Bowflex SelectTech 560 review: smart dumbbells

Nate Swanner - Aug 29, 2017
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Bowflex SelectTech 560 review: smart dumbbells

In the age of technology, health is fast becoming a priority. Devices like the Apple Watch lean into it as a means to encourage sales, and both Google and Apple have apps designed to quantify your well-being. They work, too; not only do you get a glimpse of your raw data points, you often get insight on how that looks over the course of weeks and months, and what trends your data is returning. The question I had was wether or not connected weight lifting equipment like the Bowflex SelectTech 560 can help me achieve goals.

Hardware

The SelectTech 560 is an upgrade to the 552. The weights are square rather than round, which has its own advantages. Not only symmetrically pleasing, it allows you to use the weights as push-up assists and more surface area means handling them away from the handle is easier.

Adjusting the weight is also simpler and more effective. Rather than a dial, the handle itself has become the weight selector. Simply place it in its holster, turn the handle, and it picks up or drops off weights. A small (too small, really) window tells you which weight you’ve selected.

As connected equipment goes, SelectTech is standard fare. It links to an accompanying app via Bluetooth, which has a range of options we’ll discuss in a bit. On a basic level, it can serve as a means to feed data into your favorite health app from Apple or Google. A small, removable Bluetooth receiver has a screen that counts reps so you can just work out and not worry about it.

If you like, there’s an optional stand for the weights. I highly suggest it. If you’re looking for a solid bench, I’d recommend Reebok’s. While not very comfortable, it can double as an aerobics step.

Software

Bowflex’s SelectTech app is pretty straightforward, but has a lot going on under the hood. It has three main categories: 6 Week Challenge, Workouts and Just Lift.

The challenge is a preset litany of workouts designed to “improve your strength, endurance and overall fitness level.” Weekly 45-minute workouts target different muscle groups. As you navigate the weekly workouts, rest intervals become shorter while rep counts stretch.

Workouts lets you choose which areas you want to target, but offers its own routine for those muscle groups. You can also customize your workouts. Say 2 sets of jumping jacks over 30 seconds isn’t cutting it for you; just add more time and/or reps!

‘Just Lift’ simply links to your SelectTech 560’s Bluetooth handler. From there, it just plain counts reps. Sounds too simple, but it’s great for those times you’ve created your own routine that might not fit BowFlex’s recommendations.

Deeper in the app’s settings you can manage rest intervals, weight units and equipment. There’s also a Journal feature that logs all of your connected workouts, and a (long) list of exercises with video tutorials on how to do them. BowFlex calls the video tutorials 3DT (Three Dimensional Trainer).

Experience

The two things I love about the SelectTech 560 are the very two things that strike you immediately: it’s compact, and you can switch weights really fast. Without needing an empty wall in my home to line up a dumbbell set, I have a full set in a closet in my office (literally!).

I also don’t like to spend a lot of time working out. I just want results, and to get on with my life. Because the weight selector is so speedy with a twist of the handles, I can do just that. I dip and dive between weights depending on my workout, which can change dramatically. I might bench press the full weight, but choose to do a lot of curls at a lower weight. In the Venn diagram of ‘getting fit’ and ‘I have better things to do with my time,’ there’s a ton of overlap. I love it.

SelectTech falls a bit short on Bluetooth, though. If the weights don’t have a direct line-of-sight view of my phone, they may not connect. It may also drop the connection during a workout. That has happened on a few occasions. It’s a behavioral change – I just have to have my phone on a table when working out – but still not seamless.

I’m also not a fan of there being one Bluetooth receiver. If you’re logging the workout, you have to remember to do individual curls with the connected dumbbell. I’d love for there to be one receiver for each dumbbell. Sadly, that would mean two devices connected to your phone unless Bowflex invests in some Apple-esque W1 chipset connectivity features. Given the connection issues present with one connected dumbbell, I can’t say adding another connection would solve anything.

My final gripe is that the window showing which weight you’ve selected is far too small. As I noted, I have this in a closet, and the poor lighting can cause issues for weight selection. Just be mindful of where you want to store these. Good lighting is a must-have.

Conclusions

Reviews are inherently an endorsement or word of caution. Should you buy a thing, or leave it be?

I’d recommend BowFlex SelectTech 560 to anyone. The $499 price tag may raise eyebrows, but it’s very much worth it. At the time I write this, there’s a package deal that gets you the stand and a BowFlex bench for $599, which is a really good investment. If you’re not able to drop upwards of $500 straight away, BowFlex has financing options available.

I’m a results-oriented person, and BowFlex delivered with the SelectTech 560. After some significant health issues, I’ve been able to start getting back into shape with relative ease. It’s been a joy, too. Not only do I work out quickly, but I’m able to pick at my regimen throughout the day if I like. I don’t have to traipse down to a gym, or cross my fingers in the hope nobody else is using the equipment.

As a tech-focussed person, my main issue with SelectTech isn’t even BowFlex’s. Apple logs my workout stats, but it still hasn’t figured out how to quantify them. It still thinks running and other cardio is the main avenue for exercise, which I’d argue is ignoring most of us. That’s at least partly because sensor data hasn’t been outfitted for weight lifting, but also because nobody seems to have tried to figure that problem out. (Apple Watch doesn’t even have a ‘lifting weights’ preset workout.) It’s also because connected equipment is still nascent, though improvements to watchOS 4 will see smarter linking to connected gym equipment. I can only hope that trickles down to the SelectTech 560.

But even without connectivity, the SelectTech 560 is easy to recommend. I often simply pick the weights up and do curls or another exercise throughout my day without ever connecting to my phone. The results are evident to me (and my scale), which is what really matters.


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