Knowing how to use adjustable dumbbells means you can change the weight quickly and in small increments to fine-tune your workouts.

A collection of dumbbells covering a useful range of weights will take up significant floorspace and burn a hole in your wallet. So investing in a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells is a no-brainer if you want to set up a small – and relatively inexpensive – gym at home.

How to use adjustable dumbbells

There’s no question that adjustable dumbbells offer more flexibility and versatility than their fixed-weight counterparts. There are various types of adjustable dumbbells available, using different adjustment methods and covering a diverse weight range. What they all share, however, is letting you decrease or increase the resistance quickly and in manageable increments.

Choosing the right adjustable dumbbell

It can be tricky to know which type of dumbbells to buy as a complete beginner. First, you need to find a set that covers your required weight range. So bear in mind the kind of exercises you intend to use them for. Are you going for heavy-weight strength gains, or looking to get leaner with some high-rep conditioning?

If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably be tempted to go lighter. Remember that you will get stronger and be able to lift heavier weights as you progress, though, so bear that in mind. Choosing dumbbells that reach from 5lb to 50lb each will give most people all the room they need to improve their strength.

There are also plate dumbbells, which are a low-cost adjustable option that cover a range of weights. However, removing the plate to vary the weights can be time consuming. You can’t adjust them on the fly as you can with proper adjustable dumbbells.

Changing weights with adjustable dumbbells

The method by which you modify the weight differs widely between models. To name a few options, the Bowflex SelectTech adjustable dumbbell uses a straightforward dial on the end; XMark Fitness’s pair has a lever on the top that slides back and forth to select the correct weight; while the PowerBlock system has a selection pin that slots into the desired weight to free it from the rest of the unit.

There’s a wide choices of weight ranges and increments of adjustability, too. For example, the PowerBlock system goes from 5lb to 50lb, in 5lb increments; the Bowflex SelectTech from 5lb to 25lb in 2.5lb increments; and the Universal PowerPak, from 4lb to 10lb then in 5lb increments to 45lb.

Personal trainer and physiotherapist Jonathan Cooke, who runs JCFitness, says, “With the dumbbells resting in the base cradle or stand, first adjust them to the desired weight using the dial, pin or lever locking mechanism located on one or both sides of the dumbbells.

“Adjustable dumbbells typically have a dial on either side of each dumbbell, therefore it is highly important for safety that both dials are set to the same weight before lifting.

“Ensure the dial, pin or lever of the adjustable dumbbell(s) are locked into place to the desired weight setting before lifting as they can easily get stuck or plates can come loose when lifting out of the base cradle.”

How to work out with adjustable dumbbells

Once you’re set up with your adjustable dumbbells you’re good to go. To begin with, you can use them as you would a standard set of fixed dumbbells. But by utlising their entire range you can quickly tap into a wealth of the best dumbbell exercises in one workout.

For example, a full-body workout with adjustable dumbbells might look something like this:

  1. Dumbbell Deadlift x 8-10 (heavy weight)
  2. Dumbbell Chest Press x 8-10 (heavy weight)
  3. Superset: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row x 10 (medium weight) with Dumbbell Flye x 10 (medium to light weight)
  4. Dumbbell Arnold Shoulder Press x 12 (medium to light weight)
  5. Superset: Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift x 10 (medium to heavy weight) with Dumbbell Reverse Flye x 15 (light weight)

Adjustable dumbbells are also a good choice for drop sets. Drop sets are when you work your way down to a lighter weight after using a higher weight in order to increase intensity/fatigue. Adjustable dumbbells mean less interruption between switching weights than fixed dumbbells – ideal for when you’re doing a fast-paced dumbbell HIIT workout.

By incorporating smart training techniques such as changes in tempo or time under tension, you can use your adjustable dumbbells in an almost infinite variety of ways. So you can build just as much muscle as you can with more substantial fitness kit – often more efficiently, and definitely more cost-effectively.