight quickly and easily, letting you focus on your workout. 

NordicTrack Speed Weights

The NordicTrack Speed Weights are sleek and stylish dumbbells that come out to perform. These dumbbells range from 10 to 55 pounds and feature varying increments, including 2.5 pounds from 10 to 15 and then 5 pounds from there on up. 

Pair of NordicTrack speed adjustable dumbbells

The locking pin makes it easy to select your ideal weight and keep your workout moving. 

Final Thoughts

Having a home gym is definitely convenient, and makes working out more accessible and quick. But your home gym is only as good as the equipment you purchase.

Adjustable dumbbells make an excellent addition to any workout space. They’re easy to use, take up little space, and are cost-effective. You can’t go wrong with any of our choices, either.

Brian Sweet

Brian Sweet