Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbells Review
updated January 1, 2019
For the last half a century Bowflex have been innovating fitness equipment, making it more functional and user friendly. Having revolutionized the exercise machine market, they began focusing on the most basic piece of resistance equipment, the dumbbell, around the turn of the century. Though they didn’t create the adjustable dumbbell market segment - that credit goes to Powerblock back in the 1990’s - Bowflex did improve upon it. The main thing they did this was to introduce their patented SelectTech dial adjustment system.
So, what is an adjustable dumbbell?
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 allows you to select the amount of poundage that you want on the dumbbell. Once clicked, the plates to make up that amount click into the handle and you are able to lift off that exact weight.
Adjustable dumbbells proved to be a real breakthrough for the home gym trainer. No longer did you have to pay out thousands of dollars for a complete rack of dumbbells - and have the space to store them. Now, for a fraction of the price, you could get an all-in-one dumbbell that was quickly adjustable and functional to use.
The most popular adjustable dumbbell is the Bowflex SelectTech 552, which gives you a resistance range of between 5 and 52.5 pounds. In this article, we go in depth on the 552, along with its big brother the 1090. We’ll also compare them to their biggest competitor the Powerblock, so you can make the best buying decision.
The Bowflex SelectTech 552
The SelectTech 552 was a game changer in the industry. Before its introduction, the only way to adjust the weight on an adjustable dumbbell was to unscrew a pin, manually put an extra plate on and then screw the pin back on. Suddenly, with the dial adjustment system all you now had to do was make a dial change and you were good to go. Minutes to make the change turned into just a second or two - it was a genuine breakthrough.
Over the years, the Bowflex adjustable dumbbell system has been refined and improved, keeping it at the top of the heap despite the coming on board of a number of imitation competitors.
So, let’s check out the specs of the Bowflex SelectTech 552:
The 552 provides the ability to lift dumbbells up to a limit of 52.5 pounds (23.81 kg). This will be sufficient for most trainers, with
the possible exception of the dumbbell press and one arm
rowing. You get small weight increments with this dumbbell.
For the first 25 pounds you can increase by just 2.5 pounds.
This sets it apart from the majority of other adjustable dumbbells out there, which limit the increment to 5 or 10 pounds. The lower weight increment is crucial as it allows you to make gradual progressive strength increases over time. For many of us, making a weight jump of 5 or 10 pounds is too demanding, whereas 2.5 pounds is manageable.
Unfortunately, the 552 is not an expandable dumbbell set. So, once you have outgrown the strength potential of 52.5 pounds, you will have to either buy a heavier conventional pair of dumbbells or invest in the next level up from the 552, the 1090, which goes all the way up to 90 pounds per dumbbell.
Years after its introduction the Bowflex SelectTech dial adjustment system is still the best in the industry. A dial on the end of each dumbbell handle provides you with numbered weight settings. You simply spin the dial to select the weight on each end. Just make sure that each end has the same setting or they will not be evenly balanced. Inside each handle there are brackets that attach to the weight plates. The dial mechanism allows the handle to grab onto the required plates. This allows you to change the plates in 2-3 seconds. This makes the Selecttech system great for quick-on the-go workouts that require you to move from one move to another with virtually no rest.
Bowflex have proven over and over again that they only put the best product onto the market. So, it’s no surprise that the quality and durability of the Bowflex 552 is top notch. The base, brackets and core of the unit are made from heavy duty metal. They will give you a secure base and the plates will not rattle in the stand or when you are taking them off the base. The plates themselves have a thick plastic coating making them extremely resilient.
The weak link in terms of durability is the products’ greatest asset. The SelectTech dial adjustment system is by its very nature a finely calibrated mechanism. If you drop it, it may interfere with the mechanism and muck up the whole process. The bottom line is that you do not want to be dropping the base. Dropping the actual dumbbells themselves too often is also not a good idea, as it may damage the brackets which attach to the plates.
The handle width and spacing on the 552 is comparable to what you would find on conventional fixed weight dumbbells. You do get a generous amount of rubber padding on the handle which adds to your grip comfort.
Unlike Powerblock, Bowflex have maintained the rounded look of the conventional dumbbell. This helps to transition between conventional and adjustable dumbbells.
The one issue that you may find in terms of comfort with the 552 (and the 1090 for that matter), has to do with the overall length of the dumbbell. Each dumbbell is around 16 inches in length. Obviously this length is the same whether you are using 5 pounds or 50 pounds. This makes the dumbbell considerably wider than a conventional dumbbell. This will not be an issue on most exercises, however, it can affect your range of motion (and just feel uncomfortable) on moves such as seated dumbbell curls and side lateral raises.
When it comes to guarantees and warranties, Bowflex have got you covered. Firstly, you get a 6-week Fitness Results Guarantee, which covers you in the event that you just don’t like the feel of using adjustable dumbbells when you are using to conventional fixed dumbbells. If, for any reason, you are not 100% satisfied with your purchase, they will refund your money On top of that you get a 2-year warranty on all parts and labour.
The Bowflex SelectTech 1090
The Bowflex 1090 is the bigger and badder brother of the 552. It is the exact same design, build and functionality, except that it allows you to go all the way up to 90 pounds (40.8 kg) per dumbbell. The 1090’s beginning weight is 10 pounds (compared to 5 pounds with the 552).
The 1090 goes up in 5 pound increments as follows:
10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85 and 90 lb
The extra weight of the 1090 allows you to go heavy on dumbbell bench presses as well as to work your lower body with dumbbell squats and heavy lunges.
The 1090 also increases the warranty from 2 years to 3 years.
Bowflex 552 VS Powerblock
The PowerBlock Sport 9.0 features a rectangular base that houses all of the plates. The mechanism for selecting your resistance level is by way of a pin system. The pins need to be slid between a colour coded plate to select that weight. The PowerBlock handle also features two removable bars which each way around 2.2 pounds (1 kg). This allows you to get more accuracy in your weight selection.
Each color of plate represents a weight range of 2 kilos (4.4 pounds): the lightest, without the bars removed from the handles, the middle bar with one bar inside and the heaviest weight with both bars inside.
The PowerBlock adjustment system is more complicated and time consuming than that of the Bowflex. To make small increment changes requires pulling out the pins, taking out the handles, removing a weight, putting the handle back into the base and then selecting the weight. With the Bowflex all you have to do is to select your weight and you’re done.
An advantage that the PowerBlock has over the Bowflex is that the length of the dumbbell is only going to be as much as the actual weight you select. As a result the dumbbell is usually not as long as with the Bowflex, making the PowerBloc more natural to use without restricting your range of motion.
In terms of actual weight potential, the PowerBlock comes in three stages, which need to be purchased separately. The first stage goes up to 22.5 kg, with the second stage expanding it up to 41 kg and the third stage going all the way up to 59 kg (130 pounds). So, with all three stages of the Powerblock, you will have about a quarter again the amount of weight of the largest Bowflex, the 1090.
The weight distribution on the Bowflex is geared toward the bottom of the unit. When it comes to the PowerBlock you grip the handle in the middle of the plates giving a more even weight distribution.
As we can see, then, the PowerBlock does have distinct advantages over the Bowflex; it is not as long and cumbersome and so is less likely to restrict your range of motion, it allows for potentially more weight and it is more evenly distributed. However, when it comes to the most important factor - the ease of weight change - the Bowflex is light years ahead of the PowerBlock. So, while the other factors may cause some inconvenience, the advantages of the SelectTech quick dial adjustment system sways us toward the Bowflex.
The Bowflex SelectTech series of adjustable dumbbells feature the best change system on the marketplace. They are very high quality and come with very generous guarantee and warranty provisions. If you are into general fitness, you will find plenty of ongoing challenge with the 552. Heavy lifters should opt for the 1090.
My name is Jim Roose. I'm a former competitive power lifter and gym owner. I've bought millions of dollars of fitness equipment over the last 20 years. This site is my way of giving back to the fitness community that's done so much for me. Every article on here is carefully researched and written by me. Leave a comment if you have any questions.