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These Are the Greatest Dumbbells Known to Humankind

The ‘most life-altering home-fitness innovations of all time’ hyperbole? You’ve never lifted these things before

Of all of the fitness products I’ve ever ordered through the mail and had delivered to my residence — and believe me I’ve ordered a bunch — my absolute favorite is the SelectTech Dumbbells from Bowflex. I was introduced to them by one of my best friends, and ever since my first workout with them, I wondered why I’d been unnecessarily training like a troglodyte for so long, and using prehistoric adjustable dumbbell sets like a sucker. 

No muscle-building devices have done more to contribute to the speed, efficiency and completeness of my in-home strength training, and if I’m ever so unfortunate as to wash up on a desert island, Castaway style, I might even be willing to exchange a set of these dumbbells for a life raft if given the option.

Why do I need dumbbells in the first place?

The simple answer to this question is that dumbbells are a figurative Swiss Army Knife of weight training. If you’re an able-bodied individual, you can devise a training regimen that will quickly train every muscle in your body to failure using simply a pair of dumbbells, a weight bench and an adequate amount of weight. Definitions of “an adequate amount of weight” will undoubtedly vary from person to person, but by the time you’re getting up to 90-pound dumbbells and placing conditions on yourself like the need to pause and squeeze at the peak of a rep, and to slowly return the weight to its point of origin, I’d venture to guess that you’ve adequately fulfilled the weight requirements of more than 99 percent of the population. 

Can you give me a quick example of dumbbell exercises that would work every part of my body?

Piece of cake.

Without getting too fancy, you can do several variations of bench presses, pullovers and chest flys for your chest (although evidence is beginning to mount that you should do chest flys on the floor and not from the bench in order to protect your shoulders); various forms of rows and deadlifts for your back; military presses and shoulder flys for your shoulders; assorted curls and extensions for your biceps and triceps; and squats and lunges for your legs. 

This list isn’t comprehensive and doesn’t represent every exercise I’d prefer to do, and I’d frankly go insane if I didn’t have access to a pull-up bar through which to hoist my feet off of the earth and thoroughly challenge my posterior chain against gravity. But there would be no reasonable explanation as to why a steadfast fitness trainee couldn’t work themself into undeniably fit shape by executing these exercises alone.

So why are these SelectTech dumbbells worth the money?

Because you need a pair of dumbbells in your life, and these are the best in the world for three reasons.

First and foremost, the space-saving convenience they provide can’t be overstated. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you invest in the 1090 model of SelectTech Dumbbells. If you’re the type of person who prefers fixed-weight dumbbells — which is everyone — but doesn’t buy a lot of them because they’re expensive — which is also everyone — you’d be purchasing 17 different pairs of dumbbells, or 34 individual dumbbells. Not only is that prohibitively expensive, but you’d be taking up a whole lot of space even if you invested in the two weight racks you’d require to hold them all, which is also going to cost you a pretty penny.

How pretty of a penny? Well, I hate doing math, but for you, I’m willing to do a little bit. Let’s use a standard set of fixed-weight dumbbells as a point of reference and start adding up the prices on a per-pair basis, and I’ll even use the posted sale prices for the dumbbell sets if there are any, and I’ll only use 10-pound increments, meaning we’ll only be buying about half as many dumbbell pairs as the 1090s would replace.

  • 10-pound pair: $40
  • 20-pound pair: $76
  • 30-pound pair: $116
  • 40-pound pair: $141
  • 50-pound pair: $180
  • 60-pound pair: $221
  • 70-pound pair: $251
  • 80-pound pair: $271
  • 90-pound pair: $295

Yikes! What a massacre! We’ve purchased just over half of the dumbbells that the 1090s would replace, and we’ve spent nearly $1,600 — or twice as much as we would have spent on one pair of premium SelectTech adjustables, and we’d probably settle at $3,000 if we were to replace all of the five-pound incremental weights as well.

Okay, you’ve made your point. But what if I just buy a regular set of adjustable dumbbells with additional weight and collars?

Come on, nobody likes these weights. The individual weight plates end up spinning on you no matter how tightly you screw them in, and if you need to rest the weights on your legs before you hoist them up to bench them, do you really want 90 pounds of weight pressing down on a screw-threaded bar that’s now boring a hole into your thigh?

And those are just two of the issues with these weights. They’re not necessarily inexpensive either. For the sake of making a realistic comparison, let’s say you want to match the peak weight of the 1090s on each of the individual dumbbells in your traditional, adjustable set. To get there in a relatively compact way, you’d need to purchase 12 different 15-pound weights. That’s $360, and you’d still need to buy some 2.5-, 5- and 10-pound plate sets in order to make those transitions cleanly. By the time you’re done, you’ll be spending another $150 just to flesh out your collection in a convenient way. You’re already north of $500, and you’ve added to the clutter of your home.

Just suck it up and buy the SelectTechs already. That way, you’ll avoid the fallout from having a mess of weight plates littering the floor that your partner is going to trip over and scream at you for. Trust me, I’m the unfortunate voice of experience on this one.

Can’t I get any set of adjustable dumbbells like this?

You can, but I honestly haven’t come across a better option.

I’ve heard great things about Powerblocks. I even had dinner with their inventor in Germany once; he was a very nice guy. But here are the two issues I have with them: First of all, they don’t look like dumbbells. Call me old school if you must, but I have a certain schema for a dumbbell, and the aesthetic of a Powerblock just doesn’t reach it. It looks like a contraption that someone built out of an erector set.

Second, if you think SelectTechs are expensive, and they are, Powerblocks will blow that price tag right out of the water. To get to the weight level of the 1090 SelectTechs, Powerblocks require two rounds of expansion sets that transform these “dumbbells” into unsightly rectangles that resemble a pair of unopened toolboxes. If your adjustable dumbbell set is likely to be mocked by visitors with sneers of “What are those?,” you should probably get a new dumbbell set.

Thanks for the heads up! Do you have any other advice?

For the love of God, don’t drop these dumbbells. In fact, don’t drop any of your dumbbells if you can help it. Between the iron-forged dumbbell design, the professionally installed rubber flooring and the intra-gym cultural allowance for douchebaggery, it’s expected that you’ll drop your heavy weights on the floor as if you were intending to leave potholes in your wake. If you replicate the same stunt at home, either the floor is going to give way, or the weights are going to be destroyed. 

And before you say something ill-advised like, “See? I knew your designer weight set was a cheap piece of crap,” try loading 90 pounds onto a screw-on dumbbell set and dropping it on its side, and then see how well the collar fits after a few repetitions of that stunt. 

Whether you heed my advice and get SelectTechs, or you ignore me and go with a more traditional adjustable dumbbell, learning to control your weight will save you money, and it will save you from the stares of your fellow gym goers who will think that you’re overcompensating for something with your noisy displays of recklessness… and they’ll probably be right.