PowerBlock Sport 5.5 Review
About a month into the P90X fitness program I realized that even though I’d been using a nice set of bands, they were no substitute for proper adjustable dumbbells. Why adjustable dumbbells? Because frankly, I don’t have room for an entire rack of weights in my living room, and I don’t have a dedicated workout room/garage, either.
When most people think about adjustable dumbbells, the first product that comes to their mind is the Bowflex SelectTech set. However, there are several main competing brands that each uses their own technologies for weight adjustment:
- PowerBlock/SportBlock: User removes a pin unit from sides of dumbbells and reinserts under desired weight “stack”. Involves two pin movements to adjust weight in both dumbbells.
- Bowflex SelectTech: User rotates very stiff dial at the ends of each dumbbell to select desired weight. Involves movement of 4 dials to adjust weight in both dumbbells.
- Titan: User twists one small knob to select desired weight on each dumbbell. Involves movement of 2 dials to adjust weight in both dumbbells.
- Xvest TurboBell: User flips a series of levers (8 per dumbbell) back and forth to select various increments. Involves 4 or more lever adjustments to select weight in both dumbbells.
- Gold’s Gym/Weider/generic: User pulls up and slides spring loaded pins to engage different weight plates. Requires the movement of 4 pins to adjust weight in both dumbbells.
Based on simplicity of the weight selection process alone, the most viable options above are the PowerBlocks and the Titans. Each of these sets utilizes, in theory, the quickest methods for changing weights. The Titans, however, are easily eliminated as an option because they cost about 75% more than the PowerBlock. Oh, and they only offer 5 pound increments on their dumbbells. Already, then, I’ve narrowed the choice down to PowerBlocks, assuming quick weight changes are important (which they are during the P90X routines).
PowerBlocks use a simple weight-changing mechanism similar to a weight stack found on a machine at the gym. Remove the pin unit and place it into the holes that correspond to the weight you’d like to lift. Lift the handle and “voila!” — you’ve only picked up enough weight plates to achieve the desired total. For PowerBlocks that allow 2.5 pound increments (like the 5.5 and 9.0 models), there are a pair of 2.5 pound chrome-plated “adder-weights” in the handle unit itself which can be removed in order to achieve smaller increments. The SportBlock 5.5 model that I purchased adjusts to any weight between 2.5 pounds and 55 pounds in increments of 2.5 pounds. That’s a lot of flexibility.
What I like most about PowerBlocks is their simplicity. All the weight plates are made of metal, while the core handle is made of a composite solid plastic material which should prove extremely durable over the life of the product. Most competitors (Bowflex, Weider, Xvest) use a significant amount of plastic pieces in their weight selection mechanisms. In terms of safety, I’m certainly going to trust a simple metal pin mechanism to hold the weights securely than a plastic-laden mechanism. And let’s not even discuss what might happen if you drop a unit that has key components made of plastic…
Changing between 5 pound increments is quick and does not require any sort of “tray” or separate piece to hold the unused weights (unlike the Bowflex). Also, the units are compact; only about 8” wide when set to 5-10 pounds, or 13” wide when set to their maximum weight of 55 pounds. Contrast this against the Bowflex units that are approximately 16” wide whether you’re picking up 5 pounds or 52.5 pounds and suddenly you realize just how unwieldy some of the competing products are.
There are a few areas where I feel PowerBlock could still improve the units, though. The first issue I have is that the weight selection does not work *quite* as well on a carpet or soft surface due to the fact that the weight plates may not align as closely with the pin holes in these circumstances. They still work fine, but on occasion it might take a bit of jiggling to make sure the pin fits in. I bought the metal tray to hold the weights on my carpet (an additional $30), which has eliminated this problem completely for me, but is an additional expense. While they still work fine on carpet, they simply work better on a hard surface.
Another issue with the PowerBlocks is that the pin mechanism could probably be designed a bit better. The magnets used to hold the pin against the blocks (as one of the safety mechanisms to prevent the pin from easily slipping out) could be a bit stronger. Also, the pin can be put in crooked across two different weights. If you’re not paying attention (and you should be!), it’s possible to put the pin in crooked so that it crosses two weights. You will probably notice this right away when you go to pick up the weight, and it’s not that big of deal since the pin still holds onto the heavier weight, but possibly re-engineering the pin shape could help prevent this entirely.
The one other downside with the PowerBlocks is the adder weights. Don’t get me wrong; they add a lot of flexibility to your routine by giving you the ability to select micro-increments, but at a cost. First, they literally do increase the cost of the dumbbells, but I guess this is expected. More importantly, though, is that when you need to change weights in 2.5 pound increments, the process takes 5-10 seconds longer per handle, so you lose efficiency in some circumstances. Also, while having 1 of 2 adder weights in the handle, balance is affected slightly (although only really noticeable when using light weights). I’m glad the adder weights are available – I chose to pay more to get that functionality – but do understand the mechanism isn’t perfect.
If you are in the market for adjustable dumbbells, I’d highly recommend the PowerBlocks. I think their list of pros greatly outweighs their cons, especially when compared against their main competitor, the Bowflex SelectTech. You can pick up the SportBlock 5.5 model for $329 at PowerBlock.com, which I think is by far the best value in the current PowerBlock line and the best adjustable dumbbell you can buy for routines like P90X that require a lot of weight changes in a short period of time. Just a tip: find a local PowerBlock dealer who carries (or can order) the model you are looking for to save on shipping costs!