Category Archives: Fitness

Fitness Reality 810XLT Super Max Power Cage – PRODUCT REVIEW

The Fitness Reality 810XLT Super Max Power Cage changed my life. Seriously. But let me start at the beginning.

2017 and 2018 were not kind to me in the strength training department.

First of all, I’ve been having trouble with my hips and knees. The knee trouble is old. About fifteen years ago I had two surgeries on my left knee for a bucket handle meniscus tear, resulting in the removal of 75% of the cartilage in my knee. The hip problems largely stemmed from the knee problems. One night I was doing squats when my knee was hurting, and I compensated poorly (a HUGE mistake), and… hips injured.

My chiropractor was a huge help in getting over that, but then I settled in to phase two of the problem. 2018 was just a bad year for getting to the gym. I’d get in about two weeks of solid workouts, just be starting to get into the swing of things…

And then I’d get sick.

This pattern repeated all year, and even a bit into this year. As a result of not getting regular weight workouts, I’ve put on weight again (not the good kind) and I’d not been getting the work I need to truly get my knees and hips back on track.

So in the late spring, I decided to fix that. Part of the problem is schedule. A big part. I can’t get out to the gym during the day because of my day job. I can’t get out easily two nights a week because I’m at the dojo. The other nights of the week, and the weekends, I’m trying desperately to spend some time with my family in between getting work done for Silver Empire.

Also, my gym is 20 minutes away, and they close at 10PM. That’s a struggle for me, because late at night is when I do actually have time to workout.

To be fair, there are gyms closer to me that are open 24/7. But the local YMCA includes child care in their membership price. And so basically the only way my wife gets to workout is if we keep the Y membership. And I don’t have the spare funds to pay for two gym memberships.

However, I did have another solution in mind. A few years ago I sold off my weight bench and pull-up bar to clear out some space in the garage. At that point – before I started having issues – I’d switched to working out at the Y. We were paying for it anyway, for my wife. It was air conditioned. And it had better equipment. My weights themselves were fine, but the bench was cheap. In order to do squats with it, I’d had to put the entire bench up on cinder blocks (wonderfully redneck of me). And that solution only really barely let me get under the bar. For heavy lifts, it was still a little tough.

The pull-up rack was even worse. It was cheap to begin with and I’d gotten it second-hand off of Craigslist. Whenever I did a pull-up, it flexed. It is amazing how much harder that makes pull-ups – and not really in a good way that leads toward muscle growth.

So the Y was great until it wasn’t. And I’d sold the bench and bar. But what I’d kept was all my free weights – nearly 600lbs worth of bar and plates. They didn’t take up much space in the garage, and they can be expensive to replace (although I got half of those off of Craigslist, too, at a steal of a price).

And when I’d sold the bench and bar, I always knew that what I really wanted was to just replace it with a power cage. The footprint in the garage would be much smaller than a separate bench and pull-up bar. It would allow me plenty of space to do squats properly. And it wouldn’t flex when I did pull-ups on it.

The problem is, decent power cages are expensive. Or rather… they were expensive. I trolled Craigslist for a good while looking for a used one.

The Fitness Reality 810XLT Super Max Power Cage installed in my garage.
The Fitness Reality 810XLT Super Max Power Cage setup and installed in my garage.

And then I found the Fitness Reality 810XLT on Amazon. Here was an actual sturdy looking power cage at a great price. Now, I’d seen other cages in that price range before. But they looked like they’d collapse if I put any decent weight on them, or at least shake. This one actually looked like it could hold the weight. And it had solid reviews.

And it was cheap.

I got the option for cage + bench for $345. The other comparable cages I could find were literally twice that price, and didn’t include a bench. I figured that was cheap enough that I could try it.

Oh, and even though the thing is 148lbs of heavy metal, it came with free Prime 2-day shipping. Yes, seriously.

I have absolutely not been disappointed. Due to having this thing around, June 2019 is the first month in nearly a year and a half that I didn’t miss a single planned weight workout on my schedule, and I feel so much better for it. It’s truly fair to say that this cage has changed my life and for the better. It may not be the absolute best $345 I’ve ever spent, but it’s awfully high on that list.

Granted, any bench could’ve fit that bill in my case. And I already had a bar and weights. But this one is solid, functional, and inexpensive.

Nice things to know:

  • I’m 6′ even. To use the pull-up bar, I have to bend my knees. I don’t love that, but I had to do it on my old pull-up bar, too. I also have to do it on all the pull-up bars at the Y. What are you going to do?
  • I have standard height ceilings in my garage (8 or 9 feet, I’m not sure). It fits just fine, even with the garage door open.
  • There is a dip attachment available. I haven’t bought it yet, but plan to.
  • Extra j-hooks are available, and they look like they’re actually a bit nicer than the ones that come with the cage. They’re absolutely not necessary – the ones that come with the cage are sufficient – but I plan to pick some up in the future to cut down on me having to rearrange things for different lifts. And, more importantly, to cut down on having to rearrange when I’m working out with my wife or son.
  • The bench can be bought separately and is rated at 1000lbs. That’s a really good thing, because my old bench was rated at 500lbs… and I actually broke it while doing a 320lb bench press. Safety first, guys. Me plus the bar will never exceed 1000lbs, so I’m good.
  • Finally, there’s also a lat-pull-down attachment available. At some point in the future I may pick that up, too. Right now I don’t really need it, and the price (another $229) is high enough that I’m not in a rush. There are options to buy it together with the bench, though, and it’s definitely cheaper that way.
  • Some assembly is required, but it took me less than an hour. They supply all the parts and even all of the tools that you’ll need.

This is not a top-end cage of the kind you’d find at a powerlifting gym. Don’t let me confuse you on that at all. But for any serious home lifter that’s not really pushing the limits, it’s well more than you’ll ever need. I can bench in the low 300s, squat in the high 300s, and deadlift in the 400s, and I’m not even coming close to pushing this cage.

I highly recommend the Fitness Reality 810XLT Super Max Power Cage if you’re in the market for this kind of equipment for an inexpensive home gym. You’ll have to spend twice as much to even find another equivalent, and significantly more than that to find a better cage.

Week Two at the Gym is the Worst

I’ve spent many an hour at the gym over the course of many years. Like anybody else who has a decades-long exercise habit, I’ve faced my share of downtime. We closed the dojo for the last two weeks of December, as we always do over Christmas. My plan had been to spend those two weeks hitting the gym hard to get a head start on the new year.

Alas, reality intervened. I caught bronchitis over Thanksgiving. It took me a few weeks to get rid of that. And then I caught a sinus infection two days later. So instead of spending those two weeks working out hard… I spent them doing next to nothing.

I managed to kick the sinus infection right before the New Year, so I did what I could: I hit the gym on December 31st, and at least got some head start on the new year. My normal lifting days are Tuesday and Saturday… which means that yesterday was officially day 1 of my second week back on track.

As I learned years ago, week two sucks.

Week one is good. You feel great, your body is pulsing with energy, and have no problems staying motivated. Then week two hits and your body reminds you that you’re not used to this anymore. Your energy levels sag, dragging your motivation down with it. And then the soreness sets in.

By week three these problems will all pass. The soreness will diminish. Your energy will return, restoring your motivation as well. You’ll start to settle into a routine, and things will finally pick up.

But you have to survive week two, first.

Quite a few people will begin their week two over the next few days. Many of them will quit, thus giving up on their New Year Resolutions before January’s even out.

Don’t be one of them. Week two will pass. By early February, you’ll feel awesome – and you’ll want to keep going. Push through. Persevere. You’ll thank yourself later.

My Best Day At The Gym Was The Day I Failed At Everything

At least I didn't mess up as badly as this guy.
At least I didn’t mess up as badly as this guy.

Last Saturday morning I had one of my best days ever at the gym. It was also the day when I failed at everything.

Summer is drawing to an end. I’ve been working a new routine all summer, ever since I posted my last PRs, and I wanted to see how it had worked out. Unfortunately, I had also been away from the gym for the last two weeks. I’ve been extremely busy, primarily with the dojo merger. But things are settling down a bit, so I went in.

Pro tip: never try for personal records when you’ve been out of the gym for two weeks. The lifts I was going for were all only a few pounds higher than the PRs I posted in the spring. I failed all of them.

Every single one.

But it was still one of my best days ever at the gym.

I loaded up the bench press with 325, and called Phil over to spot me. Now, you need to know a few things about Phil. Phil is awesome. He’s that guy – the one that everybody at the gym knows. A firefighter and a former competitive weightlifter, he’s forgotten more about fitness than I’ll ever know. Even in his sixties he’s still considerably stronger than me. But he’s also got the best attitude of just about anybody I’ve ever met. He’s never met a stranger, and he loves to share his incredible wealth of knowledge. He’s always available to spot you if you need it.

I lifted the bar off the rack fine, and I lowered it well. Then I started the lift. Things were fine until I hit the zone of death – that area about a third of the way through the lift that requires maximum tricep contribution. I couldn’t quite push past it. Phil was there to barely – and I do mean barely – nudge me through. But most importantly, he was there with a huge grin and the encouragement, exclaiming profusely that I almost had it. His exact words:

“Next week you’re going to come in and nail that.”

Then I hit the squat rack. My last PR was 395. Saturday I tried for 405. I warmed up to it as always – first the bar, then I added “one plate” (gym slang for a 45 pound weight on each side) at a time. 45, 135, 225, 315. Just a few reps at each weight. Then I added the fourth plate. Again, I got the bar off the rack strong. Again, I lowered it well – strong, controlled, and deep. Then I made my fatal error. I paused at the bottom. A second later I knew I was done. I caught the eye of a fellow gym goer in the mirror and he jumped in to help me out. Our local YMCA is fantastic for having folks with great attitudes there to help.

But I was bummed out – really bummed. I almost had that one, too. But in the end, I wasn’t quite there. The iron doesn’t lie. I started re-racking the weights and preparing for my next lift (overhead press). That’s when two other young men approached. I’d never met these two before. They were young – probably college students – and in fantastic shape. And they were all smiles.

“Dude, that was awesome – four plates!

“We thought you had it, man!”

Phil caught me again later.

“We thought you were just showing off at first when you held it like that!” he laughed at me – but it was a good natured laugh. “After that, these guys loading up 2 plates just don’t look impressive anymore.”

I went on to fail my PR at the overhead press as well. I literally failed all of my PR lifts on Saturday.

But I left with pride. I left with respect – respect that I earned – and some real encouragement from total strangers. I’ve never felt better about a failure in my entire life.

Failure is part of the gym. It is part of the progression. You will never hit new records if you don’t try things that are hard. And if you try things that are hard, often you will fail. Embrace the failure. Love it. It’s the pathway to success.

Strength Training Works

barbellLast night I finished my first 4 week rotation of the 5/3/1 strength training program (very slightly modified to match my schedule).

One thing I like about the program: the deloading week. Though hardly unique to the 5/3/1 program, I’ve found it to be extremely useful. I’d been reading about it lately and planning to incorporate it anyway, even before trying this program. Previously, I’d simply taken a random night or a random week off. After my first week of deloading, I think I like it a lot better. The idea is that you lose less of your gains than you would from a week fully off, but you still ramp everything down enough to really give your body a chance to recover.

In this case, the lifts were basically dropped down to roughly half of what I’d been doing for the previous three weeks – and that’s where things got interesting. I commented to Morgon on both deloading nights that I hadn’t lifted that light in years. To check it, I dredged up an old blog post from a defunct blog. The results shocked even me. From almost exactly five years ago (4 years and 11 months to the day):

Squats: 5×275 (up from 5×265 last week)
Deadlifts: 5×135 (up from 5×125)
Pull-ups: (three sets of: 4, 2.5, 2.5; kind of lame, but significantly up from 3, 2.5, and 1 last week and WAY up from 1,1 only a few weeks ago)
Bench Press: 3×190 (up from 3×165 last week, which was actually <em>down</em> from 3×185 the week before)

I didn’t do pull-ups last night, so I don’t have a good comparison there [side note: I need to work those back into my routine]. As for the others… here’s what I did last night on my deloading night:

Bench: 5×115, 5×145, 5×175
Squats: 5×140, 5×180, 5×215
Deadlifts: 5×155, 5×195, 5×230

On both the Bench Press and the Deadlift, my new “very, very light” night numbers still show me pulling numbers comparable to what I was proud of five years ago. One small caveat: deadlifts were new to me at the time. My numbers from them were almost embarrassingly low.

Proof positive that resistance based strength training works.

As for the 5/3/1 program itself, I’ll report back after a few more cycles through. One month simply isn’t a good test.

I Will

I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press!
I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press!

I’ve been struggling with my workouts for the last couple of years. After making a lot of progress for a while, I got kind of stagnant. My bench press especially got stuck for nearly two years at about 295lbs.

Right around the new year I was pointed at this post by Mike Cernovich, and it had some words I needed to hear.

There is no “I want.”
There is only “I will.”

Go read the whole post. Seriously. It’s probably his most important post. I’ll wait.

The thing is, it’s nothing I hadn’t heard before. It’s not even a mindset I’d never adopted before. But I’d lost it, and I just needed to hear the words again. From somebody. Anybody. And Mike was the one who happened to be saying it on the day I needed to hear it. So I began this year without New Year’s Resolutions but instead with a list of New Year’s “I WILL’s.” The very first item on the list: I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press in 2016.

Tonight I smashed it out of the park:

  • 320 on the bench press (25lb or 8.5% increase over last record)
  • 395 on the squat (50lb or 14.5% increase over last record)
  • 425 on the deadlift (50lb or 13.3% increase and also broke the 400lb barrier).

There are guys out there who lift a hell of a lot more than that, so don’t mistake this for any kind of bragging. But those are respectable numbers. More importantly, they represent a break in the stagnation and the achievement of multiple personal goals tonight.

So tonight I’m putting out the thank you to Mike for giving me the words I needed to do it. Here’s to shattering many more personal records!