Bowflex

You've made a commitment to start working out and stick to it. Maybe due to health reasons, or maybe just to help you build muscle and strength. However, now you need to consider which type of dumbbell to purchase, to lead you to the realization of your fitness goals. There are two types of dumbbells: Fixed and adjustable dumbbells. So, between these two which should you buy? First of all, let's take a moment to distinguish between fixed dumbbells, and adjustable ones.

Differences: Fixed Dumbbells vs. Adjustable Dumbbells

This particular type of dumbbell is also known as a regular dumbbell. Some refer to them as traditional dumbbells because they have been around for a long time, as compared to adjustable dumbbells. The weights on a regular dumbbell are fixed and cannot be adjusted. Regular dumbbells come in two styles: hex and pro style, which are usually distinguished by the shape of the weight heads.

An adjustable dumbbell, however, can be adjusted. In other words, the weights can be increased or decreased to suit your workout. There are two types of adjustable dumbbells: selectorized, and plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells.

Let's look at the pros and cons of these two different types of dumbbells

Affordability

Traditional dumbbells appear to be a lot more affordable compared to the adjustable variety. However, you will need more than just one set of dumbbell to fit the different types of exercise you might want to take part in. Adjustable dumbbells allow you to change the weight as you wish. Hence, you’ll probably only need one set of adjustable dumbbells.

A pair of good, cast iron dumbells start at around $10 and move upward in price depending on the weight. After adding the cost of all the individual dumbbells you need, you may quickly approach or exceed the price of adjustable dumbbells. Conversely, those with modest needs that gravitate towards 5, 10 or 15 pound weights can save money by going with traditional dumbbells. So the better bargain depends on your needs.

Space and Storage

Adjustable dumbbells take up very little space in your exercise area or room. The regular ones require you to buy more than one set and end up taking up a lot more space. Hence, can lead to a cluttered room and could be dangerous if not put out of the way; so you’ll want to invest in a dumbbell rack.

Configuration

Each type of dumbbell is structured differently. The regular dumbbells are usually set hence the weights cannot be shifted or changed. This gives the individual working out confidence that the weights won't fall out and cause injury during the workout. As previously mentioned, the weight heads of the regular dumbbells come in two shapes: round and square shaped. The square ones stay in place and do not roll over, reducing the chances of an accident. Furthermore, the weight heads are usually rubber coated to protect floors from getting scratched.

Flexibility

This is where adjustable dumbbells really take the cake. With just one set of of adjustable dumbbells to focus on, it’s much faster to transition to the next set of the workout. Bowflex in particular has made it really easy to change the amount of weight. Simply turn the dial at the end of the barbbell in increments of 2.5 or 5 pounds to reach the desired setting.

Durability

Adjustable dumbbells have wow factor and are certainly impressively engineered, but the plastic and rubber components may wear down or break more easily than a bullet-proof traditional dumbbell. There’s more to go wrong.

On the other side of the coin, adjustable dumbbells are rugged in their own right. And in real world applications few people complain about failed parts or wear.

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Photo: Bill Couch

Bowflex 1090

Whether it be exercises for legs, back, chest, abdominal, arms or shoulders, Bowflex adjustable dumbbells are a good choice for those interested in total body workouts.

The adjustable dumbbell craze was propelled by the 552 with its the innovative, space-aged design. In late 2011 Bowflex added a new model based on its wildly successful cousin but with notable changes and improvements.

For the most part the Bowflex 552 and 1090 aren’t meant to directly compete against each other as these two models serve different needs. Most notably the 1090 can be adjusted up to 90 lbs., while the 552 maxes out at 52.5 lbs. but allows for more exacting weight adjustments.

That said, engineering improvements were made to the 1090 that in some aspects put it in a different league in terms of quality. The base is lighter, handles have been upgraded, etc.

Differences Between the Bowflex 552 and 1090

The Base

The 1090s have a plastic base which may seem like a disadvantage, however in this case it isn’t because it’s rigid, strong and much lighter than the base on the 552s.

If you don’t mind the weight the metal base on the 552 is good too, but to most this will be viewed as an improvement.

Bowflex 552

Weight Specifications and Adjustment Increments

The 552s use a dial system that moves in increments of 5 lbs., or sometimes 2.5 lbs. strategically placed on the dial where finer adjustments are most advantageous.

The starting weight on the 1090 is 10 lbs. and it can go up to 90 lbs. It’s adjusted in increments of 5 lbs.

Due to these differences in capability the 1090 is better suited to bodybuilders and heavy lifters. The 552 is no slouch for building strength and there is indeed some overlap, but this model is best for people that tend to use the lower settings more often as more flexibility is provided for those who do.

Handles

The rubber elements added to the handles on the Bowflex 552 do provide nice grip. However, the price for this product design decision is the rubber may get worn down or even split with heavy use.

In contrast Bowflex switched to all-metal handles for the 1090. Most won’t miss the rubber as the pattern for grip on the metal handles works well too.

Size

Size may matter but in this case the difference isn’t huge. With the 552 each dumbbell is 15.75” long x 8” wide x 9” tall. The 1090 dumbbells measure 17.5” long x 10” wide x 10” in height.

Conclusion

The 1090 may currently be the latest and greatest design offered by Bowflex, but if you’re buying now its best to focus on how much weight you plan on lifting. If that figure is more than 52 lbs. per arm the choice is simple: go with the 1090. If not, the 552 despite lacking the noted improvements is still the best choice.

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.

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.