I should get one important point out of the way right off the bat: Adjustable dumbbells are not the ideal weight training solution. In a perfect world, you live in a house with a large garage or basement or gym and you have access to a full rack of standard dumbbells from 10 pounds through 100 — the kind that are fixed, easy to handle, and allow you wide freedom of movement.
But alas, few us of have that kind of space, that kind of money, or that kind of significant other — i.e. the type who tolerates several thousand pounds of industrial-looking metal racked up against a wall.
Sure, you can find such weights at a gym, but there's the whole, you know, pandemic thing. That can make it tricky for many of us to comfortably return to such spaces, meaning an interim (or possibly permanent) solution is necessary. And that's where the adjustable dumbbell truly shines.
The Bowflex SelectTech552 is one of the adjustable dumbbell OGs. Contained within each unit is essentially 15 sets of weights, from 5 to 52.5 pounds. They're adjustable through the first 25 pounds in 2.5-pound increments, providing a micro-range with lower-weight exercises, and use an intuitive dial system for weight selection. I got to give a pair of 552s a whirl, and I have to say, they sure beat the crap out of the adjustable pair that I got back at Sports Authority 20 years ago for about $50. (Though to be fair, my dad bought me those. Thanks, Dad!)
Here's everything you need to know about them.
What We Like
Intuitive Weight Selection
A vaguely intelligent monkey — most monkeys — could get the hang of the weight selection system on the 552s. It's quick and intuitive: rotate the large selector knob on either side of the dumbbell to the proper weight, pull up, and... that's it. The weights seat and re-seat easily, and you can even select uneven weight distribution for special exercises should you so choose. Otherwise, you simply match the weight number on both dials — located on each end of the dumbbell — and that's the weight you get. In other words, once both dials read "25," you'll get 25 pounds of total weight on the dumbbell (not 25 pounds on each side). It's an easy system that simply works.
Lots of Weight
As I mentioned, the 552s go up to 52.5 pounds each, which is plenty of weight for all sorts of stuff: dumbbell presses and curls, dumbbell squats, triceps extensions, farmer carries and more. If you lift super heavy and you need something heavier, well... you'll have to look elsewhere. (Bowflex offers the SelectTech 1090, which goes up to 90 pounds, for $799). But the 552s offer plenty of weight for the average person doing workouts at home, and the ergonomics are such that you can also use them for creative moves like deadlift variations.
Replacing an Entire Set of Dumbbells
They live up to their promise, meaning you no longer need an entire rack of weights. The 552s conveniently offer a solution that's portable — if heavy — and allows you to legitimately work out at home. And they really are far better designed and constructed than my old-school adjustable dumbbells, the kind that use bare metal plates and giant steel wing nuts that invariably come loose as you're heaving weight around. It's worth noting that the 552s work in concert with Bowflex's free SelectTech training app, but I haven't tried it yet. I have my own workout routines that I follow, as I imagine most of you reading do, too.
Watch Out For
I'm doubtful one of the 552s is going to come apart when positioned above my face during a skullcrusher, but it feels like there's a chance, because the plates wobble slightly as you use the dumbbell. The entire 552 selector mechanism is brilliant, but the fact that the plates shift a bit is a slight cause for concern, and I wonder if it can't be addressed in future iterations. (Perhaps my fears are unfounded, but it's nerve-racking to have 50 pounds of wobbly, plastic-coated steel positioned a foot above your nose.) If there were a way to improve the connection to the bar such that the plates were seated tighter, that would do a lot for peace of mind.
Awkward for Certain Exercises
If you don't have a barbell at home — I don't — then you might sometimes use dumbbells for deadlift variations. Gripping a standard dumbbell by the side works fine for various types of lifts, but it's a bit awkward to grip a 552. Because the plates progress from smaller to larger, outside-in, you end up gripping the dumbbell from one of the smaller plates, which doesn't feel sturdy or give you as much surface area to handle. Again, it's mostly a psychological consideration — and it won't apply to everyone — but it made these lifts a little more difficult. I could imagine a more conventional design, such as the JaxJox DumbbellConnect, being a bit easier to handle — though I haven't tried that system myself.
Not the Handsomest Option
Speaking of those JaxJox dumbbells, they are a bit more aesthetically pleasing. The 552's vibe is highly industrial, the red accents aren't my jam, and they'd probably look right at home in a hardscrabble tent gym on a forward operating base in the Middle East. Yes, these things are pretty great — they just wouldn't be my first choice of decor in my bedroom, is all I'm saying.
Is It For Me?
You've made it this far in this review, so probably. If you're dedicated to working out, pandemic be damned, and you want to continue to lift reasonably heavy, then you really need a pair of adjustable dumbbells. (Or a barbell, but that's a whole different story.) This set is intuitive, easy to use, and decent-looking. They're not cheap, but they're much cheaper than a full weight rack. And if you're dedicated to home fitness, it's a small price to pay for years of use — especially if you're no longer paying gym fees.
I dig the 552s — a lot. While the wobbliness of the plates does give me pause, after examining the dumbbells to ensure their structural integrity, I am confident they are not going to result in my death. They're portable, intuitive, versatile, and not unreasonably expensive considering their various use cases and build. If you need to lift heavier than 52 pounds each, go for something like the 1090s, but otherwise, the 552s are pretty damn great. I see myself using them for many years to come.