As great as home gyms are, all the gear can quickly eat square footage. Traditional dumbbell sets take up considerable space against the wall, which is the most valuable real estate of all in a home or apartment.

In contrast, Bowflex SelectTech 552s can neatly be tucked away in the corner or closet. Each dumbbell is 15.75" by 8" so even those living in a cozy apartment can consider these.

The 552s employs a dial system that moves in increments of 2.5 lbs. Depending on the exercise and your fitness level, each dumbbell can be anywhere from 5 to 52.5 pounds.

This ability to increase or decrease weight in small increments is one of the biggest advantages the Bowflex has over a traditional set. Sometimes moving up 5 pounds can be overwhelming and this makes harder for you to transition into lifting heavier weights. Bowflex has found the sweet spot with 2.5 lbs increments.

It’s wonderfully engineered and unlike any other adjustable set available. The spindles are made of hard plastic that on rare occasion can break. Fortunately Bowflex has been good about sending out replacements in just 5 days when this happens.

The included DVD is surprisingly good because the exercises show you how to get the most out of SelectTech equipment specifically (and use it safely). You’ll learn how to perform over 30 exercises with over 80 variations.

When lifting, the weights feel tightly constructed. The plates firmly lock onto the handle so there is no rattling or movement of the plates. The feel is very similar to the old school dumbbells we’re all accustomed to.

The 15.75” length is fairly long which tends to make the dumbbells great for most exercises but slightly awkward for a few such as Congdon Curls and Flip Grip Twist Kickback.

The Verdict

Although I was skeptical at first due to the bright red plastic components, the Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbells have proven to be a workhorse set that can handle the abuse of daily workouts.

Even if you have loads of space, the 2.5 lbs increments have turned me into a believer and at this point I’d find it hard to go back to my basic set made up of 5s, 10s, 15s, and 25s.

When Wii came out in 2006 gamers were given the impression most games would involve considerable activity.

In time it became clear waggle-ware, requiring subtle wrist and arm movements, vastly outnumbered the more strenuous variety.

Although a slew of fitness games came out for the Wii during its peak and later for the Xbox 360 Kinect, most fell short of expectations. Although software that tracks your movements sounded good on paper, implementation often left something to be desired.

What this new approach did right is it gave working out entertainment value and interactivity. With so many forms of amusing distractions out there that lock you onto the couch, owning games that make you sweat provides a counterbalance.

Naturally those looking for an enhanced workout gravitate towards titles like EA Sport Active, Wii Fit Plus, Your Shape Fitness Evolved, and Zumba Fitness.

In the process dance titles that offer a solid cardio workout like the Just Dance and DDR are often overlooked. Although their primary focus is merely fun, sometimes that’s the best motivator there is.

Just Dance was first released for the Wii in 2009. Due to its astronomical popularity publisher UBI Soft has consistently been pumping out sequels and spinoffs. Each major release boasts 40 plus new tracks so it makes sense that it has continued to fly off the shelves.

Like with any Wii game you can cheat the system and play as lazily as possible while still achieving high scores. So you’ll need to be self-motivated to get a good workout from Just Dance. I imagine this isn’t the case with the Kinect version, since it tracks the position of your entire body, although I haven’t tested it myself.

Starting with Just Dance 2, “just sweat” mode was added. It allows players to measure the energy they expend as well as set fitness objectives to be met during their dance sessions.

While Just Dance doesn’t offer sophisticated fitness components you'd expect from an exergame, the fun factor, choreography, stunning visuals and great music more than make up for it.

There are reports online of people losing substantial weight purely with Just Dance so clearly features like weight tracking, calendar features, etc. aren’t as significant as motivators as we’ve been lead to believe. It’s way more important that the software is fun, intuitive and free of technical frustrations.

Just Dance 4 - Nintendo Wii Just Dance 4 - Nintendo Wii
List Price: $19.99
Sale Price: $8.00

The downside is you’ll eventually tire of the tracks requiring you to pick up new versions so it stays fresh. With a game like EA Sports Active for example the music is generic, however you can turn it off and play your own MP3s with another device. Granted this is an apples to oranges comparison but it’s an integral factor to consider when assessing replay value of the Just Dance series.

Another advantage Just Dance offers over fitness games is its fun to play with a group. While exercise carries connotation of work and strain with it, dancing does not. Your friends might even be the ones who will con you into getting off your rump and popping it in.

Overall you’d be crazy not to try it even if you’re not big on bubblegum pop. Think of it as a guilty pleasure or claim it’s “for the kids” if need be.

People are attracted to the image of workout systems like P90X and Insanity. It’s hardcore! It causes even the toned, anatomically perfect people on screen to break a serious sweat. Additionally, who doesn’t want fast results?

The reality is often what we perceive we need and what we actually need are two very different things.

Claims that anyone can do P90X and that one simply needs to tough it out are more likely to cause someone to quit than empower them. Naturally, any workout should challenge you but if you feel like you’re at the foot of Mt. Everest when you pop in the P90X DVD something is wrong.

If you’re out of shape, overweight, no longer a young pup, or a combination of all three, you need to start small.

Go on brisk walks more regularly, or dust off the mountain bike. Do simple exercises each day like squats, pushups, jumping jacks, and workout your upper body with resistance bands.

Once you start to feel the increased vitality regular exercise provides and confidence in your fitness level has improved, it’s time to move on to a beginner’s workout system.

Jillian Michaels’ workout videos like 30 Day Shred, Ripped in 30, and 6 Week Six-Pack are an inexpensive, noncommittal way to get started. If you prefer to learn from a man, Bob Harper and Billy Blanks are also a popular choice.

Beachbody offers alternatives that are overshadowed by the success of P90X. The first is POWER 90: a less demanding 90-day regimen. The second is 10 Minute Trainer: a system for the busiest people or those not willing to do a 30-minute session every day.

For more detail, read my previous post about alternatives to P90X.

Once you’ve graduated from the options mentioned above or something similar, this is the right time to pick up P90X.

The problem with fitness advice is we often go to people who are much more advanced than ourselves for guidance who are more likely doers than teachers. Unless you’re speaking to a professional trainer it’s sometimes hard for people in good shape to step into the shoes of someone who isn’t. This is why I think it’s so common for people to recommend advanced systems like P90X and Insanity even when it’s not appropriate.

Keep in mind that we all need to start at the bottom floor. There’s no magic bullet or shortcut to a body you’re proud to show off at the beach.

Don’t be ashamed of starting small and with feasible goals. Let your mantra be any activity is better than no activity. It may take you farther than you ever imagined.

On a whim I bought the USS Enterprise of electric toothbrushes. My teeth are important, I reasoned, therefore I need a state-of-the-art tool.

How wrong I was. Once the post-purchase haze settled I went back to the modest but effective manual brush. Using it felt more comfortable.

It reminded me of a lesson I sometimes forget.

Sometimes the simplest, least expensive equipment fits your individual needs the best.

The same is especially true with fitness.

Part of the appeal of P90X is that it eliminates the need for a workout mega-station or a gym membership. All you need to get started is a chin-up bar, resistance bands or dumbbells, and an exercise mat.

People opt for resistance bands for three main reasons. First, because they’re flexible, accommodating a huge variety of exercises. Second, because they’re lightweight and highly portable. Thirdly, they’re wieldier than free weights to some, making the workout experience more natural.

While the varieties of resistance bands look mostly the same, quality, features and extras vary greatly. Excited to start with the program, people often pick up low quality bands on impulse, giving them a bad impression of fitness tubes as a workout solution.

To make the search easier I’ve ranked the five sets I like the best, also putting into account feedback from my workout companions.

Most brands offer a starter set, a comprehensive set and options for people with more specific goals. I’ll be focusing on the best-selling configurations.

Selections are based on overall build quality, value, usefulness of features, and of course how convenient they are to use with P90X.

1. Black Mountain Products Set

Making the top of the list is the popular set from Black Mountain Products. It includes 5 bands with surgical-grade tubing, attachable handles, door anchor, ankle strap and bag.

The clip system allows you to attach multiple bands at once, making it great for rigorous workouts requiring heavy resistance.

The padded handles are top-notch. However you only get one pair. It’s impractical to switch between tubes while keeping up with Tony Horton and his crew. Getting an extra set of handles is a necessity.

2. Bodylastics 12 pcs Set

Bodylastics system is stackable, utilizing a quick clip system to get anywhere from 3 to 96 lbs. of tension. Altogether you get 5 color-coded bands, foam covered handles, 2 ankle straps, heavy-duty door anchor, and bag.

They claim their continuous dipped latex tubes are 99% snap resistant and failsafe. This isn’t just marketing hype because there is a woven cord in the interior of the bands. While it is tough to confirm improved performance anecdotally, Bodylastics bands are well rated by users with few complaints about snapping – a persistent problem with cheap tubes.

Again, you’ll need an extra pair of handles for quickly swapping bands without meddling with the clip system. Every second counts. You don’t want to become a slave to the pressing the pause button, as this will kill your momentum.

3. SPRI Advanced Traveling Trainer

This set includes 3 SPRI Xertubes (light, medium, and heavy), door attachment, and travel bag. You’ll need to purchase ankle straps separately to make lower body exercises easier.

SPRI Advanced Traveling Trainer SPRI Advanced Traveling Trainer
Sale Price: $39.99

The SPRI set stands out because the handles are pre-attached. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it makes changing resistance levels quick; you don’t need to mess with clips. On the other, you can’t combine multiple tubes for more tension.

Quality is comparable to top options although the price is a little steep at $39.99 considering you only get 3 bands rather than 5 like with Black Mountain or Bodylastics.

4. Ripcords Black Sniper Edition Set

Those that want a variety of options in resistance but prefer to have the handle permanently attached will prefer this set from Ripcords. The black sniper edition includes a strong tube that offers resistance levels up to 62 lbs. On top of that you get 5 bands and a door hook, making it a good value at only $54.99.

The most notable difference with Ripcords is the “ergonomic” handle design. Rather than a PVC tube or foam, the handle is molded plastic that slightly tapers towards the ends. To some it’s a little less comfortable but the advantage is your bands don’t smell like a locker room after an intense P90X session.

Ripcords offers a lifetime warrantee incase a band snaps. The catch is you’ll need to pay for shipping. It’s not a perfect solution but still cheaper than buying a replacement.

5. Aylio Basic Set

Ranking fifth the Aylio set is decent but offers less for your money.

Essentially, it excludes the lightest band common in 5 tube sets. You get a low, medium, high, and ultra-high-strength resistance band, door attachment, ankle straps and an attractive pouch.

Although the tube quality is good, users have noted the clips can sometimes snap off the band.

Extra handles are available for $12.99: essential for those following P90X.

Unless you have a big rack of dumbbells of differing weight right in front of you, it can be difficult manage your dumbbells while following real-time video in P90X. It’s especially challenging if you have limited space as various dumbbells can easily clutter up your workout space.

The best solution for most home gym aficionados is an adjustable dumbbell set. A good set replaces a huge rack of metal dumbbells, while taking up far less space. This makes it a no-brainer for apartment or condo dwellers. The other advantage is speed. Simply plop the dumbbells on the base, make your adjustments, and pull the set back up again.

There are two great options out there: the Bowflex SelectTech 552 set and the PowerBlock Classic set. Both are exceptional choices for P90X. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each so you can make the best choice according to your individual needs.

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells Review

The Bowflex dumbbell set has a space-age design that is impressively intuitive. At the far end of each dumbbell is a large dial that allows you to increase or decrease the weight as you see fit.

The weight settings go up in increments of 2.5 pounds. This gives you a great deal of flexibility, making the shift to heavier weights more manageable. Each dumbbell can be adjusted anywhere from 5 to 52.5 pounds each (2.27 to 23.8 kg).

The fact you can go up and down in such small increments comes in very handy for P90X. With a traditional small set including a pair of 10s, 15s, and 25s it can be tough to reach the sweet spot while doing a given exercise. Due to the 10 pound difference between the 15s and 25s, most people end up feeling they’ve chosen a dumbbell that is either too heavy or too light.

The dumbbells measure 16” long which might make some P90X exercises awkward. Width on the other hand is perfectly manageable.

Although the design is appealing, come compromises were made to make the set so easy to adjust. The looseness between the plates is the biggest disadvantage to the 552s. The dial plus tiered system makes it possible for the metal portions to tap against each other. This might create a slight rattling sound when you are doing curls.

PowerBlock Classic Adjustable Dumbbell Set Review

This set from PowerBlock couldn’t look more different than the Bowflex SelectTech line. As the name implies each dumbbell resembles a rectangular block. The unique engineering plus color-coded buttons and components give it a future-retro vibe.

Each dumbbell can be adjusted between 5 and 45 pounds in 5-pound increments. In this area, the PowerBlock Classic set is trumped by the more flexible SelectTech 552 model. This limitation is exposed when certain P90X exercises either feel a bit too easy or too difficult. In a way less options are a good thing when you are making a split second decisions about which weight you should choose. With 5-pound increments the selections seem more obvious. Those that value simplicity may prefer this approach over the more exacting Bowflex scheme.

The most impressive characteristic of the PowerBlock Classic set is the solid feel the dumbbells have. This is partially due to the superior construction quality and partially due to the fact that all the pieces are rigidly held in place thanks to the design. You never feel like any plates are too loose as you do with the Bowflex.

Some care must be taken when you are aligning the pins to select the weight you want. It ceases to be a problem when you put it up on a table top or stand. If you are a somewhat clumsy or careless person you may want to get the Bowflex which is very forgiving in this regard.

The Verdict

If you are the type of person that values ease of use and flexibility the Bowflex is for you. It allows you to increase weight in 2.5 pound increments which is very useful when doing P90X. The drawback to this set is the looseness of the plates.

If you like designs that put ruggedness first, get the PowerBlock Classic set. It may look a bit strange to some but the engineering and quality components give it a solid feel. The drawback in this case is decreased flexibility. Adjustments are made in 5 pound increments rather than 2.5 pounds like the Bowflex set.