With the meteoric rise in popularity of home fitness routines, working out from the comfort of a living room, garage, or even a chilly garden shed is rapidly becoming a top priority for anyone looking to stay trim, lose weight or pack on muscle.
We have a vast collection of workout guides here at T3.com, from High-Intensity Interval Training fat burners to powerful strength-building workouts. But the recurring theme among them is that gradually adding some resistance in the form of the best dumbbells or best barbells money can buy is the only way to properly progress and see physical changes.
We've already spent many hours curling, pressing and flying with Bowflex Selecttech dumbbells and the excellent Men's Health Adjustable Dumbbell… but which weight really punches its weight?
It's time to chalk up the hands, blast a heavy metal soundtrack through those sweet new workout headphones and pump some iron. Huaargggh!
Bowflex Selecttech vs Men's Health Adjustable Dumbbell: Design
On paper, at least, these two systems look and feel pretty similar. Both use a rotating dial at the end of each dumbbell that spins to select the required weight, with both models also offering a weight spread that starts at ridiculously light and moves towards the challenging 24-25kg mark.
Unlike other dumbbells with a fixed weight system, these nifty critters cleverly select the weight plates required for that particular weight or exercise and handily leave the rest in a hardy plastic tray or container.
This could be seen as a bit of a downside, as you'll have to carefully place the unit back into its holder before adjusting the weight, but it is way quicker than scanning a rack of dumbbells and a small price to pay for replacing around 15 sets of bulky lumps of weight.
The Men's Health set is cheaper than its Bowflex rival, which can be seen in the general build quality. The grip, for example, is made from reinforced plastic rather than metal, and the previously mentioned plastic tray feels a little flimsy.
The slightly drab colour scheme of light black and blue also doesn't do too much for the overall appearance either, and the branding on the adjustable dials is pretty basic, but who buys fitness equipment based on how handsome it is?
More importantly, it all works, and that reinforced plastic handle can withstand rigorous daily workouts, while the weight plates and adjustable collar are also tough as old boots.
Part with a bit more cash and the Bowflex Selecttech dumbbells feel like the more premium product straight out of the box. The grips, for example, are made from a mix of steel and rubber for improved purchase. On top of this, the weight selection mechanism also feels sturdier.
It might sound petty, but the Bowflex weight selection mechanism is also straightforward to operate with one hand, as it's simply a case of twisting the dial. Whereas the Men's Health versions require a small button to be depressed first. It's a neat safety feature, but sometimes getting this button to click into place can prove fiddly.
Bowflex Selecttech vs Men's Health Adjustable Dumbbell: Performance
The key thing to remember about adjustable dumbbells over their fixed counterparts is that they have moving parts. This means that dropping them in any way is not advised, as the mechanism can easily be damaged (especially if loaded up with lots of weight), and you're left with a pair of reasonably useless doorstops.
Those looking to hit personal bests on the chest press by working to failure will have to keep a little in the tank to gently return the dumbbells to their holders in order to avoid any unwanted breakages.
That said, both sets of adjustable dumbbells are pretty sturdy when placed in their plastic trays, where they can be used in a similar fashion to standard, rubber-coated hex dumbbells for raised push-up variants.
Also, they beat regular spin-collar dumbbells for comfort because the ends of the weights feel comfortable when rested on the thigh. Have you ever tried setting up for a heavy chest press with old school bar and collar weights? The bar ends up digging into your leg, and it's not nice.
The Men's Health adjustable dumbbells feel a bit cheaper in the hands, and the grip itself is skinny compared to the chunky knurled metal of proper gym equipment, but it doesn't take long to get used to.
After many weeks of extensive use, we have also noted that the weight selection process can be painful with the Men's Health models, purely because the weight plates are relatively skinny and tend to move around in their container tray.
This is particularly apparent when opting for an awkward middle wight, such as 12.5kg, where many plates will remain in the tray.
Bowflex seems to have ironed out many of these issues by having better fitting trays and weight plates that feel a little more robust. What's more, there's no need to depress a button when selecting a weight, which makes things quicker and easier.
Those used to typical gym equipment might find both units a bit bulky to wield, but the Men's Health versions suffer from this a bit more than the Bowflex model. Due to the fact that each dumbbell has to house a lot of individual weight plates, they end up being long, which limits the range of motion in a flat bench press, for example.
Hailing from the States, the Bowflex Selecttech rivals are originally manufactured using poundage as a measure, hence why the increments seem a little clunky. For example, there's a jump from 20kg to 23kg and then to 24kg in the 552i model, rather than the more sensible 20kg, 22.5kg and 25kg found in the Men's Health units.
That said, the Selecttech 552i can be adjusted to have differing amounts of weight on each end of the dumbbell. This could be used for some specialist exercises, like a seated tricep extension, but it does add an extra step to proceedings, as you have to rotate each end of the dumbbell to get a balanced weight.
Bowflex Selecttech vs Men's Health Adjustable Dumbbell: Conclusion
Both sets of adjustable dumbbells offer a brilliant alternative to filling your house, garage, shed or garden with a spread of weight, not to mention the fact that the cost saving is massive.
Yes, they can feel a bit awkward at first, but it doesn't take long to adapt your existing workout to fit these larger dumbbells and any worries about dropping or damaging them soon disappear after a few uses.
On build quality alone, the Bowflex Selecttech variants take the win and if you can get hold of the 1090i (4-41kg) versions, you'll have enough weight to last you a lifetime, although they are a lot more expensive. They are also shaped slightly better but those larger 1090i models are really big.
But as a low-cost option, the Men's Health Adjustable Dumbbells are excellent and can withstand a much greater degree of abuse than the plastic shells let on. Even after months of heavy use, they are still going strong and have never once missed a beat.