A shape other than round…

15 years of increasingly sedentary computer-related jobs has taken a severe toll on my physique and health. I don’t have the physical strength, stamina, or endurance that I used to have, and I got fed up with that and decided to do something about it several weeks ago.

I wanted to build a little workout space. It needed to be compact, easily moved, and not a complete eyesore just in case we move somewhere that doesn’t have a garage. I spent a lot of time researching various types of equipment, and decided on a set of dumbbells because of their versatility, compactness, and lower cost of entry. I also sprung for a weight bench and a floor mat.

Here’s the complete setup:

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While researching the various types of dumbbells on the market, one of the standouts I kept coming across was the Bowflex SelectTech 552, which is an adjustable-weight dumbbell that uses a pair of twist dial selectors to choose a weight between 5 pounds and 52.5 pounds. MSRP is $349.00 USD, but Amazon had them for $309 USD.

I was a bit put off by the price at first, but after we walked into a local sporting goods store and priced out conventional dumbbells, I got over my sticker shock pretty quickly. If I were to buy the cheapest set of metal hex dumbbells covering a weight spread of 5 pounds to 50 pounds, I calculated that I’d need 22 dumbbells with a total mass of 566 pounds and a total price of $689.78. If I bought the rack so I wouldn’t be tripping over wayward dumbbells every time I stepped into the garage, the total goes up to $759.78, and the whole thing would take up an amount of space equivalent to a short, wide bookshelf.

At about 40% of that price, about 19% of that total mass, and a little more volume than a pair of large shoeboxes, the SelectTech 552s just made a lot more sense to me, so I pulled the trigger on them.

Close up of a SelectTech 552 dumbbell in its storage tray:

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Dial selector. There’s one on each end of the dumbbell:

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When you set the weight and pull the dumbbell out, the unused weight plates remain in the storage tray:

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The selected weight plates remain locked to the dumbbell:

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My immediate reaction when I first unboxed them was “Holy shit, they’re enormous” followed by some concern about whether or not their size would cause range-of-motion issues. I found that their size wasn’t much of an issue and that it was easy to compensate for during workouts. I was also a little worried that they might be clanky given how they work, but they didn’t feel loose or sloppy. They feel solid and well-balanced.

Their size and length also has an interesting side effect–I can feel my stabilizing muscles also getting a workout while targeting a specific major muscle. After my first few workouts, it’s easy to see why the SelectTech 552 is consistently praised by reviewers.

The weight bench is an Adidas Performance Flat Training Bench. I picked it because it was the cheapest one that had a maximum weight rating that exceeded the total weight of myself plus 105 pounds of dumbbells by a comfortable margin. $80 USD for a bench rated for 600 pounds seemed like a good deal to me.

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The fit and finish is decent, and the construction is very solid. It doesn’t feel flimsy or wobbly at all when I’m sitting on it, kneeling on it, or laying on it. The padding is thick and firm, but comfortable. The biggest problem I have with it is the fact that I have to share it with my cat.

The 6×4 floor mat is made of foam rubber and consists of 6 interlocking 24″ square tiles, with border edging strips. This particular one is made by ProSource and is about half an inch thick. It’s firmer than the spongy stuff sold for kids, but just soft enough that it’s comfortable to do floor exercises on. The tiles lock together firmly enough that they won’t come apart readily, but I wouldn’t deliberately do any exercise that puts a lot of tension between the tiles.

In addition to weight training, I looked into things that would make getting in some cardio easy and fun. I opted for a DeskCycle compact exercise bike, which lives under my office desk. It’s fun to pretend I’m commuting to/from work in a pedal-powered office chair.

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It comes with a little stand and extension cord for the display unit, which I keep on my desk. I have it set to display my speed (in miles per hour) and distance traveled (in miles).

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When assembling it, the front and rear legs offered me some pretty good general life advice:

One of the primary differentiators of the DeskCycle is that it uses a magnetic resistance flywheel system. On bikes with friction knobs, pedaling frequently feels jerky or squeaky, and a lot of times even if you torque the resistance knob as tightly as you can, you don’t really feel much resistance and the jerkiness becomes more pronounced. With a magnetic resistance system, pedaling is extremely fluid and smooth. There are 8 resistance settings on the DeskCycle, with 1 being pretty much frictionless and 8 feeling like you’re pedaling a heavy load uphill. Settings 3-5 feel like pedaling a real bike over flat ground to a gentle uphill slope.

Another differentiator is its weight–at around 25 pounds, it’s heavy enough to stay in place without scooting forward while you pedal, especially on carpet. I found with normal compact exercise bikes that I constantly had to stop and pull them back after accidentally booting them forward. If you’re pedaling on a smooth surface, the DeskCycle includes a Velcro tether that allows you to strap your chair to the bike to prevent unwanted motion.

So far, I’m very pleased with it, and have been using it daily for 30 to 45 minutes. Between the upper body workout and the cycling, I’ve already noticed a pronounced increase in my sense of well-being, an increase in energy levels, and a generally better mood.

The next items I want to acquire are a 65cm exercise ball to replace the dining room chair that I keep stealing when I want to use the Mac in the dining room, a ring base for it, and a set of push-up handles (regular push-ups are murder on my left wrist, which hasn’t been right ever since that time I rode a 250cc 3-wheeler into a chain link fence when I was 12).

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