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How Do Adjustable Dumbbells Work?

Adjustable dumbbells are becoming more of a staple piece of exercise equipment in gyms all across the country, but if you are new to the weightlifting game then you may be confused as to how they work.

Although they may look more complicated than fixed dumbbells, with some featuring a dial on the side rather than actual weights, learning how to use them is relatively easy. 

These pieces of equipment have become more popular due to their space-saving design, which makes an ideal addition for home gyms.

So whether you want to try these out in the gym, add them to your home gym, or are just curious as to how they work, here is everything you need to know about adjustable dumbbells and what they can do for you. 

What Do Adjustable Dumbells Look Like?

No matter what brand of adjustable dumbbell you get, they all have almost the same design, and it’s not that different from the designs of normal dumbbells you may be used to. You are going to get a bar with weights that you either put on each end or that you turn to adjust on each end (we call this traditional vs modern).

  • The bar – This is what is at the center of the dumbbell, and what you hold don to when lifting it. It is usually made of steel, with some featuring a rubber coating to make it easier to hold in your hands. At each end, you will find pieces of metal that hold the weights that you add. 
  • The weights – How the weights are added and how much you can add will depend on the type of dumbbell you are using. This will either be traditional or modern.

Traditional and Modern Dumbbells 


This is the more common form of dumbbell and the one you have most likely at least seen before, even if you never used one. These work by you adding weighted plated to either end before you start your workout.

These weights look like smaller versions of ones that you would find on barbells. To keep the weights in place you add fasteners to the end. 

This form of dumbbell is the most common because it is simple, and really there was no need for a change in design. This version is so popular that people are always coming up with their own versions, such as people using homemade items to make their own ones.

Still, though the design is a classic, they are a bit inconvenient to use. Putting the weights onto the equipment is usually a workout in itself, as it can be a bit of a hassle to securely fasten them to the dumbbell.

Then, if you have added too much or too little weight, you will have to spend even more time adjusting this rather than just working out. This is where the modern dumbbell comes in.


Modern, or sometimes just called adjustable dumbbells, are the next big step up for this piece of equipment. These feature a turn-and-hook system that means that you no longer have to manually add the external weights yourself.    

Rather than adding the weights, the weight is changed on the dumbbell by turning a dial or crank. This changes the weight balance on the dumbbell and can let you adjust it so that it feels lighter or heavier.

This convince allows you to get on with your workout without you having to go through the trial and error process of manually adding the right weights to the equipment. 

Pros and cons of adjustable dumbbells 

Trying to decide if you should buy this equipment or give them a go on your next trip to the gym? Here are the pros and cons of dumbbells to see if they are with it for you. 


  • Easy to use – dumbbells are a staple in any gym setup, and because they have been about for so long there are endless guides and videos online about how to use them correctly. Once you know how to use them, it is very easy to add them to your workout routine. 
  • Save on space in a home gym – this applies to the modern dumbbells more, though traditional dumbbells can easily be stored away. Modern dumbbells though have the added advantage of not having removable weights, so that’s even less mess you have to worry about. Either way, given how little space this equipment takes up, if you are wanting some equipment to exercise at home with then this might be the best option for you. If you pair them with an adjustable bench, you can get a surprisingly large number of chest, back and arm workouts done in a tiny space.
  • Relatively cheap – This one will depend more on how much you think you will use the equipment, as the more the dumbbells are used the more you are getting your money worth out of them. Still, you expect to buy a set for a few hundred dollars and this will probably last you years if not a decade or two (depending on use).

Buying s single dumbbell is somehow more expensive than buying a set usually, so many get a full set if you want to save money. You can splash out on higher-end ones if you want to, but all dumbbells whether cheap or expensive do the same thing, so it doesn’t really matter. 


  • Injury risk – like all exercise equipment, dumbbells come with a risk of injury if not used correctly. This can be avoided by making sure that you understand how to use the equipment, that you do not overload it with too much weight for you, and that the weights are securely fastened onto the dumbbell if you are using a traditional one. 
  • Slightly awkward hold – compared to fixed dumbbells (ones where you cannot change the weight), adjustable dumbbells are a bit more awkward to hold and use. What makes it worse is that the length of the bar in the middle may change depending on the brand, meaning that you may not be able to hold it properly or perform certain exercises. 
  • Must be handled with care to avoid damage or breaking – though heavy, these dumbbells can break easily if they are thrown to the floor after a workout. After use, they must carefully be put down to avoid this. 


Despite adjustable dumbbells having a few drawbacks, they are very popular in the gym world for a very good reason. They are simple, easy to use, and can very easily become part of anyone’s workout routine no matter how fit they are or what their skill level is. These are a piece of equipment that all gym-goers should try at least once. 

And they are becoming even more popular with the smart home gym revolution, which is being led by companies like Tonal, Tempo and Mirror. While Tonal comes with it’s own, built in, resistance set, Tempo relies on more traditional dumbbells that come with the device. You may prefer to use modern adjustable dumbbells in place of the ones that come with the system. 

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