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It’s no secret that a good dumbbell set is a vital part of any home gym setup, both for beginners and fitness veterans. Dumbbells allow for a wide variety of workouts targeting just about every muscle group imaginable, and they offer something for everyone.

The question is, should you go for adjustable dumbbells or fixed ones? Budget, space constraints, and the type of workouts you’re looking to perform are all factors you should consider when making your decision.

When comparing adjustable dumbbells vs fixed, each type has its pros and cons. We hope this guide will help you figure out what you’re looking for and continue strength training at a high level.

Man pressing Eleiko dumbbells

What is an Adjustable Dumbbell?

An adjustable dumbbell is a single dumbbell whose weight you can change incrementally to be lighter or heavier. Adjustable dumbbells are usually sold in pairs, and one pair is all you would need for your home gym should you purchase them. The weight increments usually range from 5-10 pounds, but are different for each brand and model as well, and that’s another factor to consider when purchasing.

There are two main types of adjustable dumbbells: plate-loaded and selectorized. Plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells function exactly as they sound: You change the weight by adding plates on both sides of the bar and locking them in using a spin-lock system.

Selectorized dumbbells don’t require you to add additional plates; rather, you change weights by turning a dial (like the BowFlex SelectTech 552s) or putting a pin selector in the corresponding slot to whatever weight increment you want.

Ironmaster adjustable dumbbells

Best For

Adjustable dumbbells are best for people who have a space constraint in their home gym. They don’t take up much room, and offer a lot of the same workout options as a fixed dumbbell set. 

Also, there are many effective budget options available for adjustable dumbbells. Buying a full set of fixed dumbbells will likely cost you more than most adjustable dumbbell sets. It’s also harder to store a set of fixed dumbbells without purchasing a rack, which is another price point to consider.

Adjustable dumbbells will also work better for people who need something portable. If you need to pack the dumbbells up and move them for whatever reason, you’ll have better luck with an adjustable set.

Adjustable Dumbbell Pros

  • Space-saving dumbbell option
  • Budget-friendly options available
  • More convenient for transportation
  • Quality options offer easy weight-change mechanisms

Adjustable Dumbbell Cons

  • Less durable than fixed dumbbells
  • Takes time to adjust between weights
  • Plate-loaded variety can rattle
  • Lower maximum weight than fixed dumbbells
  • Most don’t have the feel or shape of a typical dumbbell

Pros

Adjustable dumbbells are convenient for storage since you’re only buying a singular pair of weights that can be adjusted. Therefore, they take up a lot less space than a full set of fixed dumbbells would in your home gym, and you won’t need to purchase a rack like you might with fixed dumbbells.

Adjustable dumbbells are also generally the more cost-effective of the two options. A high-end pair of adjustable dumbbells like the NUÖBELL Adjustable Dumbbells will set you back around $500 to $800, while luxury fixed dumbbell sets can run into the thousands of dollars.

Portability is another benefit worth mentioning. Moving adjustable dumbbells is easy and you can do it quickly since there are only two weights. If for whatever reason you need to move a set of fixed dumbbells, it’ll take you more time, effort, and space to pack up each individual weight and transport all of them somewhere.

PowerBlock Elite adjustable dumbbells

Cons

A lot of times, adjustable dumbbells are less durable than the fixed variety (though high-quality plate-loaded dumbbells can be pretty durable if they have cast iron plates, like the ones from Pepin). It’s also not advised to drop adjustable weights during training, which is something to consider. (You really shouldn’t be dropping any weights for the safety of you and your floors, though.)

You also have to take into account the time it will take to change to a different amount of weight during your home workouts. Plate-loaded dumbbells are especially cumbersome here because you’ll have to physically remove plates, add new ones, then re-lock the bar as you would for a barbell. 

Selectorized dumbbells are a bit quicker to adjust, though you’ll still have to perform the action of turning a dial or re-inserting a pin, and dynamic dumbbell workouts are going to become more difficult.

Feel and appearance should also be taken into consideration; a lot of times, adjustable dumbbells won’t have the appearance of what people perceive as a typical dumbbell. Handle widths and lengths vary, as do the shapes of the plates on the end (i.e. a lot of selectorized adjustable dumbbells have square plates, which is less common in fixed dumbbells). These discrepancies can require some getting used to at first, and the shape can make some movements, particularly fast-paced CrossFit-style exercises, feel awkward.

Adjustable dumbbells usually offer lower maximum weights than fixed dumbbells, with some models only offering increments up to around 50 pounds. With a high-quality fixed set, you can easily find weights of 100 pounds or more.

What is a Fixed Dumbbell?

A fixed dumbbell is the kind of dumbbell you’ll find in most commercial gyms. These dumbbells are not adjustable and each one comes with a set weight. The construction is simple: a bar in the middle (often made of cast iron or steel with some kind of knurling) with two weights on either end. 

Most fixed-weight dumbbells either have hex-shaped ends like the REP Fitness Rubber-Coated Hex Dumbbells or circular ones, although some are square, too. With a nicer set, the ends will be rubber coated and thus be more resilient when dropped. Budget options may forgo the rubber coating and sacrifice some durability.

Best For

These are best for people who have a higher budget and plenty of space to work with. Fixed dumbbell sets are often pricier than adjustable dumbbells, and storing an entire set (which often consists of around 10-15 pairs of weights) will likely require purchasing a rack of some kind. 

You’re more likely to be able to drop fixed dumbbells safely, although we don’t recommend dropping any dumbbells from a front-rack or overhead position. Adjustable dumbbells generally have more delicate parts (and use a lot of plastic) and are more prone to breaking when dropped.

Fixed Dumbbell Pros

  • More durable than adjustable dumbbells
  • No adjustment time required to change weights
  • Better for superset workouts 
  • Good for working out with others
  • Higher maximum weight than adjustable dumbbells

Fixed Dumbbell Cons

  • More expensive than adjustable dumbbells
  • Require more space to store than adjustable dumbbells
  • Budget options may not feature protective rubber coating
  • More difficult to transport

Pros

There’s a lot of upside to owning a set of fixed dumbbells. The first benefit is in the name; the weights are fixed, so you don’t have to take any time to change a pin or turn a dial to change your weight increment. This opens the door for faster-paced workout types like supersets that will be more difficult to perform with adjustable dumbbells.

Also, fixed dumbbells are generally more durable, so they’re less likely to be damaged if dropped during a workout, and they’ll often last longer before breaking. Even so, you should research the model of dumbbell you plan on purchasing to make sure they’re drop-friendly (and even then, avoid dropping them when you can).

If you’re working out at home with a partner, fixed dumbbells might be the more efficient option as you can easily share weights instead of passing the same pair back and forth the whole time. This can help you progress through your sets quicker and allow you to exercise at your own pace.

Cons

Unfortunately, you’ll probably pay more for a set of fixed dumbbells than you will for a pair of adjustable ones. You’ll pay for quality, but be prepared to sadden your bank account a bit if you opt for a high-quality fixed set.

The other major downside of fixed dumbbells is how much space they take up to store. There are simply more weights to keep track of than with an adjustable set, and a lot of people opt to store their fixed dumbbells in a rack, which adds another potential expense to your purchase. 

Inside of the NordicTrack Vault showing various dumbbell sizes

Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed: Material & Design

A lot of fixed dumbbells have steel or cast iron handles and rubber-coated ends, although some ends are bare metal as well. The design is fairly minimalistic, with a bar connecting to two weights on either end. This is what most people generally picture when they think of “traditional dumbbells.” These are designed to be efficient and low-maintenance when working out.

Selectorized adjustable dumbbells often have a much more intricate design featuring a locking mechanism along with plastic-coated plates and rubber handles. The handles themselves are different from fixed dumbbells; for example, some offer less grip room, which can impact ease of use. In other cases, the handle (which will often be 16-18 inches) might hinder your ability to do exercises like curls or lat raises because the dumbbell itself will bump into you when you’re going through these motions.

Plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells usually have a handle of 14 inches, though longer options are offered. Plate-loaded are often the more durable of the two adjustable dumbbell types, often featuring steel handles and/or plates. The design flaw here is that there isn’t that much room to load plates on either end, resulting in a fairly low maximum weight. Also, the ends of the dumbbell handles will stick out beyond the weight plates, which can require an adjustment period for some. 

Product image of the Echelon Reflect showing a woman working out with dumbbells in front of the reflective screen.

Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed: Versatility

Fixed dumbbells offer more versatility for workouts since you don’t have to worry about manually changing weight increments. This opens things up for fast-paced training exercises like supersets. You can also usually find heavier weights in a fixed dumbbell set; adjustable sets are much more limited in their max weight options and weight ranges.

Since adjustable dumbbells require some downtime to shift weights, you’re a bit more handcuffed on what you can do with them. Even so, both types of dumbbells offer the opportunity to build muscle and potentially even burn fat—in conjunction with a caloric deficit, of course. 

Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed: Price/Value

Adjustable dumbbells are generally the cheaper option here. Of course, there are higher-end options that cost over $700, but a lot of quality sets sit in the $400 to $500 range. The price per pound of fixed dumbbells is much higher (around $1.50 to $2.00 per pound) and a nice set like the REP Urethane Coated Round Dumbbells will run you between $1,000 and $2,000 dollars depending on how many pairs you buy.

As with all fitness equipment, you’ll pay for quality. The more you’re willing to spend on either type of dumbbell, the better you can expect it to perform.

Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed: Space

The adjustable dumbbell is the clear winner here. Since you’re only buying a single pair of dumbbells whose weight can be changed at will, you don’t need a ton of room to store them. With fixed dumbbells, you’re paying for separate pairs of weights at each increment you desire; naturally, the more weights you buy, the more space you’ll need.

You can minimize the footprint of your fixed dumbbell set by purchasing a rack to keep them in, but this will still take up more space in your home gym than a set of adjustable dumbbells will.

Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed: Durability

Fixed dumbbells have an advantage here in that it’s more likely you’ll be able to drop them during a workout without incurring any serious damage. This is due to the simplicity of their construction and the rubber-coated ends featured in many of the nicer models.

Adjustable dumbbells, on the other hand, have a lot more delicate parts and most can’t withstand being dropped, as you’ll risk damaging the lock mechanism or the plates themselves.

Even though fixed dumbbells are theoretically durable enough to withstand dropping, we still don’t recommend dropping them if you can avoid it. 

Final Verdict on Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed 

I always like to reiterate when working on comparisons like this that no one type of product is inherently better than the other. Dumbbells are no exception; a fixed set will suit some people while an adjustable set will work better for others.

If you’re balling on a budget or lacking extra space in your garage gym, you might consider adjustable dumbbells. If you have the money and the space and are performing workouts that don’t allow for much downtime between sets, a fixed set could really help you out.

Just remember, both types of dumbbell can give you a great weightlifting workout and help you train numerous muscle groups. Whichever one you pick, they’re sure to help you take your garage gym to the next level. 

Coop doing dumbbell curls in a home gym

RELATED: Dumbbells vs Kettlebells

FAQs About Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed 

Are adjustable dumbbells better than traditional?

Neither type of dumbbell is necessarily better than the other. It all depends on what you’re looking for. If you need a budget-friendly, more compact option, adjustable dumbbells might suit you better. If you have extra space, a higher budget, or find yourself needing to switch back and forth between weights quickly, consider opting for fixed dumbbells.

Are adjustable dumbbells worth it?

If you need a budget-friendly, portable option for your home gym, then yes, especially if you don’t mind the added time it takes to switch between weights and you’re okay with not dropping your dumbbells while you train.

Can you build muscle with adjustable dumbbells?

Yes. Both adjustable and fixed dumbbells offer workouts that target a variety of muscle groups and allow you to build and tone muscle. (See our guide to the best dumbbell workouts.)

What are the cons of adjustable dumbbells?

There’s some added downtime when switching between pound increments, which can slow down your workout, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to drop adjustable dumbbells during weight training. Also, they’ll likely feature a lower maximum weight than fixed dumbbell sets.

Further reading

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It’s no secret that a good dumbbell set is a vital part of any home gym setup, both for beginners and fitness veterans. Dumbbells allow for a wide variety of workouts targeting just about every muscle group imaginable, and they offer something for everyone.The question is, should you go for adjustable dumbbells or fixed ones? Budget, space constraints, and the type of workouts you’re looking to perform are all factors you should consider when making your decision.  » Read more about: Adjustable Dumbbells vs Fixed: A Classic Home Gym Debate  » Read more