Selectorized adjustable dumbbells were pioneered by Bowflex some 20 years ago, with the Bowflex 552 being their flagship product. (Note: the SelectTech 1090’s have a wider weight range than the 552’s and are 30% OFF during the holiday season). Now there are a large number of competitors in a whole new market sector, with their major competitor being the Powerblock Elite.
Selectorized adjustable dumbbells feature a platform or bed which each dumbbell sits in. The dumbbell itself consists of handles with selector dials on their ends. The handles sit on the platforms which also house weight plates. When the dial is turned to a certain resistance, the handles lock in that level of resistance from either end. The weight increases usually go up in 5 pound increments.
In this article, we put the two biggest players side by side as we compare the Bowflex 552 with the Powerblock Elite.
Bowflex are the originators of the adjustable dumbbell concept and the 552 is their showcase model. It features 15 dumbbell variations, allowing for a max weight of 52.5 pounds. The adjustment between resistance levels is fast and efficient. Tapered sides on the hand grips allow for a non-slip palm grip. Your purchase also comes with a comprehensive instructional DVD.
The Powerblock Elite is a very stylish, streamlined dumbbell set. It provides you with individual dumbbell settings from 5 to 130 pounds (with the purchase of an extension kit – the standard set tops out at 50 pounds). The Elite utilizes a pin selector method which is a bit more cumbersome than the dial up method used by Bowflex. However, in terms of functionality, size and weight distribution, the Powerblock Elite is the better performer.
Overall, the Powerblock Elite is our preferred choice.
The Bowflex 552 Up Close
As the original designer of the selectorized adjustable dumbbell system, Bowflex are the most trusted and reliable supplier on the market. The system comes with a very informative DVD guide. In terms of price, the Bowflex 552 sit at about the mid range of the market.
Let’s dial in on the key features of this impressive dumbbell system.
Huge Number of Resistance Levels
The Bowflex 552 provides you with 15 levels of adjustable resistance. This is more than we have found on any other product in this category. What it means is that you get a complete range of dumbbells in one set. A unique feature of this set is that it provides you with 2.5 pound increments for the first 25 pounds. This means that you are able to progress with smaller increments, allowing you to constantly increase your training intensity level.
Quick Adjustment System
The adjustment system can either make or break a selectorized dumbbell set. You need it to be quick and easy. If it’s not, you’ll end up wasting time between sets, which will ruin your workout flow. The Bowflex 552 is an extremely easy system to adjust. It’s also reliable, allowing you to make your change in just a few seconds.
The Bowflex adjustment system has dials on the both sides of the unit with numbers on it. The numbers relate to the weights of the dumbbell. You simply select the weight that you wish to lift on each side and then lift the weight off the tray.
Comfortable Hand Grips
The handle grips of the Bowflex 552 feature tapered sides to enhance the feel along with a non-slip palm grip to prevent your hand from sliding around. It gives you a great feel that doesn’t pinch between the thumb and first finger (which is a problem for many competing models).
The Bowflex 552 comes with a full 2-year replacement warranty.
The Bowflex 552 is a rather big and bulky unit. That’s because it provides you with such a large range of weight options. However, if you’re able to handle those heavier weights, you are fully capable of handling the bulkier nature of this unit.
Another problem exists with the length of the dumbbell bars. Due to the nature of the selection method, the bar is the same length on every dumbbell weight. This length is 40 cm (15.7 inches). When you are doing curl type exercises this length can make it difficult to keep the weights in at your sides. Similarly, it can be a problem to position the weights over your chest when doing the dumbbell bench press.
Powerblock Elite Up Close
The PowerBlock Elite is an extremely compact, stylish and streamlined adjustable dumbbell set. Let’s discover its key features . . .
The Powerblock Elite weight adjustments range from 5 to 50 pounds, going up in increments of 2.5 and 5 pounds. However, you can purchase extension kits to give you more poundage. There is a 50-70 pound extension kit and a 70-90 pound extension kit. The 70-90 extension will allow you to replace 16 pairs of dumbbells.
The pin adjustment method used with the Powerblock Elite uses a color coded system. Each color represents a weight range of two kilos (4.4 pounds). The block that you lift off has 2 removable bars that each weigh one pound. So, for each color option there are three possible weights – the lightest weight, with no bars inside, the middle weight with one bar inside and the heaviest weight with both bars inside.
The Powerflex Elite pin adjustment system has you inserting a steel pin through the handle to select your level of resistance. When you select a light weight though, the pin will go right through the handle and protrude out the other side. This can be a problem, as the pin may bang up against your side when you are doing exercises such as dumbbell curls. To make sure that you don’t get scratched, you’ll have to ensure that the protruding pin is turned away from your body.
Bowflex vs Powerblock: Head-to-Head
Now that we’ve analyzed the individual features of the Bowflex 552 and the Powerblock Elite, it’s time to match features to see which is the better option.
Clearly the adjustment system is a critical – probably the most critical factor – when you are deciding on your adjustable dumbbell system. The last thing you want is a slow, cumbersome process that will interfere with your training tempo. Rather, you need a system that is fast, easy and smooth.
The Bowflex 552 is very fast change system. All you have to do is to dial in your weight on either side, lift and then you’re ready to go. On the other hand, the Powerblock Elite uses a slightly more complicated process. You have to insert a selector pin, which takes a little more time. If you happen to put the pin in on a slight angle, you will have to take it out and readjust it. This is a real hassle.
Another difference with the Powerblock system is that, if you want to change the weights with increments of just one kilo, you will have to take the handle out of its tray, open the locking mechanism and remove a one kilo weight and then put the handle back in the tray and select your color range. If you have to do this often it can become quite frustrating.
Our Best Adjustable Dumbbell article has more info on the Bowflex vs PowerBlock ease of use and weight selection. Plus you can see how these weights measure up against other sets, too.
In terms of ease of use and friendliness of mechanism, the Bowflex 552 is the clear winner.
The size of the dumbbell that you are working with is very important. You don’t want it to be too bulky or it will restrict your range of motion, preventing you from properly performing some exercises. With the Bowflex unit, when you select a weight you get quite a large dumbbell footprint in terms of the plates that go to make up your selected weight. This can make it quite difficult to do such exercises as dumbbell curls, as you will find the weight smacking into your sides as you curl it up.
The Bowflex dumbbells are also very long. This makes them rather unwieldy. This can especially be a problem on exercises such as the dumbbell bench press. In this move you bring the dumbbells together at the top of the movement in order to activate the inner chest muscles. However, the length of the bars make it virtually impossible to do this effectively.
The Powerblock has a huge advantage over the Bowflex in this area. That’s because, when you select a weight, only that weight comes out. In contrast, with the Bowflex the entire length of the dumbbell bar is the same, whether you select 5 pounds or 52 pounds. As a comparison, when you choose a 5 kg level of resistance on the Bowflex, the length of the bar is 40 cm (15.7 inches). However, when you select a 9 kg level on the Powerblock Elite, the length of the bar is just 23 cm. That means that for almost double the weight, the dumbbell is almost half the size.
In terms of size, the Powerblock Elite is a far more practical and functional system.
The weight range of the Bowflex 552 is between 5 and 52 pounds (2 to 21 kg). However, there is a heavier version of the Bowflex available, which allows for a range between 10 and 90 pounds.
The Powerblock Elite comes in 3 separate stages, which are sold separately. The first stage is up to 22.5 kg. The second stage expands the weight resistance level up to 41 kg and the third stage takes it up to 59 kg (130 pounds).
So, we see here that the basic Poweblock Elite is very similar to the Bowflex 552 in terms of maximum usable weight. And, even though you have to pay more to add extra weight, you have the basis for a huge range of potential added weight. The heaviest weight that you can get with all 3 stages of the Powerblock Elite is 40 pounds heavier than the Bowflex’s heavy duty model the Bowflex 1090.
When it comes to weight range, the Powerblock is the clear winner.
On the Bowflex 552, most of the weight is situated in the bottom of the unit. That’s because the handle sits at the top. This can be an issue when you are using a lot of weight. It leads to and uneven distribution of the weight. This can be an issue when exercising as it may cause the bar to rotate downward and against the range of notion required for proper form. This is a disadvantage.
The Powerblock Elite is more evenly distributed in terms of weight. However, when you remove one of the extra weight bars that are in the handle unit, it may feel as if the resistance is slightly unevenly distributed. With the Powerblock Elite, however, the more weight you have on the bar, the less you will feel the unevenness. This is because the weights are evenly distributed on the sides of the unit.
So, when it comes to weight distribution the Powerblock Elite is the winner.
Staggered resistance means that you have more weight on one side of the dumbbell than on the other. Though this is normally not a preferred option, it can come in handy for certain exercises, such as overhead triceps extensions, and situations, such as when recovering from an injury. The Bowflex 552 allows you to do this, as it requires you to dial in each side of the dumbbell individually. However, you do not have this option on the Powerblock.
Both the Bowflex 552 and the Powerblock Elite are finished stylishly and would make an attractive addition to any home gym setting. However, the Bowflex dumbbell is finished in rubber at the tips of the weights. This means that they will bounce slightly on contact. With the Powerblock, the finish is metal. This provides a harsher contact. We see this as an advantage for the Bowflex.
The Bowflex provides you with rubber ergonomic grip. The Powerblock provides you with a similar rubber padded ergonomic grip. There is no winner here, as the grips are very similar.
Both the Bowflex 552 and the Powerblock Elite are sturdy units. Even though they may both appear quite clanky when you start to use them, they will prove to be very solid and reliable performers.
The main reason that people buy selectorized dumbbells is that they are way cheaper than forking out for a complete set of individual dumbbells. A set of 5-70 pound hexagonal dumbbells will cost you between $1500 and $2000, whereas a selectorized set will cost less than a quarter of that price. The basic Powerblock is more expensive than the Bowflex (both give you about 50 pounds of resistance per dumbbell). To add the extension kits to beef the Powerblock Elite up to a 130 pound max, will nearly double it’s price.
Both the Bowflex 552 and the Powerblock Elite are smart choices when you want to equip your home gym with full dumbbell capacity. Even though Bowflex is the originator in the selectorized adjustable dumbbell space, Powerblock offers a more functional streamlined and more evenly weighted product. For those reasons, we prefer and recommend the Powerblock Elite.