Equipment Review: Bowflex SelectTech 1090

The time came for me to finally pony up and invest in more dumbbells. It’s been coming for a while now — not only has my rack housed the lonely 10s, 25s and 40s I’ve had for a couple years now, but I’m getting stronger in all of my lifts.

On top of that, I’m now training with my brother, who is recovering from a shoulder injury. For safety purposes, I’m urging him to use dummies whenever he can instead of barbell lifts. Well, he’s getting stronger now, too. The time was right for more dumbbells.

If you have your own home or garage gym, you know accumulating equipment can be tricky, but tracking down quality dumbbells — particularly if you’re looking for multiple weight denominations — is especially tough. Resellers typically don’t have a great selection, and the value isn’t great, either. We settled on an investment I didn’t think I’d be making, quite honestly: The Bowflex SelectTech 1090s.   

The Original SelectTech’s Big Baby Brother is Better.

I’d had some experience with this “tech” before. A darling of home gym-goers everywhere, it seems, the SelectTech line is ideal because of its huge versatility: With a few clicks, you can select (OH I GET IT) a wide range of dumbbell weights without having to stock up on multiple pairs of dumbbells. It’s fairly ingenious; years ago, my office had one handy and I gave it a try every now and then. My initial impressions then were that it felt a bit flimsy, and you certainly couldn’t drop it, and 52.5 pounds (that model’s limit — it’s here, if you’re interested) simply wasn’t going to be a challenge for long in many lifts, which limited its versatility in a home gym setting.

The 1090s older but smaller brothers, the 552s.

The 1090s certainly address that issue. With a pair allowing you to grab 90 pounds in either hand at once, most people will find a ton of utility from this model in the SelectTech line, and I include myself in that category. Through three workouts, I’ve been able to use them for multiple exercises, easily changing weights in no time between shrugs, weighted calf raises, shoulder and bench press variations, curls, pullovers and flys. And, a must for the garage gym, they are super space-efficient. Do I have room for 34 more dumbbells on my rack? I don’t have to know the answer to that question yet.

So, what do the 1090s get right? For starters, the grips aren’t prohibitively uncomfortable to hold. It’s a fatter handle than I suppose I expected, which isn’t a problem for longer-fingered/bigger-palmed folks like me but could cause an issue if your hands are on the smaller side. There is some plastic-ish knurling that prevents slipping, too. Considering the one thing you do when you lift any dummy is hold it, I prefer the grip to feel good and the 1090s do.

The real party trick, of course, is the weight-switching, and I won’t lie — it’s so easy that I smiled the first couple of times I went back to the base to change up my weight for a drop set or a different exercise. The rotating wheel’s friction feels just right without being too loose or too stubborn, and satisfyingly clicks into place when you’re on the weight you want. And for the inattentive to detail, Bowflex has built a failsafe for you: You can’t pull the DB out of the stand unless both sides are equally weighted, so you won’t be unwittingly grabbing an unbalanced dumbbell.

The 1090s look great. They’re mostly a matte black and red aesthetic, with some glossy bits here and there that go well (if not intentionally) with the rest of my equipment. The base is also heavy enough so that you don’t need to play tug of war getting a heavier dumbbell out of it, or use a foot to keep it in place. In all, the set feels good (though keep in mind that they are sold as single units).

One thing I don’t love about them: Their construction, while sound and solid, does indicate that they are not intended to be dropped. I’m not a dumbbell dropper anyway, so it’s all good; if you are one, I have a feeling these would break down on you before too long. They can take a beating but you definitely don’t want to be dropping them from your waist.

Paying the price for quality and convenience

If I was in a commercial gym and I had the option to pull from a Bowflex SelectTech dumbbell set or just grab the iron dummies I needed, I’d grab the iron. But in that scenario I don’t have a home gym, which I feel is the major target audience for the whole SelectTech line anyway. I always kind of felt like the 552s were the Ron Burgundy model — good for the office or a quick home sweat and not a lot else. The 1090s are simply for a more serious home athlete than the 552s are. This person, like me, wants a range of heavy weights that will last. If I wanted to buy the sets the 1090 can provide, I’d be looking to pick up every 5-pound incremental set from 10 to 90 pounds.

Seventeen sets, 1,700 pounds total. Places like Play It Again Sports typically sell used weights at 50 cents  to a dollar a pound, and there’s no telling what kind of quality you’re getting. Even in the best-case scenario, $850 (before tax—woof) to add 34 pieces of equipment to your garage isn’t ideal. Are the 1090s cheap? I guess it’s all relative, but MSRP is 400 bucks for one (thanks to a flash sale, I added a pair to my garage for $480 total — keep your eyes open for deals; your mileage may vary).

We know Bowflex has competitors in the adjustable dumbbell arena and I can’t speak to them. What I can tell you is this: I am really pleased with my purchase of the 1090s so far, and if you are planning on investing on multiple sets of dumbbells in limited space, an option like the 1090s will probably check a lot of boxes for you.

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