Pros: space saving, decent max weight, good quality
Cons: very expensive
Short on space but long on desire to pump yourself up? Bowflex may have the answer for you, if you have a few bucks saved up.
Nautilus Inc. is known for their Bowflex home gyms, but this company also makes SelectTech 552 dumbbells. These weights are perfect for everyone from couch potatoes to fitness enthusiasts.
Sadly, the major knock on these bad boys is the first thing you may notice, or the second once you stop staring - they cost more than an arm and a leg. Two sets of dumbbells plus a small plastic base for each will run you $400 in the store. They also sell a stand if you want to keep your weights off the ground, but that's another $150, plus another few hundred if you want a bench. I'm not sure if Nautilus thinks we're all millionaires unaffected by the recession, but I'm sure more than a few people have been dissuaded from buying these by price alone. My suggestion is to either find a great sale in a store or pick up a used pair. I got mine for $250, and they're worth every penny.
The 552s are the equivalent of 15 sets of dumbbells, and can be adjusted from 5 pounds to 52.5 pounds per dumbbell. Adding or decreasing weight is snap, literally. Two knobs on the end of each dumbbell control the weight; simply turn the dial until it clicks on the weight you want. The numbers represent a combined, balanced set of weights on each side and can be bumped up by increments of 2.5 pounds up to 25 pounds total and 5 pounds per increment after that.
These units are also reliable and made very well. The base is made of a sturdy gray plastic, with specific slots for the weights to slide in - only one size fits properly in each one so it's easy to replace them if you accidentally knock a few out. The weights themselves are black plastic-coated metal plates. They sit next to each other on the base, but Nautilus' ratchet system only secures certain plates depending on the weight setting. In the few months I've been sporadically using these, in addition to whatever the original owner put them through, I've noticed minimal scratches or other minor damage.
The dumbbell without weights consists of a metal rod with a rubber grip and plastic ratchets. The grip isn't the strongest or the best, but is fine for occasional use without gloves or other grips. I have noticed, however, that the grip seems to move a little sometimes when I'm mid lift. For now it is staying put, but I'll update this review if it starts causing major problems.
There is one catch with the 552s, other than the price, the dumbbells are bigger than their standard counterparts. For a bigger guy like me it's not a huge problem, but I have complaints from other owners. I've found that they feel more bulky and unwieldy than traditional barbells and can make certain exercises, especially over your head or movements where your muscle control is not strong, feel slightly uncomfortable. Even just doing bicep curls feels slightly off. I strongly recommend you try them before shelling out all that scratch.
Despite my dreams of being jacked, I just don't have the commitment to serious weight lifting. However, I left these in my living room and do find myself occasionally lifting while watching TV or talking with someone. My arms are a little bigger and I've got more confidence in my ability to get in shape.