Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Powertec WB-LS review

I have been mulling around about buying this for a while now. I have been working out with free weights in my basement for a while now. I am getting to the point where the weight is enough so that I have visions of my wife and kids wandering down in the morning to the macabre scene of me crushed under a barbell and a pile of dumbells. That fear alone was enough to set me on a plateau where I was not improving much.

I was looking at some equipment that would allow me to get the failure during sets in relative safety. I read a multitude of reviews on Smith machines, Bowflex, and leverage machines. I finally settled on Powertec's (WB-LS or WB-MS). The Bowflex seemed all hype (I've used one and it feels like lifting rubber bands) and the Smith machine solutions seemed very limited and poorly constructed. So a few weeks ago I bit the bullet and went out and bought one at Dicks. I decided on the WB-LS vs the multistation (WB-MS) because it was smaller and allowed me to do virtually the same exercises. After a few weeks of using it I have been really happy with my purchase. Nothing but positive things about the product, and a few suggestions.

My kids and I had a great time putting it together over two nights. The system came in three boxes, most of them were quite heavy. Either find a helper (who's over 8) or break them down where they lie. The assembly instructions were quite involved (even though they were only six steps). There are a lot of bolts of different sizes. I had to a use a tape measure to make sure I was using the right one most of the time.

The system fits nicely in a corner of my basement. If it ever needs to be moved it looks like it breaks up into three separate pieces.

There are four main parts to the system.
Weight Bench - Extremely flexible and posable, even rotates out of the way or sits straight up. The thought that must have gone into the design is readily apparent. Padding quality all around is excellent.
Press arm - 500lbs. capacity, has a squat bar attachment
Pulley System - 350lbs. Has three attachments (single grip handle, straight bar, lat bar). Can attach more, expect to buy at least a triceps rope.
Leg attachment - 250 lbs. Familiar piece of equipment does leg curls and extensions. Optional arm curl attachment.

Its extremely well built and I like the bright yellow color (looks like a piece of heavy construction equipment). The pulley system is extremely smooth. I have been able to do a few more than the 20 exercises vaguely referenced on the promotional material.
(I know I am stretching things a little bit)
1) Flat Bench press
2) Incline Bench press
3) Decline Bench press
4) Leg Extension
5) Leg Curl
6) Low Row
7) Arm curl (With lower pulley)
8) Triceps pulldown
9) Squats
10) Triceps press
11) Lat pulldown
12) ab crunch
13) upright row
14) Woodchoppers (high/low, low/high)
15) Shrugs
16) close grip pulldown
17) straight arm pulldown
18) One armed crossover
19) cable pullovers
20) Rotator cuff (no bench, lie down, lower pulley)
21) Calf raise
22) One armed fly (I prefer dumbbells and two arms) but you can do this if you lie down.
23) Narrow grip bench

One thing I noticed immediately is an 'improvement' in the 'amount' of weight I was able to move using the press arm. My 'comfortable' bench weight in using a regular barbell is a little over 200lbs. On the machine I was lifting 265. I believe this is due to the fact that the arm is essentially a second order lever. The fulcrum is at the end of the arm, and the weight is offset by about 10 inches from where you grip to apply force. From dusting off my high school physics, measuring the arm, and some back of the envelope calculations, the 'actual' weight you are lifting is about 75% of what you have loaded. This number also matches up with my experience with the equipment. None of this is really that important, the goal here is lift to failure and relative improvement of strength. It also might be good to remember this when switching to a straight barbell exercise :-).

Nice capacity - the stated limit of the press arm is 500lbs. I believe that this is equivalent to 360lbs due to dilution from the lever. Its still much greater than most other home gyms out there.
Flexibility - Lots of different exercises.
Construction - Solid, looks like it will last forever.
Safety - No more nightmares for me.
Cost - Can't beat the price (699), its actually about $300 cheaper in person at Dicks than it is anywhere else.

Cons: Nothing really significant.

Some Improvements:
- Instructions - Improve the instructions - Very complicated and confusing. When building this thing you will need a few tools (socket set, wrench, hex key, hammer (soft) and a tape measure), some patience, and a free night. There are a lot of different bolt sizes and if you are not careful and measure each one to be sure you have the right one, you will be guaranteed to have some problems later on. A training guide or at least a comprehensive list of exercises that matches up to the advertising materials would be nice too.
- Plastic cuffs - Plastic cuffs on the weight bars. They have already started to scratch up a bit from racking and unracking the plates. However, they do look they are replaceable. Should have bought the pricey nylon coated Olympics :-(
- Weight holders - Puny side racks to hold your spare weights, held on be one small bolt. Only part of the product that looks fragile.
- Triceps rope - It would be nice to have out of box. Be prepared to go out and buy one. Some more clips and chains would be nice too.
- Press arm grips - Multiple parallel grips would be nice. They would also help contract the effects of lever dilution. Another handle just six inches closer to the weights would increase the effort by over 10%. It would also save on some racking/deracking.
- Pullup station at the top would be nice too.


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