The start of a new journey should include a retrospective to explore what’s working and what’s not working. When I decided to re-integrate running as an important part of my life, I wanted to increasingly focus on strength and mobility to both improve my running and to reduce the risk of injuries. I replaced my existing free weight set-up with a new a multi-purpose bench, squat stand, and Olympic bar and plates. Key criteria were functional design, build quality and durability, and value. I evaluated several “residential / light-commercial” manufacturers, including Rogue Fitness, Hoist, Tuff Stuff, and Hudson Steel.
Hudson Steel was my choice for a new free weights setup, and I purchased the multi-purpose bench ($499), a true Flat-Incline-Decline (FID) bench, the squat stand ($699), and the Olympic 7-foot chrome bar with collars ($219). The sale price for the package at a local fitness store was $999 (total retail cost is $1,417 plus tax). The seller agreed to let me “trade-up” the Hudson Steel bar to a Body-Solid PS1000SS Olympic bar (more about that below).
In addition, I wanted to upgrade my existing Olympic cast iron plates to urethane plates, and again my choice was Hudson Steel urethane plates. I purchased a set of plates totalling 245 lbs. for $535 (not on sale) (about $2 per lb.).
After about 90 days of use, here’s what I like, and what could be improved:
First the disclaimer: I have not yet used the full capabilities of the Hudson Steel setup, and there are strengthening exercises I do using other equipment (more on that in future posts). What I’ve done: bench press, shoulder press, incline press, standing barbell rowing, barbell arm curls, squats, kettlebell deadlift (using bench).
What I like:
- Packaging: Set was packaged well, parts protected, and easy to unpack. No damage including cosmetic.
- Assembly: Easy to follow manual and instructions (hardcopy included, also online), basic tools included in box, helpful to have socket set (simple wrench included). I was able to assemble the entire set in about an hour working by myself. All pieces fit well, hand-tighten until fully assembled, then finish tightening with socket wrench. Have a mat or other floor protection available (I used corrugated cardboard package).
- Design and Build Quality:
- Bench: Functionally well-designed, simple and clean, comfortable to use, all controls easily accessible, comparable to light-commercial quality. Really like the “ladder adjustments” for incline and decline use, and the transport wheels to roll the bench. Attachments are available for the bench.
- Squat stand: Functionally well-designed, simple and clean, 9-position bar supports in chrome steel (works with and without bench), really like the standard (removable) safety supports and integrated plate holders.
- Plates: High-quality urethane plates with easy-grip cutouts on 10-45 lb plates, smaller plates without cutouts, do not smell like less expensive rubber plates. Steel sleeves. Note these are not bumper plates.
- Ease of Use: Setup is easy to use, with quick setup changes and easily accessible controls. Moving plates from holders to bar can be done in single motion. Rolling bench into and out of squat stand possible because of transport wheels. Easily adjustable bench. Drop in attachments.
- Maintenance: Manual includes recommended maintenance and schedule. Other than wiping down frame and bench with slightly-damp cloth, and periodically checking and tightening any loose bolts (shouldn’t be necessary given nylon-insert lock nuts), there really isn’t any maintenance required. Upgrading from cast iron to urethane plates eliminated the need to treat the iron plates with WD40 to prevent rust.
- Value: For about $1,500, I was able to buy a new, light-commercial free weights set including bar and plates, that looks great in my living space (see photos below). Having said that, without the sale discount, the set would’ve cost close to $2,000, and then I would’ve considered Rogue Fitness (more expensive) as a comparable alternative. Shop around the key holiday sales dates.
What could be improved:
- Design and Build Quality:
- Main frame finish: The finish on both squat stand (other than chrome bar supports) and bench appears to be semi-gloss, baked-enamel finish on steel. This is not a problem per se, other than for the plate holders, where the finish is subject to regular wear and tear when sliding on / off the plates. With time, the semi-gloss finish will become dull and slightly scuffed. This doesn’t impact function, and can be addressed through manufacturer’s improvements to design and finish.
- Bolts and nuts: A few of the nuts, once removed from the packaging, had slight rust on them. They appear to be zinc-coated and not stainless steel. I replaced them with new nuts from Home Depot. Probably inferior zinc coating, something that should be improved at this price point.
- Bar: The standard Hudson Steel Olympic bar has two black, plastic end-caps, which fell off every time I removed the plates. Although the caps can be left off, dust and dirt can accumulate in the space otherwise covered by the caps. As mentioned above, I traded up for a Body-Fitness bar, without the plastic end-caps (see photo below). An alternative design could’ve been a screw-in cap that doesn’t fall off.
The Hudson Steel free weights setup met all of my key criteria for its intended purpose, and I am very satisfied. Please let me know if you have any questions, or something doesn’t make sense. Also share your own experience with free weights or other strengthening equipment. Let’s have a conversation!
Enjoy the photos!