I bought a pair of Bowflex 552s when they first appeared on the market nearly two decades ago, these things were so impressive at the time, super fast to adjust, and they saved a ton of space replacing 15 pairs of fixed-weight dumbbells. They were a no-brainer for beginners on a budget building a home gym. Ten years later, they released a new heavier set, the Bowflex 1090. This dumbbell was just as impressive as the first, but it was 40lb heavier, making it an ideal choice for more seasoned lifters.

So the question shouldn’t really be Bowflex 552 vs 1090; which is better? Because it all depends on where you are with your lifting? There are only a few minor differences between the two pairs and one major difference: weight. If you’re a beginner, go for the lighter 552s. If you’ve been lifting for a while, a heavier set of adjustables like the 1090s will be the best choice.

The Bowflex dumbbells do have some drawbacks; they’re not as appealing as they once were, and I’ll explain why later. But first, let’s take a quick look at what’s different about these two pairs of dumbbells from Bowflex.

bowflex 552 and 1090 dumbbells

Bowflex 552 vs 1090: Explained.

I’ve already mentioned that the weight of each dumbbell is the significant difference between these two sets of bells. A single 552 Bowflex dumbbell weighs 52.5lb, and a single 1090 weighs 90lb. A lighter dumbbell is better if you’re just getting into lifting or in the first six months. And the heavier 90lb dumbbell is an excellent choice for more advanced lifters and heavy legs workouts.

What Else is Different? Weight Increments

Small weight increases are one of the keys to progress no matter what exercise you are performing or what apparatus you are using, and ideally, for dumbbells, we look for weight increments of 2.5lb. 5lb is still okay but avoid too big a jump in weight as they can slow progress and cause you to cheat your form.

There are a lot of cheap adjustable dumbbells on the market that offer increments of 10lb. Avoid these like the plague. 10lb is too big a jump even for the most seasoned of lifter, and jumps this big in weight are useless for bodybuilding, especially isolation exercises that demand small weight increases.

The Bowflex 552s offer increments of 2.5lb up to 25lb and 5lb after that. The 2.5lb weight increments are my favorite feature of the 552 dumbbells. Only a few adjustables on the market offer weight increases this small. And if you want to progress properly with bodybuilding having a dumbbell that adjusts in increments of 2.5lb is a big help.

bowflex 1090 adjustable dumbbell 5lb weight increments

The Bowflex 1090s adjusts in 5lb increments. This is okay, even for beginners. It’s not ideal, but still impressive for a 90lb selectable dumbbell.

There isn’t much choice for fast-to-adjust HEAVY selectables. Nearly all are built by companies with little experience in bodybuilding and adjust in 10lb increments. The Bowflex 1090 dumbbells are one of the only heavy adjustable sets I’ve seen in the past ten years that offers smaller weight increases and are fast to adjust. The Ironmaster Quick-Lock Dumbbells offer major poundage, but they’re plate-loaded and too slow. However, there is the Powerblocks Elites, which I’ll compare at the end of this guide.

The Drawbacks and There Are a Few

When I first trained with a pair of Bowflex Dumbbells, I loved them, there wasn’t anything else like them out there, and for 3 or 4 years, they were my only set of adjustables.

Still, they had their problems, and one of those was the Fixed-length handles. Fixed length handles stay the small length no matter how much weight you’re lifting. You could be lifting 10lb or 50lb, and the length of the Bowflex handles stays the same. Fixed length handles are used on both the 552s and 1090s.

Fixed Length Handles – Long Awkard To Lift With

The problem with fixed-length handles is that they are long, making them awkward to lift with, especially when setting up for exercises and curling. I wouldn’t say long handles are deal stoppers as you can adapt to the length over time. But they never will have that natural feel when lifting as you get from a compact fixed-weight dumbbell.

The Bowflex 552 handles are slightly shorter than the 1090s as there’s less weight. Still, even the 552 handles are almost 17″ in length and 1090s over 18″. 

You Need a Compact Handle

What you need is a dumbbell handle that only increases in length when you add more weight. This design allows for a more compact dumbbell, which feels natural to lift and is similar to the feel of fixed weight dumbbells. Since the Bowflex dumbbells were released years ago, many companies have dealt with this issue, including Powerblock, which provides compact handle designs.

compact powerblock dumbbell handle

Bowflex Uses More Plastic Than Most

It’s almost unavoidable if you want a fast selectable dumbbell that you’ll have to deal with some plastic in the design. There are a few all-metal sets. The Snode AD50s are a fav of mine, but they start at $600, so you’re they really make you pay for the privilege.

Although well-made, the Bowflex dumbbells use a ton of plastic, I’ve reviewed over 30 sets of adjustable dumbbells, and the Bowflex pairs are in the top 3 for the amount of plastic in the design.

No Drops From Height

The 552s and 1090s have plastic in their adjustment system, handles, and plastic casings for the weight plates. It’s the plastic casings for weight plates that breaks first with the Bowflex dumbbells. And when they crack, the dumbbells become unusable, and as drops aren’t covered in the warranty, you’ll be the one who ends up with a hefty repair bill.

So there’s no training to failure with either Bowflex dumbbells and dropping them on that last killer because they’ll break.

The adjustment systems have got slightly tougher over the years. They used to be all plastic, but later releases have started to include more metal parts which is a good sign Bowflex are listening to their customers.

The Good – Speedy Weight Changes

If you want to perform advanced bodybuilding techniques, you’ll need an adjustable dumbbell with an easy to use fast adjustment system. And this is where the Bowflex 552s and 1090s shine. Both pairs of dumbbells use weight selection dials. Bowflex was the first company to introduce this speedy adjustment system, and it’s just as impressive now as it was when I first used it all those years ago.

This adjustment system is better than most I’ve used because it is simple. There’s no pin to pull and slide, and there’s no spinlock to unscrew or weight plates to load manually. All you need to do is turn a dial, and if you want to adjust in the smaller weight increments, you’ll need to adjust both dials.

Adjustment times are around 2 seconds. This is easily fast enough to perform any advanced or basic bodybuilding technique. Even drop sets requiring the fastest weight changes can be performed with the Bowflex pairs.

A big thumbs up to Bowflex, as it remains one of the fastest adjustment systems out there.

Space Saving Design

One of the main selling points of all adjustable/selectable dumbbells is how much space they save. Most home gyms are tight on space. I know mine is, and an adjustable dumbbell is one of the best space savers. The Bowflex 552 dumbbells replace 15 sets of fixed-weight dumbbells or 30 single dumbbells. That’s a heck of a lot of space to save.

The 1090s replace, even more, replacing 17 pairs of fixed weight dumbbells or 34 singles.

And it’s not just space they save. They also save you a load of cash. If you had to buy a rack set of 15 pairs of fixed-weight dumbells, you’d be paying at least $800, which is twice as much as a pair of Bowflex 552s.

To Sum Up

There really isn’t much difference between the two pairs of Bowflex dumbbells apart from how much each dumbbell weighs, and of course, the 1090s will cost more because of that extra weight.

The quality of both dumbells is the same. Which Im happy to say is high. I owned a pair of Bowflex 552s for a few years, and I thought the quality was impressive; nothing went wrong with them, and I was careful not to drop them.

I still feel the Bowflex 552 dumbbells are a good choice for beginners because of the 2.5lb weight increments, and they are so easy to adjust. The Bowflex 552s continue to hold their own against the new adjustables we see on the market right now. Yes, the handles are long, and there’s a lot of plastic, but they’re well made and fast. And much higher in quality than most in their price range.

The Bowflex 1090 includes everything good and bad about the 552s but boasts more weight. Still, I feel the 1090s are overpriced. There are better heavy adjustable dumbbells out there that cost less. I’m happy to recommend the 552s for beginners and intermediates, but the 1090s are less appealing at their current price.



pair of powerblock elite dumbbells next to fixed weight 50lb dumbbell

Powerblock Elite 50 Adjustable Dumbbells

Powerblock are another company who have been making adjustable dumbbells for years. These guys are Bowflex’s main rivals, and their adjustable dumbbells are the best I’ve ever used.

The best feature of the Powerblock dumbells is the weight stacking system. The weight stacking system gives you a handle that only increases in length when more weight is added. This allows for a compact dumbbell. The Powerblock dumbbells feel natural to lift with. There are no long awkward handles here. The Powerblocks are one of the most compact adjustable dumbbells you’ll find. (empty handle just 11″)

The Powerblocks adjust in increments of 2.5lb, which is great news for all lifters. However, they are slightly slower to adjust than the Bowflex as you have to add 2.5lb metal cylinders to the dumbbell handle for the small weight increments. To adjust the larger weight increments, a magnetic selector pin is used. This takes just a second.

Each Powerblock Elite dumbbell weighs 50lb, but PowerBlock offers weight expansion packs. You can purchase 70lb or 90lb expansion packs. This is a good idea because it saves you from buying a completely new heavier set of dumbbells once you outgrow the 50lb max of the original dumbbells. Something you can not do with the Bowflex pair. Saves a ton of cash in the Long run.

I’ve owned a pair of Elites for the past seven years, and something I love about this set is that they’re tough. The only plastic you’ll find on the Powerblocks is in the handle. There’s no delicate adjustment systems to worry about and none of those horrible plastic weight plate casings to crack.

However, I don’t recommend regularly dropping a Powerlbock dumbbell from height, but they’ll survive a few drops.

The Powerblock Elite 50lb are an excellent choice for most lifters. There isn’t much I can fault about the Powerblock bells. I think they have been the best pair of adjustable dumbbells for a while now, and they are Bowflex killers.