. . . is no longer the weights, bars and accessories that I bought (I wrote about them a few weeks ago). It's now the bench I'll use to support several of my exercises at home.
As most of you know, I suffered a semi-crippling injury back in 2004, which (after two surgeries) left me with a fused spine and a damaged sciatic nerve on my left side. I'm permanently partially disabled, and I'm in some degree of pain 24/7/365. It's not fun, but I've learned to cope with most of it. Unfortunately, my metabolism was damaged by a serious prescription drug interaction problem some years later, following a heart attack. Putting all those things together, I was getting nowhere fast, and needed to find a way to restore as much of my health as possible. After much investigation and research, Miss D. and I began strength training almost four months ago, and we're already seeing very beneficial results. We expect to be doing it for years to come.
The idea of having a set of "consumer-grade" weights at home is to allow me to exercise more lightly on days when we don't go to the gym, and also to intersperse my sessions at the keyboard with physical activity. I try to break every half-hour or so, to get up, stretch my legs, make a cup of tea or drink some water, and generally refresh myself before starting to write again. With weights at home, during that time I can pick up my dumbbells, do a couple each of bicep curls, dumbbell shrugs, dumbbell squats and overhead presses, and then get on with my work. If I repeat that every half-hour for five or six hours, that adds up to a respectable amount of work during the day.
That's all very well, but there are several useful dumbbell exercises (such as those illustrated here - there are many more) and EZ curl bar exercises (such as the lying triceps extension) that require the support of a training bench. Furthermore, my balance isn't as good as it used to be, and it's made worse by the damaged sciatic nerve in my left leg, which can fold up under me without much warning at all. To have that happen while lifting weights would be anything but good! At the gym, I protect myself by lifting such weights inside the protection of a rack (similar to this one, for example). It'll catch the barbell on crossbars if I slip and fall, preventing it from landing on me. At home, I'm not working with such heavy weights, or with full-size barbells, so I don't need a rack: but I need a bench strong enough to support my body in case of problems, and stable enough to let me exercise without worrying that it's about to collapse under me.
I bought a highly rated "consumer grade" weight bench, only to find out, very quickly, that it just wouldn't do. This bench was nominally rated to take my weight plus the dumbbells I'd be lifting, but it creaked, groaned and rocked in a very unstable manner. I felt anything but steady and safe on it. I talked to the instructors at the gym, and asked their advice. Unanimously, they told me that a good bench isn't just for exercise - it's a matter of safety, too. Given my health issues, I needed to "bite the bullet" and spend money on a commercial-grade, heavy-duty bench.
I winced when I looked up prices online. Most of the highly rated commercial-grade weight benches are in the mid-hundreds of dollars, with some approaching four figures. I wanted one that could be used for both flat and incline exercises, and that was going to cost money, no matter what I got. The one I've just ordered cost almost three times as much (including shipping - very expensive, because it weighs well over 120 pounds - and tax) as my entire weight and bar setup! That's painful, but it's such a critical item of equipment for me that I didn't have much choice. (I loved some of the reviews by others who'd bought it . . . "This bench is capable of surviving a nuclear blast or small children.") I'll pay it off over a few months, with the help of readers who buy my books. (Let's hear it for royalties!)
Here's what it looks like.
Having now worked out fairly intensively with both commercial-grade and consumer-grade benches, I can say with confidence that it's a worthwhile investment in your health and safety to get the best supporting gear you can. One can buy cheap weight plates - they're just hunks of metal, after all - but the structures that support them - and you! - while you exercise with them, can hurt you very badly if they let you down. I feel a lot happier knowing I've got a good bench coming.