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So you decided to start a garage gym or maybe a basement gym. Wherever it is you have to prioritize your purchases if you can’t buy a whole kit upfront. From a versatility and budget standpoint you should to start with a barbell or adjustable dumbbells like my PowerBlock Pro 50 Exp.
The barbell itself might be cheaper. But the weights used to load the barbell increase its price exponentially. I started building our garage gym back in our CrossFit days. In 2014, I paid $1 /lb for all of my bumper plates and bar. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 Pandemic has increased prices to ranges between $1.50 – $2.25 in our area, even for used equipment. With prices like that my advice is to splurge on a good set of adjustable dumbbells if you can find them. I was able to acquire my set of PowerBlock Pro Exp 50 locally and have been extremely happy with my purchase. They have added flexibility, mobility, and efficiency to my workouts. Not to mention the added health benefits of using stabilizer muscles instead of cheating by using a barbell for everything.
If you prefer Barbells and Bumpers check out here otherwise keep reading for my PowerBlock Pro Review.
Which style of Adjustable Dumbbell?
Dial or Slider Adjustment:
There are a variety of different styles of adjustable dumbbells. Brands like BowFlex and Merax utilize a dial system that selects which plates to pick up. Dial adjustable dumbbells are generally selectable in 2.5 or 5 lb increments with a range of 5-55 lbs (52.5 lbs for BowFlex and 71.5 lbs for Merax). While rare, some models are capable of expansion to 90 lbs. But, these heavy ones come at a premium. While, I haven’t owned this style of dumbbell. Several other reviews and discussion boards revealed that the dial mechanism is often made of plastic making it susceptible to damage.
Similar to the dial method of selection brands like NordicTrack and AtivaFit utilize sliders to select the desired weight. The slider mechanism seems simpler than the dial with fewer small moving parts making it a step up in durability.
Selector Pin Adjustment:
PowerBlock changes weights by using a magnetic selector pin that passes through the entire dumbbell. Similar to the pin on a cable tower. Plates adjust in 10lb increments. But, PowerBlocks are still capable of 2.5 lb increments with only minimal additional effort. the handles have a pair cylinders that weigh 2.5 lbs each that can be removed to fine tune the desired weight. Powerblocks come in different sizes 32, 50 or 50 exp (expandable). The most versatile being the 50 exp which is capable of using a Stage 2 or Stage 3 expansion bringing maxes to 70 and 90 lbs respectively.
Plate Loadable Adjustment:
A third style of adjustable dumbbell is the loose weight loadable kind. These can be a simple bar with plates and a collar or a more elite style like IronMaster. The Ironmaster adjustable dumbbells are nearly indestructible and have a massive range of adjustability (45- 165 lbs depending on the kit). The main drawbacks to IronMaster are limited availability, speed of weight adjustment, and organization.
Choosing an Adjustable Dumbbell:
Each brand of adjustable dumbbell comes with its own pros and cons. They are each designed for a specific niche or type of use. Traits that you should consider before making a decision include:
- Desired Weight Range
- Coatings (Urethane or rubber reduce noise and rust)
- Selection (stronger selection methods reduce wear)
- Stabilization (tighter weights reduce rattling and mechanical wear)
Quick Reference for PowerBlock Pro Review
|Brand||Range/ Incre-ments (lbs)||Selection Method||Weight Material||Warranty||Storage|
|Power Block||5-24; 5-50 expandable to 90/2.5||Selector Pin||Steel (Powder or Urethane Coatings)||5 year (original owner)||Available Stand|
|Iron Master||5-45; 5-75 expandable to 165/2.5||Threaded Cap||Steel||Lifetime||Available Stand|
|Nordic-Track||10-55/ 2.5 or 5|
(10, 12.5, 15, 20...etc)
|Merax||11-71.5/5.5||Single Dial||Steel||2 Year||Trays and Available stand|
|Bow-flex||5-52/2.5 or 10-90/5||Dial||Steel with Moulding||3 Year||Trays and Available stand|
My top choices for a garage gym that can grow with you would be the PowerBlock and IronMaster. I like the cleanliness and ease of use of the PowerBlock dumbbells. In addition, they were easier to locate when I began shopping. The Ironmaster would have been an excellent option as well but was unavailable at the time. I do believe all of the brands listed above would still be adequate choices for most home gym users. They are all better than trying to store 15 different dumbbells in an already cluttered space.
A Quick PowerBlock Pro Review (50 Exp):
I located the PowerBlock Pro 50 Exp locally after someone accidentally ordered 2 sets thinking they were buying individual dumbbells. At nearly $500 I think I would have done my research but that is on him. Regardless I got a set without waiting for inventory! That’s a win for me, for now…
These dumbbells are everything I hoped they would be and then some. The handle is comfortable and spacious. And the weights feel solid and sturdy. However, there is a slight shift of weights when inverting because the 2.5 lb cylinders shift inside the handles by 1/2 cm or so. I choose to protect my investment and never work to failure so that I can make sure they are lowered to the floor with care. I’ve heard a drop from 12″ is enough to break welds and I’m not willing to find out on my own.
On the topic of durability…
PowerBlock has offered various lengths of warranties over the years but they are currently offering 5 years from what I can tell. I say this because I was unable to qualify for a warranty. Upon initial unboxing I found that a selector pin was damaged during shipping. I called to register my warranty and learned that it was only valid for the original purchaser. I submitted a quote request for a new pin and waited a few days. Its the holidays in a pandemic so I figured they were swamped with emails and decided to call and order on the phone. The gentleman on the phone assured me that the selector pins are most commonly damaged during shipment and that they rarely break during use. For my troubles he shipped me a new one free of charge. That’s what I call customer service!
I’m still disappointed I missed out on such a great warranty but that is on me for not performing my due diligence.
These dumbbells are great for just about any movement that I perform in my Jim’s Giant workout. I do notice a weight imbalance when doing wrist curls or things without any plates on the handles. The 2.5 lb cylinders are in the bottom of the handle and create a little extra leverage for those odd ball movements. While I love my PowerBlocks, I will say that these may not be the best option for aggressive lifts like dumbbell snatches or swings. And my wife complains that they are too bulky for her to wrap around her neck? I didn’t ask… That being said I do notice they are often not in the place I left them when I work out. I’m thinking she must like them but won’t admit it. They work for me and I highly recommend them!
Thanks for reading my PowerBlock Pro Review, don’t hesitate to share!
Items in the Garage Gym Above:
Axom Rig (Axom Performance)
Axom Mens Bar
PowerBlock Pro 50 Exp (Amazon / PowerBlock.com)
Fringe Sport Bomba V2 Womens Bar (15 kg)
Easy Curl Bar (unbranded) (Amazon / Fringe Sport)
Rings (Amazon / Fringe Sport)
Medicine Ball (Amazon)
Bowflex Weight Bench (Amazon)
Wife’s Miscellaneous Dumbbells (3, 5, 8) (Amazon)
15 lb Dumbbell Pair (Amazon)
55 lb Dumbbell (Academy only had 1 during the pandemic so I got it!)
35 lb Kettlebell
70 lb Kettlebell (I can’t even move this thing anymore!)
Bumpers (4×45, 2×35, 4×25, 2×10) (Fringe Sport)
Change weights (2×2.5, 2×5)
Homemade Weight Tray
Altec Lansing ALP400 Expedition Speaker (S.A.D. Review) (Amazon)