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The best adjustable dumbbells of 2021

The best adjustable dumbbells of 2021

There are a lot of reasons to buy adjustable dumbbells. They’re convenient, they take up less space than a full weight rack and they adjust as you get stronger and build more muscle. But with the skyrocketing interest, especially with gyms still closed across the nation, inferior products are starting to pop up to meet demand and it’s becoming increasingly harder to separate the best adjustable dumbbells from the sets that aren’t so great.

Because adjustable dumbbells are a decent investment — the sets on this list range from around $329 to $745 — you want to make sure you’re spending your hard earned money on weights that you’re going to be happy with. To help you out, I did some digging, and some serious testing, to find the best adjustable dumbbells out there right now.

Keep in mind that there’s high demand for all of these sets right now. In most cases, you can place your order now, but shipping will take a couple weeks to a couple months. If you can’t wait, there are some other options that are available right now, but I stand by the following picks.

Read more: The best home gym equipment of 2021

Lindsay Boyers

The NordicTrack Speedweight is similar to the Bowflex in style and design, but it’s a little less bulky and has a smaller weight range. The weights start at 10 pounds and go up to 55 pounds in 2.5-pound increments. Adjusting the weights is a two-step process that involves a slidable pull tab and a turn dial on the innermost weight plate. The pull tab adjusts in 10-pound increments, while the dial lets you fine tune your weight preferences by 2.5 or 5 pounds.

While this process is more involved than the others, it also makes the dumbbell less bulky and easier to manage, so I think it’s a worthwhile trade off. The pull tabs did jam up a couple of times, but they’re easy enough to wiggle and move, so this was only a minor inconvenience. 

Like the SMRTFT set, the length of this weight bar depends on how much weight you’re lifting. At its shortest, it’s 9.5 inches and at its longest, it clocks in at just under 17 inches. This makes the setup easier to handle and allows for full range of motion, especially when you’re dealing with lower weights. The NordicTrack also had my favorite grip handle of the bunch. It’s ergonomic and rubberized and has two different textures, so it was easy to hold onto even when the heat started to ramp up.

My only knock: Since the weight numbers are displayed on the base, rather than on the top of the dumbbell or on the weight plates themselves, it makes it a little more difficult to match the pin to the desired weight, but this certainly isn’t a dealbreaker.

Read more: The best ellipticals of 2021

Lindsay Boyers

Looks are subjective, but, for what it’s worth, the Smrtft Nuobell 80 also gets my vote for best-looking adjustable dumbbells. The sleek, streamlined design is not only aesthetically pleasing, it makes the weights less bulky, since they’re completely flush with each other. This translated to smoother motion, better performance and easier storage.

To adjust the weights — they go from 5 pounds to 80 pounds in 5-pound increments — you simply spin the handle until you hear a click. The weight displays in a viewer that’s conveniently located right in front of the first weight plate, so you can easily see it. This quick spin method also makes it easy to adjust both dumbbells simultaneously, which is really convenient when you’re doing speed sets or interval training.

The length of the weight bar also depends on the amount of weight you’re lifting. At its smallest, it’s just under 9.5 inches and goes up to 17 inches with the full 80 pounds locked in. Combined with the flat design of the weights, this makes performing exercises a lot easier for body frames of all sizes.

If I had to pick on this set for something it would be the grip on the weight bar. It was rougher on my hands — and got a little more slippery — than others on this list, but a set of weightlifting gloves could easily solve that problem.

Read more: The best resistance bands you can buy right now

Lindsay Boyers

With a weight range of 10 to 90 pounds, the Bowflex SelectTech dumbbells are the beefiest option on this list, making them an excellent choice for increasing strength and building muscle mass. The weight adjusts in 5-pound increments through a turn dial that’s easy to spin and didn’t jam once, no matter how fast I was moving.

One downside is that the dials on each side adjust independently, so every time you want to make a weight change you have to spin both sides. This isn’t a huge deal, but it does require a little extra attention to make sure you have even weight distribution. 

The length of the weight bar is fixed at about 17.5 inches, so unlike the NordicTrack and the SMRTFT sets, it doesn’t get shorter with smaller weights. But one thing I loved about this is that, at higher weights, the weight plates are toggled on the bar. This helps evenly distribute the weight on the bar, so even though it’s pretty long, it doesn’t feel like the weight is pooled on one end.

As far as movement goes, the rounded shape and grooved texture of the weight plates makes these dumbbells easy to maneuver and easy to grip during single dumbbell exercises that require you to hold the plates directly. The textured steel handle felt a little rough at times, but provided some serious grippage even when my hands started to sweat.

Lindsay Boyers

Adjustable dumbbells are meant to replace entire dumbbell sets and, usually, their price reflects that. But at under $500 per pair, these Ativafit Dial Tech Adjustable Dumbbells are a more  budget-friendly option that have a lot to offer. There are nine weight settings that range from 11 pounds to 55 pounds and go up in 2.5-pound increments. The bar itself weighs five pounds, so you can also choose to lift sans weight plates for lighter reps.

Adjusting the weights is a super smooth two-step process that involves pushing down a small red upward-facing button and then turning the side dial until it clicks into place. While it’s not as convenient as the other quick-dial options, it never jammed or got stuck.

One of the major pros for the Ativafit dumbbells is that the weight bar has one of the most comfortable (and blister-friendly) grips on this list. The shape of the weight plates also makes them easy to grip if you’re using a single dumbbell for squats or single dumbbell front raises.

Like Bowflex, the length of the weight bar stays fixed at about 17 inches. But unlike the Bowflex, the plates stack instead of toggle at higher weights. This made it difficult to perform certain exercises, like overhead dumbbell presses, since it limited the range of motion and the weight didn’t feel as evenly distributed. Another non performance-related gripe is that the weights are listed in kilograms, which isn’t a huge deal (you can just quickly multiply by 2.2 to convert to pounds), but worth noting, nonetheless.

One more thing to keep in mind is that this dumbbell is sold as a single, so the price you see is for one. If you want a set, you’ll have to checkout with two. 

Lindsay Boyers

The Powerblock Pro dumbbells look a little awkward, but the nested square design quickly made them one of my favorites. The grip handle lies almost directly in the middle of the dumbbell and the square weight plates surround it, making for even weight distribution and better handling and control, especially for anyone new to resistance training. 

At 13 inches long, the weight bar was also the shortest of any on this list, which allowed for full range of motion during presses and made it easier to perform all exercises. Granted, this set also capped at the lowest weight (it adjusts from four to 32 pounds in four-pound increments), so the larger Powerblock sets likely have longer weight bars, but the overall design and weight distribution still makes them more user-friendly than bulkier models like the Bowflex.

The ergonomic grip handle is rubberized, so it was easy to hold onto and didn’t slip at all when I started to sweat. Coupled with the even weight distribution, this made me feel like I was in full control at all times, even when I was throwing around my max weight.

The only downside to the set is the pin lock system. The plastic lock is attached to the weights with an elastic cord. When you need to adjust the weight, you pull it out and slide it back in. Aside from the fact that it’s not as quick as some of the other quick-dial methods, you also have to match the color codes on the side of the dumbbell with the weight amounts on the top, which brings down the convenience factor.

How I tested

I put each set of dumbbells through a series of different resistance exercises, including standing bicep curls, shoulder presses, seated tricep presses, lying pullovers, squats and lunges, three to four days a week for two weeks. I also used each set as part of an interval training routine one day a week.

The goal was to test the range of motion for different exercise styles and see how easy the dumbbells were to handle when going through different movements. Some of the exercises required me to grip the weight bar, while others had me holding the weight plates directly. This was intentional, as part of the testing was to see if the adjustable dumbbells were as versatile and easy to grip and maneuver as standard rubber hex dumbbells.

I also incorporated them into interval training so I could work up a sweat and see how that handled the grip and control I had on the adjustable dumbbells.

Because I could only lift so much weight, I also got my boyfriend involved in the testing so he could report on the same factors for higher weights as well as a longer arm length and a larger body frame.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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