For years Bowflex ruled the selectable dumbbell market with their 552 adjustable dumbbells. They were the first set of adjustable dumbbells to use a selectable adjustment system, and they were the fastest adjustable dumbbells out there.

What also helped sell thousands of the 552 Bowflex bells was how much space they saved; replacing 15 sets of fixed weight dumbbells was a game-changer for many lifters who were training at home and tight on space. And for around $400, they were cheaper than a decent rack of fixed weight dumbbells.

bowflexx 552 dumbbell pair sitting on bowflex stand

NordicTrack vs Bowflex Dumbbells, Everything You Need To Know.

The Bowflex Dumbbells were and still are one of the best sets of adjustable dumbbells available and offer a lot for the price tag. Still, since their release nearly two decades ago, a ton of other adjustable sets have flooded the marketplace looking to rival the popular Bowflex pair. One of my favorites has to be NordicTrack Select-a-Weight 55lb pair.

The NordicTrack 55lb Select-a-Weight Dumbbells I’m comparing with the Bowflex 552 today isn’t the blue version you may have seen advertised? That’s the old set. Today, we will compare the Bowflex with the new and improved orange Nordictrack select-a-weight 55lb pair. They’re more compact and have less plastic than the previous version.

Four Key features I’ll cover:

  1. Weight increments
  2. Handle length
  3. Build quality
  4. Adjustment systems

Smaller Weight Increases Are Best For Progress

The most important feature of an adjustable dumbbell set are the weight increments. Because too big a jump in weight will cause you to cheat your form, and at worse, it will slow your progress. Small weight increases are one of the keys to progress in bodybuilding, no matter what exercise you are performing or what equipment you are using. And ideally, for dumbbells, we want 2.5lb weight increments or 5lb at most.

The Bowflex 552 dumbbells adjust in 2.5lb weight increments up to 25lb and then 5lb up to 52.5lb, which is impressive. It’s rare to find a 50lb adjustable dumbbell that includes 2.5lb weight increments, most adjust in 5lb, and the cheap 50lb sets adjust in 10lb increments which is almost useless for any level of lifter, including seasoned ones.

The NordicTrack Dumbbells adjust in a mix of 2.5lb and 5lb increments – 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 22.5, 25, 30, 32.5, 35, 40, 42.5, 45, 50, 52.5, and 55 Lb.

Which setup suits you best will depend on your training schedule? Still, the Bowflex 552’s are more beginner-friendly because of the smaller weight increases up to 25lb; this will allow the beginner faster progress, especially for isolation exercises.

man adjusting bowflex 552 adjustment system

Fixed-Length Handles are a Pain To Lift With

You’ll find the majority of adjustable dumbbells use a fixed-length handle. A fixed-length handle is a handle that stays the same length no matter how much weight you’re lifting. You could lift 5lb or 50lb, and the length of the handle remains the same.

Long handles are awkward to train with, especially when setting up for curls and presses. The Bowflex 552s use a fixed-length handle. It’s 17″ long, so even if you’re curing 20lb, you still have to deal with a 17″ handle. However, fixed-length handles are not always a deal killer; it’s something you’ll adapt to after a couple of weeks, but they’ll never feel natural like fixed weight dumbbells.

The NordicTrack dumbbells use a handle that only gets longer when you add more weight. This makes for a much more compact dumbbell. The Nordictrack Dumbbell will feel more natural to lift with and similar to lifting with a fixed weight dumbbell. This type of handle is exactly what you should look for when choosing an adjustable dumbbell.

man holding handle of nordictrack 55lb select a weight dumbbell

Build Quality

Bowflex are known for building high-quality gym gear. I’ve reviewed many of their products, and most of the time, I’ve been impressed. And their dumbbells are no exception. They’re a solid pair of dumbbells, there’s no plate movement when lifting, and the adjustment system is smooth without any problems switching between weights.

Bowflex – too much plastic

Still, the problem with the Bowflex 552s and many selectable dumbbell sets is the amount of plastic used in the design. There’s plastic casings surrounding the weight plates, plastic in the handle, and plastic in the adjustment system.

All of this plastic means there’s no training to failure and dropping the Bowflex dumbells on that last killer rep because they won’t survive a drop from height. Usually, the plastic casing breaks first on the Bowflex set, and when that cracks, it makes them unusable. So no drops with this set of dumbbells.

NordicTrack has less plastic, but not a huge improvement over the previous version.

The Nordictrack Select-a-Weight dumbbells have gone through a few improvements, including replacing plastic parts with metal. The handle is now metal, so too are the 10lb weight plates, this makes for a slightly more durable dumbbell, but there’s still plastic in the adjustment system and plastic casing surrounding some of the plates.

Like the Bowflex 552s, it’s best to avoid dropping the NordicTrack dumbbells from height. The Bowflex and  Nordictrack dumbbells will survive drops of 6″ or so, but I wouldn’t risk any higher. And sadly, drops aren’t covered in the warranty of either dumbbell, so you’ll end up with a hefty repair bill if you’re not careful.

slide selector adjustment system of nordictrack dumbbells

Adjustment Systems: Which is Fastest?

The adjustment systems on both the Bowflex dumbbells and Nordictrack dumbbells can easily be adjusted within 5 seconds. So both can be used for advanced techniques like drop sets etc., that require speedy weight changes. No advanced or basic bodybuilding technique requires a weight change faster than 5 seconds.

The Bowflex dumbbells use a weight selection dial on either end of the dumbbell. You simply turn the dial to the desired amount of weight you wish to lift. Easy to do and fast.

The NordicTrack dumbbells use selectors that you slide across to choose the desired weight you want to lift. Selectors are also fast but not as smooth as a dial adjustment system.

I’m not a huge fan of the pull-slide selectors as they can snap if you’re too heavy-handed, this is rare, but it’s an adjustment system you need to take more care with.

For speed, the Bowflex dials are slightly faster because they are that bit easier to adjust. Still, there’s not much in it.

No Weight Expansion packs

55lb is the max per dumbbell for the Nordictrack dumbbells, and 52.5lb per dumbbell is the maximum for Bowflex dumbbells. There are no weight expansion packs available for either of these dumbbells sets. Once you reach the max per dumbbell, you’ll have to buy a new heavier set to continue your progress.

Most people shouldn’t outgrow a 50lb dumbbell anytime soon. Still, we need to remember gains in strength and muscle mass come quick when you first start lifting, and, realistically, some of you could outgrow a 50lb dumbbell within a year.

If you’re someone whos going to take their lifting seriously, and you think you have a real chance of outgrowing a 50lb set soon? It might be better to opt for an adjustable dumbbell set that includes the option of weight expansion packs.

The Powerblock Elites are the best set of adjustable dumbbells that offers weight expansion packs. You can start with their 50lb per dumbbell set, the same price range as the Bowflex 552’s, but once you’ve hit the max of the Powerblocks, you can purchase a 70lb or 90lb expansion pack, which is much cheaper than buying a whole new set of heavier dumbbells.

Anything Else Worth Mentioning?

Something else I liked about the Norictrack dumbbells was the flat ends of the handles. They’re more comfortable when setting up for presses than the Bowflex handles whose dials dig into your thighs. It’s not a hugely important feature, but little things like this make a difference when lifting.

Also, always remember to adjust the Nordictrack and the Bowflex dumbbells when sitting fully in their storage trays.

To Sum Up

It’s a close call as to which dumbbell is best out of these two popular adjustables. The Bowflex 552s feel solid and boast an excellent adjustment system, but I’d have to say the Nordictracks Select-a-Weight dumbbell set just takes the winning spot because they use a compact handle. The NordicTrack Dumbells boast a handle that only increases in length when more weight is added. It gives the Nordictrack dumbbells that natural feel just like a fixed weight dumbbell, which is what we want. Those long 17″ handles of the Bowflex make them awkward to lift with.

The Nordictrack Dumbbells also use less plastic, this is always a good thing! And they have the flat ends to the handles, a useful feature when setting up for presses. They might take a little longer to adjust than the Bowflex, but it’s still under 5 seconds, so it’s fast enough.