When consulting people on equipping their home gyms I often recommend dumbbells because of their versatility and space efficiency. A pair of dumbbells and an adjustable bench can be used to perform dozens of exercises targeting every major muscle group, and either a pair of plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells and a plate-storage rack or twenty pairs of fixed-weight dumbbells and a three-tiered dumbbell rack (with five pairs on each tier and five on the floor) require less than ten square feet of space. Having multiple pairs of fixed-weight dumbbells is more time efficient than using plate-loaded dumbbells and allows multiple people to train at once, but costs more and requires more space. Plate-loaded dumbbells are more cost and space efficient than fixed-weight dumbbells, but it takes longer to change weight plates between exercises which can be frustrating if you are trying to minimize rest time for metabolic conditioning or just have limited time to work out.
Fortunately for people who want to optimize both their workout space and time there is a third option that combines the advantages of both; selectorized dumbbells are more space and cost efficient than the number of fixed-weight dumbbells they replace and the weights can be changed much more quickly than plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells. After comparing several brands a few years ago I purchased a set of the Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbells for our home gym and I recently purchased a set of SelectTech 1090 dumbbells. Based on my experience with both sets I recommend them if you’re looking to equip or upgrade your home gym.
Weight Levels and Increments
The SelectTech 552 set provides fifteen weights, from 5 to 52.5 pounds in 2.5 pound increments from 5 to 25 pounds and 5 pound increments from 25 to 50 pounds. The SelectTech 1090 set provides seventeen weights, from 10 to 90 pounds in 5 pound increments. The weight can be quickly changed by turning the dials at both ends of each dumbbell, which are clearly labeled. With offset weight selection – selecting different weights on each side of the dumbbells for a total halfway between the selected amounts – you can increase the weights in half-steps nearly doubling the number of weights you with either set. For example, by selecting 35 pounds on one side and 40 pounds on the other you get 37.5 pounds. Together, the 552 and 1090 sets provide twenty three weights with normal weight selection and forty four weights using offset weight selection.
With offset weight selection the imbalance is barely noticeable, being only 1.25 or 2.5 pounds heavier on one side and only changing the center of gravity slightly. The ability to do this could be considered a small advantage over selectorized dumbbells which don’t since there are some situations where offset selection can be beneficial or even required for an exercise. For example, when performing dumbbell exercises like lateral raises and reverse curls with a palms-down grip having the dumbbell slightly heavier on the thumb side can make it feel more balanced. The ability to weight only one side of the dumbbell allows you to use it for forearm exercises like supination, pronation, wrist abduction/radial deviation, and wrist adduction/ulnar deviation.
Whether you should get the 552’s or the 1090’s depends on your strength, which exercises you plan to use them for, and how. If you only plan to use dumbbells for simple exercises like arm curls, triceps extensions, and one-legged heel raises the 552’s are sufficient for most people, and it’s nice to have the smaller weight increments below twenty five pounds for exercises which require a lower starting weight. If you also plan to use the dumbbells for compound exercises like rows, presses, and squats and are at least moderately strong you will need the heavier weights provided by the 1090’s. If I already owned the 1090’s I might not have also bought the 552’s, opting instead for a few pairs of less expensive hex dumbbells for the lighter weights. However, since the 1090’s are somewhat bulkier than the 552’s at weights heavier than 20 pounds I only use them for exercises that require 55 pounds or more, opting for the less bulky 552’s for everything else.
Time, Space, and Cost Efficiency
One pair of SelectTech 552 or 1090 dumbbells costs less than half as much as the fifteen or seventeen pairs of fixed-weight dumbbells they replace, and the stands cost less than a quarter as much as a rack that holds that many dumbbells and take up much less floor space. Only one person can use the SelectTech dumbbells at a time, but you can get two pairs and stands and still save money and space if two people need to perform an exercise simultaneously.
The SelectTech dumbbells cost at least twice as much as a set of adjustable dumbbell handles and the equivalent amount of weight plates, though, so the better option ultimately depends on how important the ability to quickly change weights is to you. If you prefer to rush between exercises for conditioning or time efficiency the SelectTech are a better option, otherwise plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells get the job done just as effectively.
As an example of time efficiency, the following basic full-body bodyweight and dumbbell workouts typically only take around fifteen minutes to complete using the SelectTech dumbbells if you rush between exercises. Perform one set to failure of each exercise using enough weight that you are only able to complete between six and ten repetitions in good form at a strict 4/1/4 cadence (about 60 to 90 seconds time under load per exercise) and perform the exercises done as timed static contractions (TSC) for 90 seconds:
- Bench Press
- Standing Press
- Bent-Over Row
- Weighted Crunch
- Stiff-legged Deadlift
- Wrist Extension
- Wrist Curl
- TSC Neck Flexion
- TSC Neck Extension
- Parallel Bar Dip
- Incline Press
- Underhand-grip Row
- Sissy Squat
- Weighted Twist Crunch (R/L)
- One-legged Calf Raise (R/L)
- TSC Neck Lateral Flexion (R/L)
Selectorized dumbbells in general require more careful handling than fixed or plate-loaded dumbbells and the SelectTech are no exception, however as long as you aren’t dropping or slamming or abusing them there is no reason for them to ever break or malfunction. My SelectTech 552’s have been in almost daily use for nearly three years and are like new. If you do manage to break something they’re covered by a 3-year warranty on all parts and after three years you can get replacement parts from Bowflex at a reasonable price.
The only thing I do not like about the SelectTech dumbbells is that the 1090’s do not have rubber grips like the 552’s, especially considering how much heavier they are. Instead, they have textured metal grips which work well but don’t feel quite as comfortable or secure as the rubber ones, especially once you start sweating.
Fortunately, this can be easily fixed with rubber spray coating. After masking the rest of the dumbbells I sanded the handles and applied a few coats of spray-on truck bed liner which improved the grips tremendously. This is also an inexpensive way to rubberize fixed-weight dumbbells and weight plates (mask the holes first) and the trays on dumbbell racks to reduce wear and noise.
Overall, I like both the SelectTech 552’s and 1090’s and highly recommend them. They provide a large range of weights in small increments that can be quickly and easily changed and they take up very little space. The 1090’s are bulky at lower weights compared to fixed-weight dumbbells or adjustable dumbbells loaded with 5-pound plates but this isn’t a problem for most exercises. Although the SelectTech dumbbells are not as durable as fixed-weight or plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells this isn’t a problem if you don’t throw or drop weights. They’re a great buy compared to fixed-weight dumbbells, and although they cost more than plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells if you value time efficiency and convenience they’re worth it. The optional stands also look sharp, are solidly built, and hold the dumbbells at a comfortable height and angle.