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Health & Fitness

Bowflex vs. NordicTrack: Which adjustable dumbbells are best?

Both brands make compact weights that offer multiple loads—here’s the one we recommend you buy.

2 sets of black adjustable dumbbells Credit: Bowflex/NordicTrack/Reviewed

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Adjustable dumbbells are popular among at-home workout enthusiasts for their space-saving profile, as they’re designed to replace many sets of weights in one compact pair. We’ve tested plenty of brands, including PowerBlock, Core Home Fitness, and Weider, but during our search for the best adjustable dumbbells, two pairs stood out most: the Bowflex SelectTech 552s and the NordicTrack iSelects.

But you only need to buy one set, so how can you choose? We compared them when it comes to versatility, comfort, and connectivity to find out.

What are adjustable dumbbells?

A hand twisting a dial for the product strength.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

A simple twist adjusts the weight load and you're good to go!

Adjustable dumbbells are a great solution for anyone looking to strength train at home. From the outside, they typically look like a regular set of large plate-loaded dumbbells with multiple weight plates on each end. The difference is in the design: Those plates can be quickly added or removed, usually with a spin of a dial or a twist of the handle, so you can vary your load from exercise to exercise. Adjustable dumbbells can replace 10 or 15 pairs from as little as 5 pounds up to 50 or more, and can be adjusted in 10, 5, or even 2½ pound increments. They take up less space and often save you money versus buying a whole weight rack, and can help you become stronger more safely by not straining to lift too much too soon.

Each weight of the Bowflex SelectTech 552s ranges from 5 to 52½ pounds. You adjust their loads by racking each in its own tray and twisting both knobs on the ends to align with the weight you want to lift. Each dumbbell is stored individually when not in use in a tray large enough to hold the extra plates. The handle by itself weighs 5 pounds and remains the same length (rather than extending out), regardless of how many plates you add, and has a rubber coating to help you grip it.

The NordicTrack iSelects each range from 5 to 50 pounds. They’re stored together in a single tray with digital connectivity, designed to work with your tablet or smartphone via Alexa-enabled voice control. You can change the loaded weight for both dumbbells at once by twisting a dial in the center of the tray or asking Alexa to do the honors. The iSelects have a metal handle, comparable to the kind you’d grip on an average pair of dumbbells at the gym, that gets longer as plates are added.

Both pairs are priced around $400, which is average for a pair of adjustable dumbbells.

Versatility

black adjustable dumbbell set
Credit: Bowflex/Reviewed

Shop the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbell

When it comes to adjusting the weight load, the smaller the increments, the better. The Bowflex dumbbells adjust by 2½ pounds until they reach 25 pounds, and by 5 pounds thereafter. These smaller adjustments make it easy to comfortably increase resistance to a point where you’re challenging but not straining yourself with too big a bump at once. This may be especially helpful for someone newer to strength training and/or for certain exercises that use lighter loads, where the user may feel that a 2½-pound weight increase is fairly substantial.

The NordicTrack iSelects adjust by 5 pounds, which is standard for a set of adjustable dumbbells. If you’re used to reaching for dumbbells at the gym that come in 5-pound increments, you may not mind this. However, I found myself sometimes wishing I could fine-tune these adjustments and opt for, say, 17½ pounds instead of 15 or 20 for certain exercises. Though that’s not a dealbreaker, Bowflex takes the cake here.

Winner: Bowflex

Get the Bowflex SelectTech 552s at Amazon for $430

Comfort

black adjustable dumbbell set
Credit: NordicTrack/Reviewed

Shop the NordicTrack 50 Lb iSelect Adjustable Dumbbells.

The Bowflex SelectTech 552s are a comfortable pair of dumbbells to hold and use. The rubber coating on the handle provides adequate grip throughout workouts without any unpleasant stickiness as hands get sweaty. However, the handles on these dumbbells are longer than average at 17 inches, and they don’t change length based on the number of plates loaded. These longer bars may feel unwieldy or awkward for smaller-framed people. However, I’m one of them and I got used to the added length quickly and eventually didn’t even notice it—but others may not.

However, I found the NordicTrack iSelects even more pleasant to use than the Bowflex. Their textured metal handles provide an excellent grip, and they felt sturdy in my hands—durable and long-lasting. The iSelects’ weight plates are also thinner and placed closer together compared with those on the Bowflex pair, and the handle telescopes longer as additional plates are added, resulting in a more compact set of weights overall. A Bowflex dumbbell measures roughly 17 inches long with any weight load, while the NordicTracks, even at their longest, come in at 16 inches each. This made the NordicTrack dumbbells easier to maneuver during workouts, particularly at lighter loads.

Winner: NordicTrack
Get the NordicTrack iSelects at Amazon for $431

Ease of use

A man picking up a Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbell.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

We love how easy the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells are to use.

It’s easy to use the Bowflex SelectTech 552s, but adjusting the weight is more time-consuming than some other pairs. As with other sets of adjustable dumbbells, you twist a knob to change the loaded weight. However, the SelectTech 552s have two dials per weight, requiring you to modify the load on each end of each dumbbell independently. This takes more time than twisting just one dial or the handle, as other dumbbells operate, and if you forget to set all four dials for your pair, you could end up with awkwardly—even dangerously—uneven loads. It only takes an additional 10 or 15 seconds to twist the extra dials, but I still felt inconvenienced, especially mid-workout when I didn’t want lengthy rest periods between exercises.

The NordicTrack iSelects offer both manual load adjustment as well as some connectivity options that the Bowflex SelectTech 552s don’t. To change the NordicTracks’ load the old-fashioned way, both dumbbells must be loaded into their shared rack. The weight on both is controlled via a single digital dial, which is quick and easy to use: You twist it so the screen displays your desired weight, wait a split second until you hear the dumbbell plates lock into place, and you’re good to go. When connected to your Alexa device and voice-activated, you just speak your desired load—“Alexa, set weight to 20 pounds”—and the weights do their thing.

Regardless of how you get there, changing the load for both NordicTrack dumbbells at once makes this process more efficient, but it also means that both must always be loaded with the same weight. At first I wasn’t bothered, but as I continued to use the dumbbells, I grew more annoyed that I couldn't adjust each dumbbell individually, especially during single-arm or single-leg movements. Also, the electronic dial requires that the tray must always be plugged into a power source in order for you to adjust the weights. If you don’t have easy access to outlets in your home gym, or if the power goes out, you may be out of luck.

NordicTrack also offers another connected feature with ease of use in mind. The iSelects may be used with NordicTrack’s workout app, iFit, via on your phone, where you can save your preferred weight for basic exercises, like curls and lunges, for free, as well as opt to follow along with instructor-led sessions for a fee of $39 a month (which I didn’t test for this review). Unfortunately, I felt that the connectivity features fell flat. Sure, it’s fun to “tell” your weights what to adjust to but turning a dial isn’t exactly a big deal, and the iFit app doesn’t track reps or weight lifted, like some other smart workout equipment, which feels like a real miss here. Plus, those without an Alexa device, such as an Echo Speaker, can’t take advantage of these features.

Bottom line: Because sometimes simpler is better (and “smart” isn’t always so smart), we’re naming Bowflex this round’s victor.

Winner: Bowflex
Get the Bowflex SelectTech 552s at Amazon for $430

And the winner is…

Both pairs of adjustable dumbbells have many pros and a few cons, and I don’t think you’d be disappointed with either option. However, the Bowflex SelectTech 552s are the overall winner for this test as well as our top choice of adjustable dumbbells we’ve tested. The ability to select smaller increments of weight at the lower end makes them more versatile than the NordicTrack iSelects, they’re comfortable to hold, and they’re easy to use. Even though the iSelects offer smart features like voice activation, the requirement of a power source to use them is a drawback, and the smart features don’t feel all that helpful. For a solid pair of adjustable dumbbells you can use for a variety of workouts, you can’t go wrong with Bowflex.

Get the Bowflex SelectTech 552s at Amazon for $430

Get the NordicTrack iSelects at Amazon for $431

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.