Are you constantly feeling crunched for space with all of your workout gear, like I am? I started using the PowerBlock Sport dumbbells a little while ago, and I’m quickly growing to love them – and I even discovered some fantastic other uses for them in my workouts. Read on to see what I discovered about this neat little dumbbell system.
I started out my weightlifting life with a set of York vinyl-coated concrete weights; they were perfect for a beginner weightlifter and I still use them today on my benchpress and my EZ-bar. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones that look like this:
However, the problem was that it was near impossible to get any amount of serious weight on a simple dumbbell. I once tried putting two 25-lb weights on a dumbbell bar – and the damn bar stood a full six inches off the floor and it was near impossible to get a decent grip on. It looked RIDICULOUS. Plus since I didn’t (and still don’t) have a weight tree, I needed to stack the things on the floor, which took up valuable floor space.
So, that was where my second serious weight purchase came in – my beloved set of CAP hex barbells, with rubber coating to prevent damage to my floor, my bench, or me. 🙂 My set ranges from 10lbs to 30 lbs, in 5lb increments, and it’s just the right thing for the type of lifting I like – lighter weights and higher reps.
But it still takes up a fair bit of room in my home gym; my wife and I just recently rearranged our home gym and finding a home for the barbell rack was one of our biggest snags. You can’t turn it sideways, or you can’t reach the weights; you can’t put a bench in front of them, or you can’t reach the weights; you can’t put it in another room…well, you get the idea. So it’s tucked into a corner until a better idea occurs to us.
Enter the PowerBlock System
I’d considered PowerBlocks for a while, because they were a fair investment and I wasn’t really sure that they would work. I mean, how could they actually pack 100lbs of steel into such a small form factor? Were they going to be comfortable to grip? Would they just end up collecting dust as another gimmicky workout innovation?
But then I had a chance to try out a set – and I was an instant convert. I think these have a lot of potential and can even complement your existing dumbbell set. Read the rest of my PowerBlocks review to see what I liked, what I didn’t like, and why I think these have a place in any gym.
PowerBlock Dumbbells – An Entire Weight Rack in a Small Package
The PowerBlock Sport 5.0 dumbbell set is a set of nine 5lb steel plates, held together with welded steel rods, that nest neatly inside each other. There’s a central grip that nests inside all of that, and the whole enchilada is held together with a set of moveable steel pins that let you set the weight, very much like you’d set the weight on your favorite cable machine at the gym.
The construction of the PowerBlock is a little different than standard dumbbells, since you’re grabbing the grip which is in the center of the block and surrounded by support rods to keep the block together. It looks a little awkward, but once I started in on my curls I quickly discovered that it was no more awkward than using a standard dumbbell – it didn’t feel any different than using my CAP set at home. The individual plates have a small tendency to “clink” together as you’re swinging them around; some people find this annoying when they’re used to vinyl or rubber hex equipment. I didn’t mind it; the sound reminds me a little of a gym where there’s some serious lifting going on. Like CT Fletcher says, “Nothing sounds sweeter than a pair of 45’s slapping together”:
This morning, I did a workout consisting of straight curls, side raises, DB flyes, overhead presses, and hammer curls – and I couldn’t notice the difference between the PowerBlocks and my CAP DB set at all. I was impressed.
Oh, wait – I almost forgot that I had a few sets of pushups in my workout as well…which is a wonderful secret use of the PowerBlock that I hadn’t thought of beforehand.
Secret Undocumented Uses for PowerBlocks
Have you seen the pushup grips that you can buy almost anywhere? They look like a cushioned grip with two feet, or sometimes they’re all modern and art deco like these ones:
I hurt my left wrist a little while ago doing inverted rows – and ever since then I’ve adapted my doing pushups on my knuckles. Not only does it save my wrist from being bent backwards, but it looks really bad-ass. 🙂 I’ve toyed with the idea of buying push-up grips, but I can’t BEAR the thought of having such a single-purpose piece of equipment in my gym. Even my pull-up bar has two heights; one height setting for doing pull-ups, and another height for doing elevated push-ups, inverted rows, or hooking my feet over to do some punishing decline push-ups.
So it occurred to me today that the PowerBlock grips could serve as a really nice set of padded push-up grips. I set them on the floor, then proceeded to rock through my set of push-ups. There was much less pressure on my wrists (and the sensitive pad of my palm), and since the block grips are elevated off the floor by just a few inches, I got a great little “dip” at the bottom of my push-up which added just the right bit of difficulty.
A little warning about using the PowerBlock as a push-up grip: since I was using the blocks on a carpeted floor, I found that when I moved the blocks out for a really wide push-up stance they had a tendency to slide outwards. The steel plates have a smooth finish and don’t offer much friction. I suspect that the PowerBlocks would not be kind to a wood floor either, but the solution for both problems is really simple – take a cruddy old yoga mat and throw it down on the floor where you want to set the blocks. They won’t slide around – and your floors stay safe. Win-win.
Yet another secret use: if I have a bunch of weight on the block, and I need to grab a 5lb or 10lb weight for whatever reason (like when I’m doing reverse flyes, which I REALLY suck at), I can grab one or two of the plate sections themselves and use that for my lift, instead of racking the PowerBlock again and moving the pin to select 10 lbs. I’m sure the PowerBlock people don’t suggest this, but it makes my life really easy.
What I Didn’t Like
I only noticed two real issues with the blocks. First, it’s easy to get the selector pins in the wrong spot; for example, one pin is in the 25lb hole, and the other pin is in the 30lb hole. The block will lift out, but the bottom plates are only supported with one pin, not two. I suspect the block is strong enough to withstand a misaligned pin, but when you’re in Beast Mode, you don’t want to be spending time mucking around with misbehaving pins – you wanna be lifting.
As well, I wish the weights were printed on the sides of each colored section on the PowerBlock; I don’t really like having to reference the chart on the top of the block all the time to figure out which setting is 40lbs – is it red, or is it blue? I’d rather just look on the side of the block, find the stamped “40” marking and put the pin there. But still, it’s a really small issue for what otherwise is a great product. I suppose I could just take my trusty Sharpie and write the weight on the side of the colored section, or as one of my lifting friends says, “Why are you curling with anything less than 50lbs, bro?” I’ll just ignore him, as I usually do.
The second issue is that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to getting hurt in the weight room; clonking the side of my head with a rubber-coated hex dumbbell isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a much different story when it’s 40lbs of steel crashing into your noggin. So be careful with what you lift, and how you wave it around. Also, you need to break that habit of letting the weights drop to the floor before you grunt and flex in the mirror; take care to set the PowerBlocks on the mat or the stand before you take that ‘mirin selfie.
The Bottom Line
I truly didn’t think that the PowerBlocks would work quite so well; far from being a novelty weight system, they are a huge space-saver, they’re well-built and almost flawless to use, and although the set I used only goes up to 50lbs, you can get sets that go up to 130 lbs in the Sport and Classic Series, and a staggering 175lbs in the Urethane Series. Get yourself a cheap yoga mat to save your floors and you’ve got a weight set that will last an incredibly long time.
P.S. – The PowerBlock is available in a lighter versions as well; there’s a Sport 2.4 version that goes from 3lbs to 24 lbs in 3lb increments, and a Urethane 20lb set that goes from 2.5lbs to 20lbs in increments of 2.5lbs – handy when you just need a little more resistance, but going up a full 5 lbs is just something your body can’t bear. Neat!