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Adjustable Dumbbells are perfect for home gyms because they take up virtually no space and are the most affordable option. They have a wide weight range and tight increments, making them a versatile choice. With several adjustment mechanisms, speed can vary, but overall usability is great.
Fixed dumbbells cost more and take up more space, but they’re the most convenient dumbbell option. Their traditional shape opens up all exercises, and they have higher weight capacities for extra versatility. With premium materials and construction methods, they’re also more durable.
When building a home gym, I’m a big advocate for adding equipment that maximizes the amount of space you have.
One of the best ways to do that is to add a dumbbell set.
Dumbbells are versatile and useful for strength and conditioning at all levels, from beginners to advanced.
But with so many options, it can be hard to narrow down between adjustable dumbbells vs fixed.
In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about dumbbells, including the differences between adjustable and fixed. We’ll look at design, versatility, cost, and more. By the end, you should be able to tell which is right for you.
Let’s dig in.
What is an Adjustable Dumbbell?
In my experience, an adjustable dumbbell set is an ideal home gym solution because it’s so compact. Rather than having a full set of dumbbells, you only need one pair of adjustables to cover the most important weight increments.
Adjustable dumbbells come in a few different options, but the most common types are selectorized (weight dials or pins) and plate-loaded. Most will accommodate up to 80 lbs in 5 lb increments, but this depends on the manufacturer and design.
I recommend selectorized systems to most people because they’re much faster to use. Simply turn the dial in the handle or on the ends, and you’re ready to go. Two popular examples are NÜOBELL and Powerblock – both of which I use in my gym.
Plate-loaded options take longer to set up since you have to physically load plates on each end of the handle. However, what you lose in speed, you typically make up in durability and a traditional feel. My favorites are the Ironmaster Quick-Lock Dumbbells.
Advantages of Adjustable Dumbbells
The biggest advantage of adjustable dumbbells is the space savings. If you don’t have a lot of room in your home gym, I absolutely recommend adjustable dumbbells vs fixed. Even with a stand, the maximum footprint is around 5 feet. Without a stand, it’s even less.
Another big benefit is that they’re affordable. Most high-end adjustable dumbbell sets cost less than $800, and you can find loadable dumbbells for under $100. Compared to fixed dumbbells, the cost savings can be meaningful.
A third benefit of adjustable dumbbells is that they’re easy to use. Now, they aren’t as convenient as fixed dumbbells, but a weight dial dumbbell can be adjusted in less than 5 seconds, making them very efficient.
Lastly, you can move adjustable dumbbells much easier. If you’re someone who likes to tinker with your gym layout, you’ll appreciate their portability. Similarly, if you like to take your training outside, or you’re someone who needs to transport their dumbbells, adjustables are the best choice.
Further Reading: Best Adjustable Dumbbells
Disadvantages of Adjustable Dumbbells
Although there are several compelling advantages to owning adjusting dumbbells, they also include some drawbacks. The biggest downside is that they simply take longer to set up. As mentioned, selectorized systems are very fast, but plate-loaded systems may require more than 30 seconds to adjust. This makes drop sets and super sets more challenging and generally adds time to your training.
Another drawback is that some adjustable dumbbells have unique shapes or long dimensions that could limit range of motion or eliminate some exercises entirely. For example, the popular Bowflex SelecTech 552 dumbbells stay the same length whether you’re using 5 lbs or 52.5 lbs.
While some adjustable dumbbells can be loaded to well over 100 lbs, most stop at 80 lbs. Some even stop at 50 lbs or less, which is fine for beginners and casual lifters, but not ideal for heavy lifting and progressive overload.
Lastly, adjustable dumbbells typically aren’t as durable. While some use mostly or all metal parts, others have plastic components that are more prone to breaking. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid dropping dumbbells, but this is especially true with adjustables. Their warranty also isn’t as good compared to fixed dumbbells.
Adjustable Dumbbells Pros and Cons
What is a Fixed Dumbbell?
If you’ve ever been to a commercial gym, you’ve likely seen or used fixed dumbbells. These dumbbells have set weights that are typically welded to a steel handle. They cover an impressive weight range with tight increments and are the most versatile dumbbell option.
Fixed dumbbells can vary in length based on the type of material, which typically consists of rubber, steel, and urethane. Other less durable materials include vinyl and plastic. Most fixed dumbbells offer a traditional round or hexagonal weight shape, providing a balanced, consistent feel.
Advantages of Fixed Dumbbells
Fixed dumbbells are the most versatile option out there. Since you don’t have to physically adjust the weight, you can cruise through your workout at any speed you want. Drop sets and super sets are especially good, but fixed dumbbells can also maximize your rest time.
In most cases, traditional dumbbells offer much higher weight capacities. You can find sets that go up to 125 lbs or more, with some going as high as 200 lbs. This contributes to even more versatility, especially if you’re an advanced or heavy lifter.
Another advantage is that fixed dumbbells are more durable. Unlike adjustable dumbbells with intricate adjustment mechanisms, fixed dumbbells are generally welded together. This naturally gives them a longer life, and because of that, they tend to carry longer warranties.
Although it’s not the case with all, most fixed dumbbells have better handles with proper knurling to assist your grip and improve the overall feel.
Lastly, a fixed dumbbell set is ideal for group training. For example, it’s much easier for my wife and I to train together with a fixed dumbbell set since we don’t have to trade adjustables or alter our routine.
Disadvantages of Fixed Dumbbells
The biggest downside of fixed dumbbells is how much space they take up. Unlike adjustable dumbbells that require only a few square feet, fixed dumbbells take up considerably more room, which could be a deal breaker for some home gyms. Think of it this way: a single set of adjustable dumbbells can replace dozens of pairs of fixed dumbbells in a fraction of the footprint.
Another downside is the cost, which can be significantly more than adjustables. A full set of fixed dumbbells from 5-100 lbs can easily fetch over $3,000. In addition to the cost of the dumbbells, you also have to consider a storage system and shipping.
Fixed Dumbbells Pros and Cons
Comparing Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed
There are pros and cons to both adjustable and fixed dumbells. My general stance is that fixed dumbbells are the best choice if you have the space and budget. However, that’s not always the case based on personal preferences, circumstances, etc.
Let’s take a closer look at a few key categories to help you decide between fixed vs adjustable dumbbells.
It’s hard to beat the traditional design of a fixed dumbbell, in my experience. The balance is perfect, they’re quiet, and the simple design makes them ultra-convenient. They generally have a lower profile than adjustable dumbbells for better range of motion, but that can vary based on whether the fixed dumbbell uses rubber, urethane, or bare metal.
Although some adjustable dumbbells offer straight knurled handles, those on fixed dumbbells are generally better and more refined. They’re solid steel with a more pronounced texture. I also generally prefer and recommend a straight handle vs. a contoured handle.
Adjustable dumbbells come in several designs based on the manufacturer. I consider adjustable dumbbells the king of tradeoffs. Those with excellent speed may lack durability and a traditional feel, while those with the latter may lack speed. However, there are a few that blend the three fairly well.
You should base your adjustable dumbbell choice on your training style and needs. If you perform a lot of drop sets, go with a selectorized model to maximize speed. If you want to lift heavy and need maximum durability, a plate-loaded option is the way to go.
Materials & Durability
Fixed dumbbells are made completely of metal with welded or pressed weight heads. This method creates a very strong bond and makes them more durable than adjustable dumbbells. From there, most are coated in rubber or urethane for additional protection. Not only will they prevent weight chips, but they’ll protect your floor better than metal. Still, exposed metal dumbbells are a popular and typically less expensive option.
Adjustable dumbbells generally all offer steel plates, but the amount of supporting plastic pieces can vary. The more steel, the more durable it will be. As you may expect, this comes at a higher price, but it’s well worth it if you’re a serious lifter.
Additionally, some adjustable dumbbells have more intricate moving parts, especially those with weight dials. These mechanisms are more susceptible to breakage over time, making them less durable than fixed dumbbells or adjustables with simpler systems.
All dumbbells offer versatility by increasing training variety, whether you’re looking to build muscle, lose weight, or improve endurance. However, fixed dumbbells are more versatile for two main reasons:
- More exercise options – The traditional dumbbell design opens up a wider range of exercises because of the open handle and flat edges on both sides of the weights. For example, some adjustable dumbbells don’t allow for movements like goblet squats or skull crushers because of their unique shape.
- No waiting – Because fixed dumbbells don’t have to be adjusted, you can move quickly into your next set. If your training calls for drop sets, super sets, or giant sets, you will love the seamless experience of traditional dumbbells.
When it comes to space, you can’t beat adjustable dumbbells. Because they take up less than 5 square feet, you can fit them in just about any home gym. I especially recommend them for apartments and generally any small room.
Alternatively, I recommend fixed dumbbells only to those who have ample space. Even still, think ahead about other pieces you may want to add. A full set of dumbbells may interfere with or limit future additions.
I recommend buying a storage rack for fixed dumbbells for organization and convenience. You can expect to allocate around 10 square feet for a set of 5-50 lb dumbbells and more than 20 square feet for a set of 5-100.
In addition to big space savings, you can save a lot of money by buying adjustable dumbbells. Most adjustables cost $800 or less, making them an affordable home gym option.
Depending on how many pairs you buy, fixed dumbbells can still be affordable but are generally more expensive pound-for-pound. You can expect to pay between $1.40-$3/lb for fixed dumbbells, but premium options will fetch even more. For example, you can purchase a quality 80 lb adjustable set for less than a 5-50 lb set of nice fixed dumbbells.
Further reading: Dumbbell Cost Analysis
Adjustable and Fixed Dumbbell Recommendations
I like a lot of adjustable dumbbells, but my top recommendation is the NÜOBELL because of its speed, traditional look and feel, and overall usability.
The NÜOBELLs come in two weight variants: 50 lbs and 80 lbs. Each offers 5 lb weight increments, which is great for progressive overload. The biggest benefit of owning these is how fast you can adjust them. They use a simple dial system in the handle, allowing you to change the weight in seconds. In my experience, they’re among the easiest adjustable dumbbells to use.
While there are a few plastic elements in the connectors, the weights are steel, providing great overall durability. They also come with a 2-year warranty, but you can upgrade to 3 or 5 years. As long as you’re not dropping the NÜOBELLs, they should well exceed that.
Another of my favorite features is that they look and feel like a traditional dumbbell. You can perform any movement on the NÜOBELLs, and the knurled steel handle feels excellent.
The 80-lb NÜOBELLs are priced under $750, putting them near the higher end of adjustable dumbbells. Still, they’re very affordable relative to fixed dumbbells and are a great home gym addition.
Read more: NÜOBELL Dumbbell Review
If you’re looking for a high-quality and affordable set of fixed dumbbells, I recommend the REP Rubber Hex Dumbbells. These are outstanding for home gyms and have a weight range of 2.5-125 lbs. With 2.5 lb increments up to 30 lbs and 5 lb increments after, they’re very versatile.
Aside from overall usability, the best feature of these dumbbells is the handle. They offer a straight and fully knurled handle with excellent grip. Many fixed dumbbells have passive or partially knurled handles, and others have contoured shapes. The slightly more pronounced texture provides ample grip for every lift without being too aggressive.
Rubber is a popular material for fixed dumbbells. It’s durable, aesthetic, and helps protect your floor. The hex head shape also prevents these dumbbells from rolling around your gym floor.
I find these REP Dumbbells have the best value of any fixed dumbbell on the market. They carry a lifetime warranty for home gym use and are affordable (with free shipping). When you factor in their performance, they’re just a great buy.
FAQs about Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed
What are the Main Differences Between Adjustable and Fixed Dumbbells?
Adjustable dumbbells are a versatile fitness tool that can replace an entire set of traditional fixed dumbbells. With a simple adjustment mechanism, they allow you to quickly switch between different weights, saving you space and money. On the other hand, you cannot change the weight of fixed dumbbells. They offer the most versatility and convenience, but they take up more space and are more expensive.
How Quickly Can I Change Weights on Adjustable Dumbbells Compared to Fixed Dumbbells?
Adjustable dumbbell speed depends on the manufacturer and design. Dial and pin systems can be adjusted in less than 5 seconds, while plate-loaded dumbbells can take around 30 seconds. Fixed dumbbells don't require any additional time – simply grab the weight and start lifting.
How Much Space Will I Need for Adjustable Dumbbells vs. a Set of Fixed Dumbbells?
Adjustable dumbbells take up between 2-5 square feet, depending on whether or not you have a stand. It's a distinct advantage compared to fixed dumbbells, which can take up between 10-25+ square feet.
What's the Cost Difference Between Adjustable and Fixed Dumbbells?
While the initial cost of a set of adjustable dumbbells may be higher than a few pairs of fixed dumbbells, they can be more cost-effective in the long run, especially if you want a wide range. An adjustable set can replace dozens of pairs of fixed dumbbells, saving you potentially thousands of dollars. However, it's also worth considering future costs. Some adjustable dumbbells, particularly those with more complex mechanisms, may have parts that wear out and require replacement over time.
When comparing adjustable dumbbells vs fixed, consider your needs, space, and budget.
If you’re tight on space and are shopping on a budget, you should focus on adjustable dumbbells. From there, consider your need for speed and pick accordingly.
On the other hand, if you have plenty of space and a large budget, go with a set of fixed dumbbells. The convenience is unmatched.
No matter which one you pick, adding dumbbells to your home gym is an excellent way to add training variety.