Best bang for your buck: Adjustable DBs or Barbell and plates

With winter approaching and now being a great time for deals, I want to add weights to the pain cave. What do you guys think would be the bigger bang for your buck: a set of adjustable DBs like Powerblock or a basic barbell and plate set? I’m not trying to get jacked, just complete some compound lifts to supplement my cycling, so deadlifts, squats, overhead press. The DBs would probably be way cheaper, but limited by the overall weight.

Depending on how much weight progression are you expecting to make, an alternative could be a few pairs of kettlebells and dumbbells.

I’m in maintenance mode for strength, and have one 40 lb dumbbell and one 40 lb kettlebell. I can do all the exercises I need/want with these.

Not super heavy, but I do a lot of single leg stuff for legs, so the 80 lb total is fine.

Back in my rugby playing days, I needed to lift heavier, so I was in the gym using bar and plates. No substitute for that equipment if you need/want to lift heavy.

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Similar situation. I was a power lifter for some years so maybe it’s a little of that why I think I need a barbell. With that said, I don’t need or want to lift the weights I used to lift then. But I do race CX and crits so a little extra mass isn’t the worse thing. I really just want to build a strong body again for overall health but also for some crash protection so to speak.

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Very happy with my powerblocks. My ‘paincave’ is a corner of the living room and wouldn’t want something that takes up any more space than they do. Quick changes make it easy to get through a workout fast. And you can pretty much use them as kettlebells for a bigger range of movements/exercises. That said, my experience with a bar was looooong ago, so it’s hard to compare.

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Don’t get a barbell unless you’re also going to buy a squat rack with safety arms or a power cage as well.

Bang per buck, DBs win hands-down, but if you enjoy those … eventually you’ll probably want to get under a bar or deadlift heavy.

Kettlebells and dumbbells are great for fitness. I think a couple kettlebells offer the biggest bang for buck.

I’ve used the Powerblocks for years and enjoy their versatility and space savings.

For maintenance lifting I can do everything I need with adjustable dumbbells and a pull up bar. My wife got me the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Dumbbells for Christmas many years ago and I still use them regularly. They are pricey, though.

For a pull up bar I built one using joist hangars and a 3/4" pipe. This, on the other hand, is dirt cheap.

I also have some push up bars to save my wrists, and these aren’t too expensive but not necessary. I picked up a bunch of elastic bands over the years but don’t use them too much.

For cycling-specific lifting in the off season I do use a barbell and plates for squats, and leg machines for extensions, curls, and press and calf raises, but the gym at work has these.

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Would you not need a power rack or squat rack for a bar? That’s why I always went dumbbells/ kettlebells anyway - it’s a compromise on the lifts, but a lot safer.

For some lifts. You could still deadlift, row, clean, and front squat without a rack. Couldn’t back squat which would be a limiter.

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I wouldn’t do a chest press without rack or spotter either.


I’ve got a pullup bar, a few KB’s (25lb/35lb/45lb/55lb/80lb) a set of rings for dips and that pretty much gives me a full body workout in the garage.

Agreed. Definitely a good policy to keep one’s head attached to the rest of one’s body.

I have the Bowflex dumbbells and am a fan as well. If you stay vigilant they can usually be had a couple times per year at 30-50% off. Still feel that a great leg workout is possible with split squats, higher rep DB deadlifts and Nordic curls (just need something to hook your heels under for that).

I think you also need to consider where you live, how much space you have, if you plan to move in the near future, and your budget.

A squat rack, barbell and plates is still a really good investment and will last a lifetime, but might be a huge pain to move. But if you are staying in the same place and have the space, investing in these would likely be good bang for the buck and something that you could make really great use of.

I’m lucky in that I have the space in my basement to have put a small gym together over the years. I use squat rack and barbell/trapbar for my primary lifts including squats, DL, and OHP, and then use kettlebells and dumbbells to do secondary lifts and swings. I also have an old Bowflex machine that still works great for things like pull-downs.

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only alternative to that would be the floor press which works the muscles in a different way

I know this may be controversial but the REAL bang for your buck are bands (prefer the loop style to the ones with a handle). Having said that, I’ve had my Powerblocks for 20+ years so they were a great purchase.

Found a set of the expandable ones for $290, and picked up the 70 pound expansion for $130.