Category Archives: Product Reviews

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.

The Shady Rays saga concludes

Somehow, nearly three years after I first wrote it, my review of my Shady Rays sunglasses is still the highest ranked result on Amazon for “shady rays review” that’s not either Shady Rays themselves or their Amazon product listing. I have no idea how my review ended up being picked as The One, but it still gets a crazy amount of traffic.

So y’all deserve to know how everything ended.

In my last update before I dropped off the face of the Earth and stopped blogging, I noted that my Shady Rays broke. So here’s what happened after that.

Shady Rays offers a “lifetime replacement plan.” They’ll send you a new pair, no questions asked, if you break or lose your first pair. I bought two pair of sunglasses originally on a two-for-one plan.

Did I get my replacements?

Yes, and with little trouble. But you do need to read the fine print before you purchase. There are two things in particular you need to know.

  1. You are limited to two replacement pair per original purchased pair.
  2. You have to pay just under $9 in shipping to get your replacement pair.

I knew the first before I purchased, and I suspected the second. But here’s the math:

  • Two pair for $45
  • I paid $6 for expedited shipping. At the time of my original purchase, free shipping was an option.
  • Four replacements available at roughly $9 each = $36
  • Total for six pair: $87 (could be $81 if you opt for free shipping).
  • Cost for a pair of Iron Man sunglasses from Wal-Mart: $15-20 per pair

So here’s the thing. At the end of the day, the Shady Rays sunglasses were essentially a complete wash compared to what I’d been getting. The quality was about the same, the price was about the same.

On the plus side, I had a spare pair around for much of that time. On the down side, the one time I switched from my normal pair to the spare, and then broke the spare, I had to wait a few days to get the replacements, rather than just walking into Wal-Mart to buy a new pair.

In other words, the entire experience was basically a wash.

Do I regret buying them? Not at all – although I would not personally pay $45 for a single pair. If you can get the 2-for-1 deal, then it’s good. If not… well, I personally don’t think they’re $45 sunglasses after 3 years.

Am I going to buy them again?

Maybe?

The honest answer is that it’s such a wash that I can’t decide. My last pair broke a few weeks ago, and right now I’m wearing Wal-Mart sunglasses again. I didn’t want to wait. And I have to admit to being a bit disappointed in how they broke. I literally walked out of a store one day, opened up my sunglasses… and they broke. I wasn’t doing anything rough to them at all.

To be fair, the previous pair had stood up quite a bit better than that. But still, I didn’t love that.

Should you buy them?

If you lose or damage sunglasses less frequently than I do, and if you can get a two for one deal, and if you’re ok with low to mid range sunglasses? Why not? There’s nothing wrong with them compared to other sunglasses in this range.

If you can’t get the two-for-one deal, then no. After three years of use, I can’t recommend them at $45 a pair.

Previous entries in this series:

  1. My initial Shady Rays product review
  2. The first follow-up
  3. When my first pair broke
  4. The finale

My Shady Rays Broke

After about 14 months of heavy use, my Shady Rays broke. I still have the second pair (although I need to find them again), but it’s time to test out their lifetime warranty and report back to everyone! Update: 7/8/2019 I’ve left my final update in the Shady Rays saga. If you’re considering a purchase, I highly recommend that you read the last update beforehand.

Shady Rays – PRODUCT REVIEW FOLLOWUP

Back in December I left a review of the Shady Rays sunglasses I’d just picked up. I also promised a follow-up on that review. Six months have passed since then, making it time to fulfill my promise. Miraculously, six months later I still have both pair of sunglasses. Part if this is luck. I haven’t lost either pair yet. My spare pair is momentarily misplaced, but it’s somewhere in the house. I haven’t needed them in a few months, so I haven’t looked for them. I set them aside when I first bought them, but I had to use them when I left my primary pair at work one day. They never made it back to their designated set-aside location. When I need them, though, I feel confident that I’ll find them. A nice bonus, however, is that neither pair has broken in the past six months. That’s hardly a record for my sunglasses, but by my standards it’s a good run. My experience over the past few months also confirms my initial impression: Shady Rays built a sturdy product. I don’t know how they hold up to expensive sunglasses like Ray-Bans, but their construction quality definitely exceeds the Iron Man sunglasses I’d been wearing. I do have one complaint after some time with them, but it’s relatively minor. The rubber nose pieces detach easily and unexpectedly. My primary pair is missing a nosepiece at the moment. Shady Rays sells replacement nosepieces at a reasonable cost. I’ve never bothered to order any, but the option exists. Next time I find my nose piece – or, more likely, whenever I finally buy replacements – I plan to superglue them in place so that they don’t fall off. I would recommend the manufacturer do something similar in future pairs. In every other way, I’m even happier with my Shady Rays than I was when I first bought them. They’re durable, affordable, comfortable, and stylish – at least by my standards of stylish! I heartily recommend this product, especially if you manage to find one of their “two pair for $45” deals. Even at $45 a pair, however, these are reasonably priced for what you get. Update: 7/8/2019 I’ve left my final update in the Shady Rays saga. If you’re considering a purchase, I highly recommend that you read the last update beforehand.

Shady Rays – PRODUCT REVIEW

As my wife will happily tell you, I have a problem with sunglasses. Actually, she’ll quickly tell you that I have three problems with sunglasses. First, I’m a freaking vampire. I wear sunglasses almost all the time when I’m outside. I’m not quite that guy who wears them even in the dark. But I’ll wear them even when it’s cloudy, especially if it’s that nasty kind of cloudy that almost feels like every way you look is glare. I have sensitive eyes, and it’s actually painful to not wear them. I spent most of my life wearing glasses with special UV coatings. Then I had LASIK done. I’m pretty sure my eyes just adapted to having the UV coating. So now I wear sunglasses. But I’m also kind of bad about losing them. Every 12-24 months or so I’ll lose a pair of sunglasses. Just poof, gone, no idea what happened to them. But I’m not quite as bad about losing them as I seem. My third problem exacerbates the issue: I have four children. My oldest is about to turn seven. In those seven years, my children have broken about three times as many pair as I’ve lost. In short, I go through a lot of sunglasses. Until now, my solution has been to always buy the dirt cheap sunglasses from Wal-Mart. If they won’t survive long anyway, at least I’m not spending much money on them. I usually spend between $15 and $20 a pair, depending on current prices, and buy about 1-2 pair a year. So it’s not a ridiculous expense. At least I’m not spending $300 on a pair of Ray-Bans. Enter Shady Rays. I became aware of the company through Twitter ads. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever bought anything based on a Twitter ad. But this goes to show you how important it is to find your audience. I was the right guy – the absolute right guy – to respond to this ad. The ad was simple and pushed two things:
  • Two pair of sunglasses for the price of one (normally $45 a pair) with a special discount code.
  • Lifetime replacement of any pair of sunglasses if they’re broken – or if they’re lost!
I saw the ad a few months ago. All I needed to do was wait for my last pair of sunglasses to die. About six weeks ago, they did. My 10 month old daughter broke them. Snap. So I dug up the promo code and hit their web site. I found the sunglasses pictured above, which approximately resemble the style I’ve been getting for some time. I punched in my discount code for two pair, entered my credit card number, and opted to pay $6 for expedited shipping. Hey, man, my eyes were hurting. And it was only six dollars. If I’d chosen slow shipping, it would’ve been free. The fine print quickly informed me that there is a limit to their replacement guarantee. They will only replace any individual pair of sunglasses twice. So with my two purchased pair, that would mean a limit of six sunglasses total. Also, it’s unclear if I will have to pay shipping costs for replacement pair or not. I suspect that I will have to. Unless shipping costs are outrageous, I can probably live with that. Worst case, I’ll still be paying about the same per pair of sunglasses as I’ve been paying. A few days later my two pair of sunglasses arrived. And I can tell you this: they’re far sturdier in build quality than the cheap sunglasses I’ve been getting. They’re quite comfortable, especially after a few days to break them in. I have yet to break or lose a pair, so I can’t yet tell you how well they live up to their promises. But I can promise you that with my history I will break or lose a pair within 24 months. When I do, I’ll give an update and let everyone know how it goes. Worst case, I got two new sunglasses for approximately the same price as every other pair I’ve bought in the last five years – but with better build quality. I think these will take longer to break – although perhaps not to lose. And so far I’m extremely happy with these sunglasses. They have a wide range of styles, so odds are good you can find a pair you like. If you’re in the market for new sunglasses, you might want to check them out. Update: 5/23/2017 I haven’t broken a pair yet, but here’s my six month follow-up review. Update: 2/2/2018 One of my two pair of Shady Rays just broke. I’ll report more after I test out their lifetime replacement plan! Update: 7/8/2019 I’ve left my final update in the Shady Rays saga. If you’re considering a purchase, I highly recommend that you read the last update beforehand.

Kindle Fire Kids Edition is a Worthless Brick

kindlefirekidsFor Christmas last year we bought our kids a Kindle Fire Kids Edition. It seemed like the perfect thing. We could download movies to it for them to play in the car on long car trips. It had some games. It had some specific kid related apps that looked great. The parental controls seemed good. And best of all, it comes with a rubberized protective case and a lifetime guarantee – Amazon will fix or replace it for life if it breaks, no matter how.

Now, I should say that I’ve had great experiences anyway with Amazon customer service. I had a second gen kindle that broke because my oldest son stepped on it when he was two. I flat out told Amazon that that was what had happened. They replaced it for free anyway. I called them about our regular Kindle Fire once when the screen had cracked and told them that another kid had damaged it. They told me that they would have replaced it for free… except the warranty had expired. Fair enough – I just figured I’d try that time, since they did it the first time. So I have a great love of Amazon’s customer support, and this product’s lifetime guarantee seemed perfect.

Unfortunately the product itself is a worthless piece of shit. Pardon my language, but it really is that bad. We bought the 8 GB wi-fi only (no cellular data connection) model. A quick check of my Amazon history shows that this product has been discontinued. That’s good – it never should have been available in this configuration.

[Update: I was incorrect. The exact model we bought is no longer available. There is still an 8GB model. If you must buy a Kindle Fire Kids Edition, do not buy the 8GB model.]

The 8GB of on board memory is literally not enough for anything. Two or three apps filled it up. We found ourselves having to buy a new SD memory card for it almost immediately just to make the product remotely usable. Unfortunately, even this didn’t really help. You still have to be careful to download apps to the SD card – a subtlety that was completely lost on my six year old son. We were constantly helping them wipe the memory clean so that they could continue to use it. The device would fill up memory literally until it broke.

It gets worse, though. For some reason that I completely can’t fathom, many of the apps want to re-download themselves when run. This doesn’t happen on every run. But it happens about every day or three. If you aren’t connected to the internet, the app simply doesn’t work. Since we bought this partly for car trips, this made it completely worthless. But it’s still worse even than that. The downloads are slow, and it doesn’t stop you from doing something else while it’s downloading. So imagine a typical four year old child. She pushes the app. Nothing happens. So she picks another app. Nothing happens. Then another and another and another. Before long, there are eight apps downloading and the entire machine has come to a standstill.

The newer generation models may be better. And I generally love Amazon. But this product was a complete waste of money. I would have had a better experience paying $139 for somebody to punch me in the face.