I don’t know how keen I am on adjustable dumbbells… at least, I wasn’t until the 2020-21 global pandemic hit.
They are an odd creature at first glance, multifaceted and oddly proportioned. They’re not as functionally good as regular dumbbells (which I’ll get into shortly). You also generally end up paying through the nose for them – though regular dumbbells aren’t cheap either, so fair enough.
However, with most of the world’s gyms closing down and most of the world’s fitness buffs having to find ways to train at home, with limited space and limited resources, adjustable dumbbells began to make a lot more sense. More than this – they began to look like a fantastic idea.
Which they are, broadly speaking.
My initial scepticism came in large part from the basic idea behind adjustable dumbbells. They’re an odd one, though the theory is so simple that it soon begins to make sense. An adjustable dumbbell does what it says on the tin – you can add or remove mini plates to the handle to create all different weights you will need.
Like you would with a barbell, really.
Bowflex’s 552i dumbbells have a handle which inserts into a frame; you then simply turn a dial, picking the weight you want, and the frame adds the plates. They are some of the best quality adjustable dumbbells going, so I was incredibly excited to get my hands on a pair and give them a whirl – and so I did – and here I am with my full Bowflex 552i review.
First Impressions Of The Bowflex 552i Dumbbells
Another reason for my scepticism lies in the way adjustable dumbbells generally look, and Bowflex’s 552i dumbbells are true to form here. They are larger, clunkier, and way more unwieldy than regular dumbbells. The main focus in designing dumbbells is generally ergonomic use and top performance. The main focus in designing adjustable dumbbells is in how to bring about the adjustable component – the mechanism for change, rather than the complete package. This inevitably leaves its mark.
Bowflex’s 552i dumbbells are big. Even when you’re lifting in the lower ranges (2-4kg), you’re using the same basic size as you would be if you were maxing out. This isn’t a purely aesthetic gripe – you will be moving these dumbbells around your body, conscious of their spatial being, and so having them being so outsized takes some getting used to.
They’re also very expensive. They will take a lot of investment.
However, they generally are economical with space (in your house, not during your workout!) which is one of the main bonuses – I’ll go into this below.
My main issue is that they are maybe not needed, as screw on dumbbells have been a thing for years. Yes, it’s nice to have a full dumbbell set packaged away in a shoebox. However, a handle and a stack of weights still doesn’t take up too much room, gives you arguably greater utility, and can be bought for a lot less.
So, why would you go with adjustable dumbbells?
Why Use The Bowflex 552i?
Adjustable dumbbells are incredibly convenient. They save you a lot of space. Even the above-mentioned dumbbell set will sprawl a little under your bed or in the bottom of your wardrobe. These won’t – Bowflex’s 552 dumbbells take up barely any room at all.
They are also easy to store, in a way that handles, bars and plates simply aren’t. Unless you get a proper rack or power cage (which will need a room to themselves), you will likely have stubbed your toes a good few times on errant plates. They are unsightly, annoying, and frankly often hazardous. One dumbbell, with one attachment, suddenly begins to look a lot more attractive when seen from this view.
The Bowflex 522i can be stored very neatly under your bed or in a spare bit of cupboard space.
The adjustability is also very handy in training. You can use this one item to target most muscle groups, at many intensities – that one handle will allow you to use 2kg in each hand for a power walk, then go into 10kg curls, then hit 20kg shoulder presses.
It serves more than pure convenience for its own sake, too. If you want to hit drop sets or super sets that require different weights, you can. Traditional adjustable dumbbells take a long time to change, by which time the training effect may be lost (it’s not a drop set if you wait 30-60 seconds between each set… that’s just straight sets with a large drop off).
The Bowflex 522i is actually pretty nifty.
Bowflex 522i Specs
So, what makes Bowflex’s 552i dumbbells so good? They are market leaders, after all, and for very good reason. Their specs – and the design and build quality – are very good.
Bowflex’s dumbbells will basically stand in for a full set of dumbbells ranging from their minimum weight of 2kg to their maximum weight of 24kg (roughly 5-52.5lbs apiece), giving you a full fifteen different potential settings. That’s a hell of a range for a single set of handles!
This range can be accessed very easily. Rather than going through the hassle of unscrewing cuffs, sliding new plates on or off, then re-screwing the cuffs, you simply use an adjustable dial for seamless weight changes.
This adjustment takes a few seconds at most – as mentioned above, this makes them perfect for drop and supersets, where you need to quickly switch between different weight settings. You can really keep things mixed up, which is not something you can say of regular dumbbell handles and plates.
Though larger than an equivalent set of dumbbells, the Bowflex 522i is actually very neat and compact. At 40cm x 20cm x 23cm, they are far from oversized and can be stored very easily.
There is more to them than the adjustable system itself. The Bowflex is incredibly well made and well designed. The grip is solid rubber and incredibly well balanced, with great traction. The dumbbells move almost silently, and very securely. Anybody who has used traditional dumbbells with plates will be all too familiar with the rattle and shake that even the best of them give, annoying the family and even throwing your movements off a little.
The adjusting mechanism itself is also very quiet. There is no clunk or grind, which you might expect. Everything seems to just slip seamlessly into place, no drama, no fuss.
The Bowflex 522i is made from a mix of good quality aluminium and plastic. There is a solidity to it that is reassuring (especially if you’re swinging them about like a madman – one of my go-to forms of training!).
The warranty is standard but good, with 2 years on all parts.
Using The Bowflex 552i Dumbbells
So, how are Bowflex 522i dumbbells to use?
Decent enough, actually. Very good for adjustable dumbbells.
They genuinely are easy to adjust, which is one of the most important things. If you’re going to invest this much money in a set of adjustable dumbbells, and you’re prepared to deal with the pitfalls inherent to their design, you want to be sure that the main thing you’re buying them for is worthwhile.
It is. It really is.
In fact, I ran through one of my standard at-home dumbbell workouts with it and shaved around ten to fifteen minutes off my usual time, simply by virtue of not having to stop and unscrew, adjust and screw the dumbbells between every set. It was a refreshingly un-fiddly process. It takes seconds, at most, and there is no knack or trick to it – you will be able to do it proficiently from the get-go.
I also really liked the grip. It was firm and comfortable, with great traction. It also didn’t cut my hands to ribbons, which the knurling on a new set of dumbbells often would – the diamond shaped metal pattern on the handles that tears your skin and contributes heavily to those lovely callouses all lifters are known for.
Everything was quiet and smooth. If it wasn’t for my grunting, you wouldn’t have known anyone in the house was training!
I didn’t manage to get a good pump going, however. This is one of the major downfalls with adjustable dumbbell in general – they choose the weight cap to which they can be adjusted. 24kg may be good for curls and lateral raises, but it’s simply not enough for anyone but a beginner to moderate lifter to perform compounds with. I had to go super high rep on my overhead presses and squats, and chest presses were simply a no go.
You can static dumbbells up to around 50kg from most online platforms, which will do a better job in many instances. Even more traditionally adjustable, plate-based dumbbell handles will be able to go up to around this with the right plates.
This being said, the lower weight of 2kg is a great starting point. It should be accessible to most lifters, through pretty much every lift.
The weight distribution was also odd with the Bowflex 522i, as it often is on adjustable dumbbells. This may throw you off a little, especially if you’re lifting heavy (there will be plenty of people for whom an upper limit of 24kg will be perfectly sufficient).
However, these niggles far from undermine the Bowflex 522i’s place in the market. They are inherent to its type – all adjustable dumbbells are open to these criticisms. Yet they still serve their purpose incredibly well. If you know that 24kg is enough for you, you don’t have much space at home, you value convenience (who doesn’t?) and you like to switch between weights quickly (again, don’t we all?) you will likely thrive with a set of Bowflex 522i.
They are pricey, sure, but they are worth it. They really are clever, well-made weights, with an awful lot going for them.