I should anticipate one important point: Adjustable dumbbells are not the ideal solution for strength training. In a perfect world, you live in a house with a large garage, basement, or gym and have access to a full rack of standard 10 to 100 pound dumbbells – the kind that are firm, easy to use and give you great freedom Move.
But sadly, few of us have that much space, that much money, or such an important other – that is, the guy who can tolerate several thousand pounds of industrial-looking metal on a wall.
Sure, you can find weights like this at a gym, but there’s the whole pandemic thing. As a result, it can become difficult for many of us to return to such rooms comfortably, requiring an interim (or possibly permanent) solution. And this is where the adjustable dumbbell really shines.
The Bowflex SelectTech552 is one of the adjustable dumbbell OGs. Each unit contains essentially 15 weight sets ranging from 5 to 52.5 pounds. They are adjustable around the first 25 pounds in 2.5 pound increments, offer a micro-range of lighter weight exercises, and use an intuitive weight selection system. I had to give a pair of 552s a vortex, and I have to say they definitely beat the crap out of the adjustable pair I got back at Sports Authority for about $ 50 20 years ago. (But to be fair, my dad bought this for me. Thanks Dad!)
Here is everything you need to know about them.
What we like
Intuitive weight selection
A vaguely intelligent monkey – most monkeys – might know the 552’s weight selection system. It’s quick and intuitive: turn the large selection knob on either side of the dumbbell to the correct weight, pull up, and … that’s it. The weights are easy to put on and put back on, and you can even choose an uneven weight distribution for specific exercises if you so choose. Otherwise, just match the weight number on both dials – which are on each end of the dumbbell – and that’s the weight you get. In other words, once both dials read “25” you will get 25 pounds of total weight on the barbell (not 25 pounds on each side). It’s a simple system that just works.
A lot of weight
As I mentioned earlier, the 552s can each weigh up to 52.5 pounds, which is a lot of weight for all sorts of things: dumbbell presses and curls, dumbbell squats, triceps extensions, farmer stretchers, and more. If you have to lift super heavy and need something heavier you need to look elsewhere. (Bowflex is offering the SelectTech 1090, which costs up to £ 90, for $ 799). But the 552s offer a lot of weight for the average person who works out at home, and the ergonomics are such that you can use them for creative movements like deadlift variations as well.
Replacing a whole set of dumbbells
They keep their promises, meaning you no longer need a whole shelf of weights. The 552s conveniently offer a solution that is portable – albeit heavy – and allows you to exercise at home. And they’re really much better engineered and constructed than my old school adjustable dumbbells, the kind that used bare metal plates and giant steel wing nuts that inevitably come loose when you lift weight. It’s worth noting that the 552s work with Bowflex’s free SelectTech workout app, but I haven’t tried it yet. I have my own workout routines that I follow as I imagine most of you read too.
Watch out for
I doubt any of the 552’s will come apart if positioned over my face during a skull breaker, but it feels like there’s a chance as the plates wobble slightly when you use the dumbbell. The entire 552 selection mechanism is brilliant, but the fact that the plates are shifting a bit is a small cause for concern, and I wonder if this cannot be accounted for in future iterations. (Maybe my fears are unfounded, but it’s nerve-wracking to have 50 pounds of wobbly, plastic-coated steel a foot above your nose.) If there was a way to improve the connection to the bar so that the plates fit tighter, that would be a lot do for the reassurance.
Cumbersome for certain exercises
If you don’t have a barbell at home – I don’t – you can sometimes use dumbbells for deadlift variations. Grabbing a standard dumbbell by the side works well for a variety of types of exercise, but grabbing a 552 is a little awkward. As the plates progress from the outside to the inside from smaller to larger, grab the dumbbell at the end of one of the smaller plates that doesn’t feel sturdy or gives you that much surface to touch. Again, this is mostly a psychological consideration – and it won’t apply to everyone – but it made these exercises a little more difficult. I could think of a more conventional design, like the JaxJox DumbbellConnect, that is a bit easier to use – although I haven’t tried this system myself.
Not the prettiest option
Speaking of JaxJox dumbbells, they’re a bit more aesthetically pleasing. The 552’s vibe is very industrial, the red accents aren’t my jam, and it would probably feel right at home in a die-hard tented gym on a forward-operating basis in the Middle East. Yeah, these things are pretty awesome – they just wouldn’t be my first choice for my bedroom decor, I’m just saying.
Is this for me?
You made it this far in this review, so probably. If you’re committed to exercising, it’s a pandemic, and you want to continue lifting reasonably heavy, what you really need is a pair of adjustable dumbbells. (Or a barbell, but that’s a whole different story.) This set is intuitive, easy to use, and looks decent. They’re not cheap, but they are a lot cheaper than a full weight rack. And if you’re committed to home fitness, it’s a small price to pay for years of use – especially if you’re no longer paying gym fees.
I like the 552 – a lot. The wobbling of the plates may make me pause, but after examining the dumbbells for structural integrity, I’m confident they won’t result in my death. They are portable, intuitive, versatile, and not unreasonably expensive given their various uses and designs. If you have to lift heavier than 52 pounds each, you should go for something like the 1090s, but otherwise the 552s are pretty darn good. I see myself using them for many years.
Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbells