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Adjustable Dumbbells vs. Regular Dumbbells: Which Ones Are a Better Deal?

Find out which type of dumbbell is best for your workouts.

Adjustable dumbbell next to a traditional dumbbell
Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

At the peak of the pandemic, it was near impossible to find a pair of regular dumbbells in stores or online. When regular dumbbells were hard to come by, some people turned to adjustable dumbbells -- which allow you to adjust the weight on a single pair of dumbbells, rather than buying a whole rack -- as an alternative. In the past two years, adjustable dumbbells have become even more popular for those who have forgone their gym membership for at-home workouts. Although the two types of dumbbells serve the same purpose, they have some differences that may influence which one you should buy. 

Deciding which dumbbells are right for you comes down to a few key factors: the types of exercises you plan on using them for, how much room you have, and your budget. Read on to get a breakdown on the similarities and differences between regular and adjustable dumbbells, their pros and cons and which ones you should buy.

Regular vs. adjustable dumbbells

It can be nice to own a set of regular, or fixed, dumbbells. They have a set weight, are familiar and affordable (ranging from about $10 to over $100 depending on size). They are typically made of sturdy cast iron or steel with a rubber coating, have a solid handle and are generally round or hexagon-shaped. These are the type of dumbbells you'll find at a gym or fitness studio. 

However, they tend to take up more space and not everyone has the ability to store multiple sets at home. Plus, regular dumbbells require a weight rack for storage, which depending on the size, can take up even more space. These weight racks can also only hold so many pairs of dumbbells, preventing you from maintaining a large range of dumbbell sizes as you progress in your workouts. I ran into this issue because my dumbbell rack can only hold five sets, and the heaviest dumbbells I own are 25 pounds. Unfortunately, my one-bedroom apartment doesn't lend itself to owning that many pairs of dumbbells at once. 

This is where adjustable dumbbells come in. With adjustable dumbbells, you can adjust the weight from 5 to 50 pounds or more. They've increased in popularity because they require less space, but they're also more expensive than regular dumbbells and can cost upwards of $200. They're usually made up of a chrome solid steel, and some brands such as Bowflex include ABS plastic (commonly used in 3D printing) and a rubber grip handle. Instead of owning 10 pairs of dumbbells, one adjustable dumbbell makes up for all of these sets. Adjustable dumbbells consist of weight plates that change at the twist of a dial. 

Some cheaper brands have versions where you have to put together the adjustable dumbbells yourself using a bar, plates and spin locks. More expensive brands aim to make changing the weights as easy as possible by designing their dials to require a single twist or two. Some brands, such as NordicTrack, even experimented with voice control to change the weight of the dumbbell. Depending on the brand, these dumbbells also have design and feature differences (round, square, hex-shaped) and even smart versions. 

Pros and cons

Like any piece of fitness equipment, regular and adjustable dumbbells both have their benefits and downsides. We've weighed the pros and cons of both types of dumbbells to help you determine which is worth it for you to own. 

Regular dumbbells: Pros and cons

Pros Cons
Inexpensive Take up space
Can be found online or in retail stores easily Weight rack may not be included
Foolproof to use Multiple sets may add up in cost
Choose which weights you need Have to buy heavier weights to progress

Adjustable dumbbells: Pros and cons

Pros Cons
One set replaces multiple dumbbells, saving space More expensive
Rack is included for easy storage Requires learning how to adjust weights
Some brands include a free fitness program trial membership Heavy to move
Often go up to 50 pounds Can be bulky for some exercises

Which type of dumbbell should you buy?

Every type of dumbbell has some limitations, whether adjustable or not. Regular dumbbells are straightforward to use and less bulky, while adjustable dumbbells are space-saving and versatile.

traditional dumbbells
Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

You might want to buy regular dumbbells if...

  • You're a beginner just learning to strength train
  • You're into HIIT workouts that require weights
  • You need dumbbells for arm exercises at a gym class
  • You're on a budget, or just want a basic set of dumbbells
  • You need dumbbells that weigh less than 5 pounds (adjustable dumbbells usually start at 5)

You might want to buy adjustable dumbbells if...

  • You're experienced in strength training and know that you will be using dumbbells in a 50-pound range
  • You work out at home and primarily strength train
  • You have the budget to splurge on home gym equipment
  • You have limited space
  • You want access to special features, like virtual classes

Keep in mind adjustable dumbbell features vary and it's important to shop around to make sure you're getting one that you can easily use. For example, some adjustable dumbbells have two dials that need to be adjusted on each side of the weight, while others allow you to adjust the weight with a press of a button and a twist of one dial. There are also simpler options where you can change the weight with a twist of the handle. Additionally, some brands may include a free 30-day trial for a fitness program membership, which can help add some variety to your workouts, but they're not required. 

Bottom line

Whether you prefer regular or adjustable dumbbells comes down to the exercises you plan on using them for, your budget, the amount of space you have available and your personal preferences. The upside is you can reap the benefits of strength training using either option. Keep in mind that if your goal is to progress in strength training, you'll have to make sure that you own heavier dumbbells or that the adjustable dumbbells have a wide enough weight range that they challenge you. 

It's also important to know that there are limitations to using dumbbells of any kind -- therefore you'll want to balance out your workouts with other forms of exercise, such as cardio, yoga or pilates. A well-rounded fitness program is key to staying healthy and strong, even if you prefer one form of exercise over the other.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.