Gone are the days when aspiring athletes had to choose whether they wanted to pound the pavements or lift weights in the gym. Studies have repeatedly shown the two can work symbiotically to form a stronger, faster and more efficient runner. Plus, the stronger your muscles and connective tissues are, the less likely you are to get injured. That's why we recommend strength training one to two times a week, if you can. And one way that you can make it easier to fit in is by doing it at home.
Why buy an adjustable dumbbell?
'Why should I buy an adjustable dumbbell over a trusty fixed weight pair?' you say. We’re glad you asked.
Though the humble dumbbell is the ultimate home workout tool, adjustable incarnations offer more versatility, thanks to their wide variety of weight options. A lone adjustable weight will let you add progressively heavier loads to your squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and more, all of which (when paired with the right nutrition) build functional muscle.
Adjustable dumbbells might look pricey on the face of it, but they offer a multitude of different weights in one compact package. So, you can up the load as your strength grows to make sure your muscles are continually challenged. This saves you from having to splash £50+ on a new set of fixed dumbbells when your current weights start to feel too light.
While social media often portrays home gyms as spacious and well-equipped, the reality is many of us are lifting in our living rooms. If so, you probably don’t have space for a bulky rack of dumbbells taking up an entire wall of your house. However, adjustable dumbbells mean you can still have just as many weight options, while taking up the equivalent space of a footstool.
What are the types of adjustable dumbbells?
This is what to expect from each category:
About: These classic dumbbells are usually bought as a set containing two bars, several smaller weight plates and four spinlock collars. The collars spin into place along the grooved ends of each bar to secure the plates. Add more as required.
Strengths: The lack of tech means they are cheaper and more straightforward to use than other adjustable dumbbells. Often made from cast iron, the best pairs are also hardy, durable and reliable.
Weakness: You have to spin the collars on and off every time you want to change the weight, making this a lengthy process. They also tend to have a lower maximum weight than dial and digital dumbbells.
About: As well as a central bar and weight plates, these dumbbells also come with a holding. To change the weight, load them into the dock and use labelled dials on either end to select an appropriate load. The necessary weight plates will then attach to the central bar, while any that are surplus to requirements will be neatly left behind when you lift the dumbbell out of the dock.
Strengths: With up to 40kg per weight (courtesy of the brawny team at MuscleSquad) dial dumbbells can be a good option for seasoned lifters. Changing the weight is quick and easy, and they store neatly in their holding docks.
Weakness: We found some dial adjustable dumbbells could be a bit clunky to load in and out of their holding docks, and those with metal plates would rattle when pressed overhead. The plastic casing on the Bowflex’s plates proved to be a quick fix to this, though.
About: One for the tech-heads among you, changing the weight of a digital adjustable dumbbell is a swift and painless process. Simply load it into the holding dock, select your weight using a button-controlled LCD screen on the dock and the weights themselves will take care of the rest. As with dial dumbbells, the required plates will automatically attach, and the rest will be left orderly stored in the dock.
Strengths: Changing the weight of these dumbbells couldn’t be less labour intensive. The digital weights we tested were also sturdy, compact and came as a pair, meaning we weren’t limited to unilateral (single-sided) movements.
Weakness: These dumbbells have to be plugged into the wall to change the load, and the maximum weight of the pair we tested (the Jaxjox’s 22.7kg) might not be enough for those well-versed in strength training.
How we test
As you scroll, know that each and every adjustable dumbbell you see before you has been put to the test by our Runner’s World Lab experts.
First, they checked how easy it was to change the weight, making sure the plates loaded smoothly and felt secure. Then they took them for a spin, working their way through a session of strength training staples including squats, lunges, curls and pressing movements, before awarding each one a score for its design, ease of use and performance.
The best adjustable dumbbells were effortless to load, felt as solid as a fixed dumbbell and were easy to wield, with a good variety of weight options.