You'll see fixed-weight metal dumbbells in any gym or fitness club. These weights come in various sizes, ranging from tiny 2-pound hand weights to enormous 125-pounders. Most are crafted from steel or iron. Though a number of manufacturers make basic, fixed-weight dumbbells, Cap Barbell gets the best reviews in this category. The company's Cast-Iron Dumbbells (*Est. $10 and up), the ends of which are shaped like a hexagon to prevent rolling, are available from 5 pounds up to 50 pounds.
Reviewers at Amazon.com say these weights are very durable, and the textured pattern on the handles ensures a good grip even with sweaty hands. "This dumbbell is solidly built, and it feels very even in your hands," says one owner. However, some users say the paint chips off easily. Keep in mind that these dumbbells are sold individually (some reviewers expected to receive a pair). Champion and Body-Solid make similar metal dumbbells, but they receive less user feedback.
If you don't need heavy weights, the Valeo Neoprene Hand Weights (*Est. $10 and up) also enjoy good user feedback. These cast-iron dumbbells are covered in neoprene, which makes them easy to hold, according to reviews. They come in weights ranging from 2 to 10 pounds. Unlike the Cap Barbell dumbbells, the Valeo weights are sold in pairs. "They're comfortable to grip, don't make your hands sweat, and the rubber does not stink," says one owner at Amazon.com. Users like these dumbbells for power-walking or exercise videos, but some reviewers say they easily outgrew the smaller weights. Some also find the Valeo weights overpriced compared to all-metal dumbbells. Cap Barbell also makes neoprene-covered hand weights that are sold individually, but reviewers prefer the Valeo dumbbells because they come as a pair.
Most adjustable dumbbells include weight plates that screw onto a bar; to reduce or increase the level of resistance, you unscrew the weight plate and add a different one. This process can be time-consuming if you have to change the weight between each exercise. With selectorized dumbbells, you use a selector pin or dial to choose your desired weight instead of unscrewing a weight plate. When you pick up the dumbbell, the set's remaining weight is left on the floor or stand.
The Bowflex SelectTech is one of the most popular examples of selectorized dumbbells, and it is available in two versions. The SelectTech 1090 (*Est. $600) adjusts from 10 to 90 pounds in 5-pound increments, while the SelectTech 552 (*Est. $400) adjusts from 5 to 52.5 pounds in 2.5-pound increments. They use a dial system to change the weight plates. You turn the dial to your desired level of resistance and the internal tumblers lock in the weight plates. Lift the dumbbell and only the weight you selected is attached to the bar. To change weights, put the dumbbell back on the base and turn the dial again. An optional stand (*Est. $150) is available so you don't have to bend to the floor to adjust the weight.
Reviewers like the Bowflex SelectTech system. On Amazon.com, the SelectTech 552 gets an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars in more than 350 reviews. "It's easy to change weights, it's durable, and very convenient to store," says one owner. Users say the handgrips are comfortable to hold, and the dumbbells take up less space than individual weights. However, some report that the plastic pieces can break if the dumbbells are dropped; others had problems with plates falling out during use. Owners caution that you need to make sure you hear a click when changing weights, which indicates that the locking mechanism has grasped the weight plates. The dumbbells can also be bulky with all the weight plates attached, and some users say they are awkward to lift.
PowerBlock is often mentioned as a competitor to the Bowflex SelectTech dumbbells. Unlike the SelectTech's dial system, PowerBlock dumbbells use selector pins to set the desired amount of weight. You slide the pin to select the resistance, and the remaining weights are left on the stand. The dumbbells have a boxy design, with the handle surrounded on all four sides by weight plates. PowerBlocks come in several varieties, but the Sport Series is most often recommended in reviews. The PowerBlock Sport 2.4 (*Est. $150) adjusts from 3 to 24 pounds in 3-pound increments, and the PowerBlock Sport 5.0 (*Est. $300) has a weight range from 5 to 50 pounds in 5-pound increments. Other configurations are available, including one that can reach up to 130 pounds per dumbbell.
Women's Health magazine calls the PowerBlock Sport 2.4 (also referred to as the SportBlock 24) one of the best dumbbell sets for women, praising its compactness and adjustability. Users are generally impressed as well; the Sport 2.4 has a 4.5-star rating in more than 50 reviews at Amazon.com. "They are compact and switching the amount of weight is really quick and easy," says one owner. "We also have the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, but compared to the PowerBlocks they are large and cumbersome." However, some owners say the plastic selector pin flexes too easily, which can make it difficult to select the right weights. Other users report that the plates clank together loudly when the dumbbells are moved.
If you want adjustable dumbbells at a budget price, the Cap Barbell 40-Pound Set (*Est. $50) is worth a look. This set comes with two handles and a variety of interchangeable cast-iron weight plates, including four 2.5-pound plates and four 5-pound weight plates. The weight plates screw onto the handles and are secured with collars. A storage case is also included. The Cap Barbell 40-Pound Set earns excellent reviews at both Amazon.com and Walmart.com, where users rave about the value. "I had been looking everywhere for dumbbells that didn't cost an arm and a leg, yet maintained excellent quality," says one. The set is durable, according to reviews, and it takes up much less space than an equivalent set of individual fixed-weight dumbbells. However, some owners complain about the time it takes to unscrew the weight plates between exercises, and others say that the dumbbells have a strong odor. We also saw a few complaints that the plastic carrying case was cracked when it arrived.
Few professional sources review dumbbells, so user reviews are the best source of information on hand weights and adjustable dumbbells. Fortunately, sites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Buzzillions.com have a good selection of owner-written reviews, some of which can be quite detailed and lengthy. We did find some professional reviews from Men's Fitness, Women's Health and Fitness magazines, but these articles tend to be brief and outdated.