Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbells Review – Garage Gym Builder

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Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbells Review – Garage Gym BuilderReview Facts

Since 1986, Bowflex has created innovative fitness equipment, forever tweaking their products to make them more functional and user-friendly. In the early 2000s, riding on the success of their multigym units, Bowflex turned its focus to the seemingly unchangeable dumbbell, a mainstay of resistance workouts for centuries. For recreational lifters, that means a single unit that can replace a full rack or more of plates, handles, and collars, freeing up valuable real estate in your basement or garage weight cave.

Bowflex didn’t create the first selectorized dumbbell- PowerBlock did–but Bowflex made theirs even more convenient and versatile, igniting a competition that runs on to this day. That competition has led to more and more features that benefit all of us who pursue a fitness lifestyle.

The main thing Bowflex did this was to introduce their patented SelectTech dial adjustment system. It is a dumbbell handle which has removable plates on each end. The unit sits on a plastic base and features a dial mechanism that lets you select your desired working weight. Once you dial in, the plates that add up to that resistance click into the handle and you can start lifting.

Bowflex selectorized dumbbells proved to be a real breakthrough for the home fitness enthusiast. They enabled everyone to get a full weight training rig at a much lower price, one that is easy to set up, transport, and adjust on the fly. 

A quick word on terminology: we use the word selectorized, not adjustable when talking about Bowflex dumbbells. That’s because all dumbbells, other than fixed one-piece units, are adjustable. You can add or remove weight as much as you like. But only Bowflex, Powerblock, and a few others manufacture dumbbells that let you select the resistance with a turn of a dial. It is an important distinction, so we will be consistent in order to cut down on confusion.

The most popular Bowflex adjustable dumbbells are the SelectTech 552s, which give you a resistance range of between 5 and 52.5 pounds. With our research and analysis, we did the heavy lifting on the 552 specs, features, pros and cons, and other bottom-line factors for you. Our goal is to help you make a purchase decision, and we want you to be happy with that decision; so we have included the great, the not so great, and the just OK facts that we uncovered for you to peruse. Let’s get going.

Editor's Pros & Cons
Pros

User friendly and ergonomic design

2.5 or 5 pound weight increments

Contoured rubber grip handle

Easy to adjust with one touch dial

Design allows for full range of motion despite unusual shape

Cons

Stand sold separately

Tech Specs

Tech Specs

5-52.5 pound weight potential for each dumbbell (2.27-23.8 kg)
Adjustable in increments of 2.5 pounds for first 25 pounds
Adjustable in increments of 5 pounds after 25 pounds
15 clickable weight settings
Size of each dumbbell: 15.75X8X9 in. (LXWXH); 40X20X23 cm.
Shipping weight: 120 pounds for pair
Comes with workout DVD, 2-year warranty, owner’s manual
Owner’s manual includes about 30 different illustrated exercises
Usefulness

Usefulness

The simple design and utilitarian use of a dumbbell make it an eternal presence at most gyms. Unfortunately, that simplicity is also a blank slate that almost any company can imprint with any fad, gimmick, or ultimately disappointing shortcut designed to capture your fitness dollars without delivering results. In other words, does anyone remember Shake Weights?

With that history in mind, we were a bit skeptical when we first approached the Bowflex SelectTech line. But we are happy to report that the product will deliver the same muscle-building results of a traditional dumbbell, with the added ease of use and space saving benefits.

The shape is different, and the spin/spring clip collars are gone, and the 552s won’t fit on any standard dumbbell stand. But the contoured handle fits your hand and reduces wrist pain as you’d expect from a handle. Overhead presses, chest flys, deadlifts, and rows burn just as much as they would otherwise. Though changing weights is easier, a SelectTech workout delivers solid and consistent results. The convenience and functionality make for a super useful tool that deserves a spot in any home gym.

Versatility

Versatility

Squats. Calf raises. Lunges. Deadlifts. All leg exercises you can do with your SelectTech dumbbells. And that’s just one muscle group. If you can dream it, you can do it with these dumbbells. With the workout chart, Bowflex included, you can even find new and unfamiliar moves to build strength and endurance. Or keep the weight light for extra pump during an aerobic step or indoor walking session.

Load up the plates to your comfort level, grab one in each hand, and farmer carry your heart out. Don’t let the blocky look fool you--these dumbbells allow you a full range of movement, and the handles have grip and contour to help you hold on. Just be careful about dropping them. The SelectTechs will cause damage to a hard floor, and the extra mechanical parts make them more prone to damage than an iron or vinyl plate would be.

This will void the warranty, too, according to the owner’s manual. It warns against dropping the weights as well as showing you how to lift the dumbbell from the base. If you damage the handle or plates, it will most likely be from dropping or from tilting it to try and get it back in the housing quickly.
Ease of Use

Ease of Use

Once you get past the idea that these dumbbells don’t adjust the way we are all used to, they are very simple to use. You don’t have to pull off weight plates, screw collars in place, make sure both sides are even or stop after a set to add more weight. A turn of the dial gets you where you need to go. You get a full range of motion, with no chafing or callouses from the padded handle.

Just because it is easy to use, though, doesn’t mean Bowflex gives you an easy workout. You will sweat and push yourself to complete each rep and set with integrity, just like you would with any good piece of equipment. But you’ll be free of unnecessary pain, like handle pressure, faulty collars or locks, and having to handle the plates multiple times over the course of a routine. The design of the SelectTech lets you focus on completing your workout and giving your muscles a chance to rest and grow during active recovery.


Functional Factors

Functional Factors

Though not as free-ranging as a kettlebell, the SelectTech dumbbells are by nature-oriented towards functional fitness. You aren’t locked into a range of motion that replicates nothing humans do in real life. You won’t find this in the manual, you can hold a dumbbell to your chest, a hand on each end, and do lunges or squats that way. It makes balance and coordination a bit easier, and we often carry loads close to our center of gravity outside the gym. Holding the SelecTech by the ends, as long as you leave the weight manageable, is no more difficult than holding a round or hex weight plate in each hand.

You can isolate small muscle groups with curls or presses, and dumbbells allow you to follow a natural arc in a way machines and weight stacks don’t allow. Bowflex has created a product that will translate into more energy, stamina, and confidence, no matter how you spend your hours in between gym sessions.
Assembly/Transport

Assembly/Transport

The dumbbells come assembled, with the handle resting in the base and the plates on either end. You will want to click through the different increments before first use, and make sure you can lift the handle straight out both loaded and unloaded. If anything seems too difficult, or if the selector assembly jams, call Bowflex. They have a great reputation for customer service, and you do have a two-year warranty from them.

Transporting the dumbbells doesn’t appear any harder than doing so with conventional dumbbells. You can get a stand, just for the SelectTech, but it costs extra and you may not need it. You can store the dumbbells on a utility bench, counter, or table when they are not in use, and they will be easy to access and adjust for each workout. If you use these for travel, you may have to make more than one trip from your car to the hotel room.
Stick With It-Ness

Stick With It-Ness

Stick With It-Ness means how likely we think you are to keep using this product over time. It’s a subjective measure, based on our research including user experience, so we don’t have an exact number or rating. But if we did, we’d give the SelectTech a 5 out 5! That means its features, ease of use, versatility, comfort level, and safety level will make you want to keep using it over time. The most fully-featured weight set in the world isn’t any good if you don’t look forward to using it and don’t see subtle or dramatic results fairly soon. Once you get used to the different shape and come to trust the selector system, we’re confident you will stick with the SelectTech 552 over the long haul, and perhaps even wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.
Bonus Features

Bonus Features

Besides the workout DVD and owner’s manual with exercise illustration, Bowflex also includes access to the free SelectTech mobile app. It lets you follow workouts led by trainers. You can also create your own workout or programs while tracking your progress. The app includes an optional 6-week challenge. It is a fun way to put a focus on weight training and challenge yourself to practice consistently.

In addition to the app, Bowflex carefully designed the SelectTechs with molding around the plates. It helps with starting each rep of your chosen exercise and partially emulates the classic feel of a collar loaded disc weight plate.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, Bowflex correctly claims that this pair of dumbbells can potentially replace 15 sets of conventional dumbbells. The space-saving benefit is enormous, freeing up space that you could use for a power rack, weight bench, elliptical, or another piece of cardio equipment.

The Final Word

Though it looks and feels unusual, there is nothing gimmicky about the Bowflex SelectTech 552. Weight adjusts easily in either 2.5 or 5-pound increments, up to 52.5 pounds in each hand. Holding the dumbbell is comfortable and does not cause wrist pain or fatigue. You get a full range of motion with any standard dumbbell exercise you choose to perform.

The unit comes fully assembled, so all you have to do is give it a once-over and start your first set. You can facilitate that set, and your larger whole-body strength program, with the training aids Bowflex includes as part of the standard package. Those include an owner's manual with illustrated exercises, a DVD, and an app with trainer-led workouts that also lets you manually set your custom goals.

The SelectTech 522 earned high marks for usefulness, versatility, ease of use, and functional fitness readiness. We have included a link below to the owner's manual for your convenience and research.

Check out the Bowflex SelectTech BD552 Owner’s Manual, by Bowflex. This is what you should get when you order a new set. It breaks down the parts and operation, safety precautions, technical information, and the warranty. This is also where you can find breakdowns of all the exercises, by muscle group. Each exercise has an illustration and step by step instructions. If anything goes wrong with your dumbbells, the manual has a basic troubleshooting guide. It lets you attempt to solve the problem before calling Bowflex customer service.