A while back I decided that it was time to get myself a new pair of adjustable dumbbells to take my workouts to the next level.
Initially, I was using a pair of cheap adjustable cast iron dumbbells which lacked quality and therefore hindered my workout gains.
The grip was uncomfortable, the weights kept coming loose and they took too long to change the weights between sets.
The time had come to invest in an adjustable dumbbell set that was known for its quality and would also solve some of the issues I had experienced with my first pair of adjustable dumbbells.
I was also prepared to put down a fair chunk of change to secure a good pair of dumbbells.
In the end, I decided to settle on a pair of PowerBlock Adjustable Dumbbells.
In this post, I’ll note my own personal experience with the PowerBlocks having used them for the past two years including a review of the features, a look at the different models available, benefits, disadvantages, and most important of all, whether the PowerBlocks are worth the price.
Introducing the PowerBlock Dumbbells
The PowerBlock is considered by many to be the “world’s best dumbbell.”
Featuring an innovative design, built-in wrist guards, and a wide weight range, this unique set of dumbbells is ideal for fitness enthusiasts of all levels – from those just starting out with lifting to professional athletes and powerlifters.
What sets the PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells apart from conventional adjustable dumbbells is their innovative nested design, which allows you to effectively replace an entire roomful of fixed-weight dumbbells with two compact blocks that can be easily stowed in a corner when not in use.
While the PowerBlock’s cage-like design appears intimidating at first, you’ll soon find that you can do everything with these dumbbells that you would with a conventional set of free weights.
In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at how the features of the PowerBlock system and how it differs from other types of adjustable dumbbells.
How Do the PowerBlocks Work?
So, what exactly is the PowerBlock system, and how does it work?
Simply put, PowerBlocks are a type of selectorized dumbbell system that works similarly to the weight stacks you’ll find on a standard weight machine at the gym.
To select your desired weight, you simply move a selector pin to a colour-coded block representing the weight you want.
You then reach into the “core” of the unit to grasp the handle and lift the dumbbell, along with all the weight plates above the selector pin.
When you’re finished, you simply place the block back on top of the unused weights.
PowerBlock Dumbbells Review: My Personal Experience
Before getting started with the review it’s important to point out that the PowerBlock Dumbbells come in three different models.
This review is of the Elite Series with a Urethane coating, otherwise known as the U90’s.
Update*: It has been pointed out that the Urethane special coating series has been discontinued and is now a feature of the PRO series.
However, this review is still valid as the system and mechanics of all PowerBlock Dumbbells are relatively the same.
My first impression when using the weights for the first time is that they felt solid, extremely compact and snug.
In my two years of using my PowerBlocks, I have never had anything break nor have I had to fix anything or tighten any loose nuts or bolts (although it would be good practice to do so anyway).
My PowerBlocks look and feel exactly the same as when I first purchased them.
I also have confidence in the mechanisms and materials of the PowerBlocks.
Despite the selector pin on my U90s being bendy plastic, I don’t see them breaking any time soon unless I go out of my way to purposely break them.
The PowerBlocks are extremely durable and I have no hesitation that they will last me a lifetime.
I’ve used my PowerBlocks constantly for over two years and not once have I ever felt that my own safety was at risk when using them.
If you’re using only the main core to lift weights, the adder weights will not slide out as the lock keeps them firmly in place.
The only action on your part is to remember to slide the lock.
Regarding the selector pin, I have never had any issues with it sliding out when using them.
When you’re selecting the weights you want, you’ll find the selector pin will ‘click,’ which is a signal that it has a correct fit.
In other words, if you haven’t put the selector pin in properly you’ll know right away as you will not be able to push in the pin properly.
The one issue that could be a safety issue on the PowerBlocks is the way the corners of the weights are designed.
I can’t tell you how many times these hooks have caught on my short pockets when I’m doing a dumbbell row or curl.
I’ve either lost my rhythm or nearly dropped them when they get snagged on my shorts.
For me, this is more of an annoyance than a safety issue but really it falls into both categories.
When I use my PowerBlocks I always make sure to wear shorts without pockets.
The weight distribution feels well balanced across the PowerBlocks when performing reps with them.
In addition, the grip had a nice padded feel which is comfortable to hold and also grippy enough that there is a minimal risk they will ever slip out of my hand.
Usability & Shape
The one thing that is immediately noticeable about the PowerBlocks is their unconventional ‘block’ shape compared to traditionally shaped dumbbells.
Whilst the shape should allow you to use them in the same way other dumbbells do, I did have a couple of issues with the shape.
When performing squats I found that their ‘thick’ nature would collide with my hip/legs when holding them down by my sides.
This is even more so if you like to squat with proper form with your knees pointed out.
One way to get around this potential issue is to load them on your shoulders instead.
This solution isn’t ideal however as you will not be able to squat with as much weight as you could if you had them by your sides.
In addition, anyone with shoulder issues may not be able to do this.
Another small issue is that the ‘blocky’ nature of the weights can catch on your clothes, particularly if you are performing bicep curls and you have pockets on your clothing.
The blocky nature can be cumbersome and there are many types I wish they were shaped like a standard dumbbell much like the Bowflex Selectechs.
The noise that the PowerBlocks give off is minimal.
The Urethane coated plates keep the PowerBlocks silent when performing reps and when stacking the blocks together and changing weights.
The only notable noise that the PowerBlocks emits is if you have the adder weights in the core when performing reps.
The adder weights will rattle and slide around inside the main dumbbell core even when in its locked position.
The noise, however, isn’t too distracting and you do get used to it over time.
That being said the weights are not completely silent and give off some noise.
As a reminder, the weights I used were the Urethane coated which is now unique to the PRO series PowerBlock Dumbbells.
This does make the PowerBlock Dumbbells quieter than the standard steel models.
Speed of Weight Change
The ability to increase or decrease weights quickly is essential when performing fast-paced or super-set type workouts.
You do not want to have a cumbersome mechanism that takes too long between sets.
So how do the PowerBlocks fair here?
This aspect is slightly harder to comment on because it depends on how large or small a weight increment you are changing.
The best way to demonstrate the time it takes is to set up a hypothetical example.
Let’s say you want to increase your weight from 20lbs (9kg) to 30lbs (13.5kg).
To make such a weight increase doesn’t take up much time because increasing your weight by 10lbs (4.5kg) is quick as this only involves moving the selector pin higher or lower.
For example, if I want to go from a weight of 20lbs (9kg) to 30lbs, all I have to do is take out the selector pin and move it down one level.
It gets a little complicated if I want to go from 20lbs (9kg) to 25lbs (11.5kg).
To make this shift you would have to take out the main core, then slide the lock open and remove the two adder weights, then put the core back in then move the selector pin down a notch.
Now let’s say from here I want to next increase my weight from 25 lbs (11.5kg) to 27.5 lbs (12.5kg).
To do this I would have to remove the selector pin, take out the core, put 1 adder weight (2.5 lbs) back and slide back the selector pin into the same position.
You can imagine that if you are following a home workout program on DVD all these changes could potentially slow your workout down.
This is one of the main downfalls of the PowerBlocks and where if speed is important to you, you may want to for the Bowflex SelectTechs.
If you want to adjust the weight by 2.5-pound increments, you need to manually place adder weights on the dumbbells, which can slow down your workout.
There are, however, some things to consider regarding this issue.
The first point is that the more you use the PowerBlocks the quicker you get at changing your weights. With enough time you’ll be making these changes almost automatically.
The second point is that I have found that despite the elaborate system of the PowerBlocks, it’s still a lot quicker than changing weights on the traditional spin-lock dumbbells where you have to unscrew the ends.
Changing through small increments can be cumbersome but this is one tradeoff you’ll have to put up with for a more solid and durable design.
Ease of Changing Weights
This is somewhat linked to the speed of the weight change discussed above, but this section focuses on how smooth the process of changing the weights is.
Is overly complex and too fiddly?
The example of the weight change given above sounds confusing and at first, it also was for me.
It took me a while to get used to the system and which weights I had to add or subtract, and where I had to put the selector pin to get my desired weight, however over time you do get used to the system.
Regarding the movement of the selector pin, you will find that it can take time to slide it in as you have to correctly align the four prongs of the selector pin in the correct place before it will slide in.
In other words, the selector pin must be perfectly straight before it can slot in.
This was an issue for me at first but again you get used to sliding it in correctly with practice.
You will also learn along the way that using the PowerBlocks on a hard and flat surface is crucial to a quick and successful weight change when using the selector pin.
If you are going to use the PowerBlocks on fluffy carpet or a soft surface you are likely to run into problems of getting the weights to sit correctly when stacked which will stop you from being able to slide in the selector pin smoothly.
I use my PowerBlocks on thin carpet and I just about get away with it, but if you are going to use it on a soft surface I highly recommend getting a stand with your PowerBlocks or having a hard surface to place them on during your workouts.
PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells do not come with storage stands or cradles. These items must be purchased separately.
That said, most users find that the PowerBlock’s design works as a sort of self-contained storage system.
Are The PowerBlocks Worth Their Weight?
All in all, I do recommend the PowerBlocks and think they are well worth buying if you are willing to pay a bit more for a quality pair of adjustable dumbbells.
The standout features of the PowerBlock Dumbbells for me is their quality and durability.
PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells are incredibly durable, offering years of use without needing maintenance or repair.
I’ve had mine for a good few years now and have noticed no drop in their quality whatsoever.
No cracks, chips or loosening up of the screws.
In light of this, this is why I have always felt very safe when using the PowerBlock Dumbbells.
I never feel as if they may fail on me during a move. The only safety issue is the one I discussed before regarding the way the corners kept getting snagged on my clothing (I understand that this issue may have been addressed on the newer models).
For me, the biggest disadvantage is how cumbersome it can feel to change up the weights in smaller increments.
In fact, there are many times during a weight lifting routine where I know I should go up in a small increment but I don’t end up doing it because I cannot be bothered to take out the handle, undo the lock, take out the adder weights, put the handle back in and then move the selector pin.
The other disadvantage is the ‘blocky nature’ of the PowerBlock Dumbbells.
Often times they simply feel too big (I will add in a disclaimer that the Urethane series that I reviewed, is supposedly thicker than the standard elite model).
The PowerBlocks will last you a lifetime and will prove to be a good investment.
Not only that but depending on which set you choose, PowerBlock dumbbells can be adjusted up to 125 pounds per hand.
This high weight limit makes the PowerBlock an ideal choice for lifters of all levels which not all other adjustable dumbbells offer.
Furthermore, the expandable models allow you to add weight as you need it instead of having to invest in an entire set of weights all at once.
As mentioned, the PowerBlock dumbbells are relatively expensive when compared to other types of adjustable dumbbells but their quality, durability and ability to expand sets them apart from the other brands of adjustable dumbbells.
Despite a few minor drawbacks, the PowerBlock system of adjustable dumbbells is an excellent choice for anyone who isn’t ready to invest in a full set of weights or doesn’t have the room to spare for a complete dumbbell set.
Whether you’re a novice lifter or a world-class athlete, there is a PowerBlock adjustable dumbbell set to suit your current fitness level and help you achieve your fitness goals.
Which PowerBlock Dumbbells Series Should You Get?
There are several models of PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells, each of which offers different features and maximum weights.
The current lineup of dumbbells consists of:
All PowerBlock models share the same nested design consisting of a handle, weight plates, a dial lock, padded wrist supports, side rails, a tether cord, and a selector pin.
The right PowerBlock set for you will depend on your fitness level and training goals.
Below, we’ll take a look at the specific features of each series.
The Elite Series
Also referred to as the Classic Series, the Elite Series is PowerBlock’s first generation of adjustable dumbbells.
They are available in three weight ranges: 5 to 50 pounds (Elite 50), 5 to 70 pounds (Elite 70), and 5 to 90 pounds (Elite 90).
The Elite Series effectively replaces 825 pounds of fixed-weight dumbbells.
The Elite 50 and Elite 70 sets can be expanded by increments of 20 pounds using PowerBlock’s expansion kits.
The Elite 50 and 90 adjustable dumbbells are compatible with PowerBlock’s Large Column Stand and Compact Weight Stand, while the Elite 90 can be paired with either the Large Column Stand or the Large Compact Weight Stand.
The Pro Series
The PRO EXP is expandable up to 70 and 90lbs, whereas the Pro 50 set cannot be expanded.
A special feature of the Pro Series is that it is coated with Urethane rather than steel, which allows for a smoother and quieter performance.
The Sport Series
The Sport Series is PowerBlock’s third generation of adjustable dumbbells. These dumbbells have a maximum weight of 24 pounds per hand, making them ideal for fast-paced workouts consisting of high-repetition sets.
The Sport Series replaces 8 dumbbell sets, or 216 pounds of free weights, and can be adjusted in increments of 3 pounds per hand.
These dumbbells are compatible with PowerBlock’s Large Column Stand, Compact Weight Stand, and Large Compact Weight Stand.
As with the Personal Trainer Series, the Sport Series of PowerBlock adjustable Dumbbells cannot be expanded.
Personal Trainer Set
PowerBlock’s Personal Trainer Series of adjustable dumbbells can be adjusted from 5 to 50 pounds per dumbbell.
The weight can be adjusted by increments of 2.5 pounds using PowerBlock’s specially designed adder weights. Unlike the Elite Series and the Pro EXP Series, the Personal Trainer Series is not expandable.
The Personal Trainer Series of adjustable Dumbbells can be used with PowerBlock’s Large column Stand and Compact Weight Stand.