When the global pandemic cooped us up last spring, we weren’t left with many fitness options. Stripped of our gyms, cycling and HIIT classes, yoga and boxing studios, sports, and—for a while there—most outdoor activities, we did what we could at home. But you can only do so many push-ups and bodyweight exercises in your living room before you're itching for proper tools, like dumbbells and resistance bands. And, like so many things in quarantine, the demand for home workout equipment soared—with much of it selling out online.
Bowflex : maximize the versatility to space-efficiency ratio. No matter where in your home you intend to exercise, it just doesn’t pay to have a big piece of equipment that does one thing. Enter: Bowflex, a brand that actually does versatile equipment quite well. I’ve been using the Bowflex SelectTech adjustable dumbbells ($349; bowflex.com) for a few years and can’t stress enough how great it is to have the equivalent of a full dumbbell set tucked away in one corner.
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With that said, I was pretty eager to test the brand's new adjustable barbell and curl bar system. The Bowflex SelectTech 2080 Barbell with Curl Bar ($549; bowflex.com) features two bars—one straight and one an EZ curl—so the workout options are endless. (ICYDK, an EZ curl bar has zig zags in the bar to make it easier on your wrists; instead of having the wrist forced flat, it's able to be positioned at a slant, which is more comfortable when lifting.) You could very conceivably perform a full-body workout standing in a few square feet of your living room. The straight bar is good for a variety of presses, rows, squats and posterior chain exercises, while the curl bar fires up your arms. Changing weights is as simple as turning a dial on each side, moving the weight up in 10-pound increments.
This could totally be the only piece of workout equipment in your house. That is, as long as you don’t need to go very heavy. While a great option for most people, this isn’t exactly for the powerlifters out there. My biggest complaint about the dumbbells has always been the fact that they aren’t expandable—if you get to a point where 52.5 pounds isn’t cutting it, you have no choice but to seek out other options (or you could just buy the heavier set from the start). Bowflex rectified that somewhat with its barbell, which ranges from 20-80 pounds, but is expandable to 120 pounds—which should certainly cover most people for most exercises.
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As far as space efficiency goes, it’s really not bad, but could be better. On the stand, which will store both bars, it measures about 60 inches wide and comes off the wall about 19 inches. The sturdy plastic base, which holds the unused plates, is a little on the bulky side but I can’t see it being improved by much. In the grand scheme, I don’t think it’s more space efficient than a typical curl bar and some plates, which could be stored under a bed or in a closet when not being used, but there’s a big convenience factor to the weight selection. Also, considering you can usually get a curl bar and some weights for about $100 (prices are unusually high at the moment due to continued demand), what you’re paying for is the quality and that convenience.
In use, though, the SelectTech curl bar turned out better than expected. I don’t do a lot of curls, but loved it for skull crushers. The cambers (read: the zig zags in the shape of the curl bar) on the bar are very ergonomic, making it comfortable to hold in either direction, whether doing bicep curls or tricep extensions. And this could be a pro or a con depending on how you look at it, but unlike on an olympic curl bar, like you’d find at your usual gym, the weights don’t rotate on the ends. This means that you’ll have to exert a little more energy stopping the whole bar from turning in your hands. A little extra challenge isn’t a bad thing, and I don’t think it takes too much away from the experience.
It may be a splurge, but the Bowflex SelectTeck barbell set gives you what you need to amp up your workouts without turning your home into a Planet Fitness. Plus, it's versatile enough for a variety of workouts—from bicep curls to bent-over rows. And with most at-home workout essentials exceedingly hard to come by, this is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself right around the holidays.
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Bowflex SelectTech 2080 Barbell with Curl Bar
Bowflex SelectTech 2080 adjustable barbell and curl bar , $549, bowflex.com; $199 for the stand; $149 for expansion weights
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