The views expressed in this article are those of the author, Andrew Wilson. I bought the BodyCraft Power Cage and associated equipment and I wanted to share my experiences with you, the good and the bad.
Opinions in here are just that: opinions. Many of my experiences/views are based upon my ideas of a perfect world, and I fully appreciate that your idea of a perfect world would be different. I won't be offended if you disagree with me, and I hope you won't be offended if my views are contra to yours.
My review is intended to help others who are interested in buying a Power Cage, the BodyCraft range is one of several available, and I know how hard it is to find out "which one is right".
To my knowledge, this is the first Bodycraft F430 power rack review that has not been written by someone with a potential conflict of interest: I am not a supplier or manufacturer of any fitness equipment. I'm just a middle-aged guy who's been bitten by the fitness bug, and struggled my way through partial information and ultimately ended up buying the BodyCraft range of Weight Training equipment.
I finally got my home gym sorted. I'm an old guy compared with many of you (45 at date of writing, June 2005), which means I'm going have to work hard to get even meager results, as my testosterone has been used for most of my life to help me press TV remote buttons.
The up-side of being middle-aged is money. I have more than when I was young! I thus at least have the money to get decent equipment to help me on my way. After several weeks of hunting down stuff on the web, asking dumb questions on BodyBuilding.com (and getting helpful answers THANKS!) and trying to find reviews, here's what I bought:
Lat attachment with 200LB selectorized weight stack and the cable crossover that attaches directly to the cage.
I also bought the BodyCraft F320 bench (the so-called "econo" bench); theleg curl/extension and preacher attachments; extra bar hooks; and dip bars and various other accessories.
As you can see, I bought pretty much the whole BodyCraft product inventory, really. As I said: I may be old, but not as broke as your average college student perhaps?
I also have dumbbells (5-50LB at time of writing, but will increase to about 100LB by the time I'm all done), an Olympic Bar and about 450LB of weight plates (more than I can lift now, but I'm working on it).
I was going to post some pictures of my actual setup, but it's against a wall with three mirrors (in a bay) so the reflections make the picture confusing, so I found these pics on the web. My home gym is in a room I finished in my basement.
Researching the equipment is difficult. I found just one web site that had a BodyCraft equipment review, which was not especially helpful so I am not providing a link. Worse still, the BodyCraft web site is poor, low resolution pictures, and very limited product views (no detail). (The Tuff Stuff web site, is a good example of an informative web site).
I reviewed several products that were in my budget: Body Solid, Powertec, BodyCraft and Tuff Stuff. All of these products seem good, and there's little to choose between them. I wanted a cage (w/lat tower), bench and a cable crossover. I personally don't like to mix and match equipment if I can, it can sometimes make it more difficult to sell another day, and you might miss some benefits of an integrated approach.
There are other power cage suppliers, but it's hard to even find some of them on the web when you're working with the usual search engines (NewYorkBarbells.com take note: get your name on the Yahoo web site. I never found you until after I bought my BodyCraft range, maybe you'd have had my business as your stuff looks good!!).
The Powertec range looked good, the cable crossover looks very nice. Unfortunately, an owner of the cage told me that room inside the rack was tight and that's an important requirement, so I dropped this.
Tuff stuff just ended up being too expensive (but was otherwise very impressive). Body Solid looked a little too small. I also didn't especially like having spotter bars that had to be removed and re-inserted into the rack.
I thus ended up choosing the BodyCraft range because it was: Affordable; Integrated Cable Crossover (should eliminate any stability issues and it did!; Selectorized lat tower option (definitely go for the weight stack upgrade!); and good working room inside cage.
For better or worse, richer or poorer, etc., that was my down-select, and it was the equipment I ended up buying.
You don't order from BodyCraft, you order only from their distributors, and there's several on the web. The first thing you will discover is pricing: BodyCraft told me that they set minimum prices for buying their products, and to say the least they seem to discourage distributors from selling at less than this minimum. Only one distributor was prepared to sell at less, and BodyCraft actually refused to sell through this distributor when they found out he was discounting prices.
Anyway, I ordered my stuff from BestBuyFitness.com. I managed to get a very small discount for buying everything, but I was happy with that. No problems ordering on the web, but then the fun begins.
Firstly, BodyCraft didn't have some components in stock when I ordered, so the equipment arrived over a period of a few weeks. Such is life. Worse still, they forgot to ship some of the components that they DID have in stock, much to my annoyance, so I had half a crossover for about a week before they sent me the rest of the package which they forgot to load onto the pallet. Not a big deal of course, just a little irritating at the time. To date (19th June '05), I still haven't seen the preacher curl attachment for my bench. I bought it for completeness, and I'm sure it will come, one day.
Note: I actually ordered all the equipment in April, and took my first delivery on 8th May.
It took several hours in all to get the whole job done, but it was relatively straightforward. The manuals are not 100% accurate, e.g. the F320 bench design has changed, but the manual hasn't been updated. Not too shabby though, I'd give it 7/10 rating. I suspect no-one will have any trouble assembling the stuff, but many are likely to have to go backwards every now and then, as some components can go on two or more ways, and it's not always clear (a) that can happen and (b) which is the right way.
It feels incredibly solid; much more capable than me in terms of weight bearing load (which is good). Nuts are the locking type, so they shouldn't work their way loose over time. All nuts and bolts are mega-size; no need to worry about stripping them, or any breaking during use. I give full marks for construction materials and finish. Excellent.
The equipment itself feels very solid and safe. I am getting quite adventurous doing squats and bench presses, breaking records regularly and much of this is due to the safe feeling created by the spotter bars (better than the gym I used to use in fact!). There's also lots of room in the rack to play with; more than I expected, really. I'd give this 10/10, and being as it's one of the most important attributes, it makes the cage a good deal in its own right. From that perspective alone, I personally do recommend the BodyCraft Power Cage. Anyone who buys it can't be disappointed (once you get past the buying experience).
Hooks and spotter bars go on during assembly and won't come off without disassembling the cage. There's pro's and cons to this; a pro being you can't easily forget the spotter (but you can still position them incorrectly of course).
One of the cons is that if you wanted to put hooks or spotters the other way round; too bad! It'll take an hour with a wrench or two to change the hooks or spotters once they're in place, and I don't fancy doing that. It'll also add some wear 'n tear to the locking nuts unless you buy new ones from a hardware store.
This also means that if you buy an extra pair of hooks at a later date, to improve the flexibility of the equipment, you have another hour session or so unbolting the whole top assembly. Overall though, I still prefer this method of securing the hooks and spotters; it just feels more secure to me as you know they can't accidentally fall off.
Adjusting spotter bars is easy; pull out the pins (both hands needed), slide up or down and listen for the unmistakable click (or just look at the locking pins or both look and listen!). But the holes on the Power Cage aren't numbered, so you have to put your own on (as I intend to), or mark it for various exercises or cast eyes left and right until you get a match. I give 3/10 for that; it would be oh-so easy for BodyCraft to number the bloody things, they either never thought of it, which is worrying, or decided to save a dollar or two, which is disappointing.
The spotter bars have a rubber strip on top to minimize metal-metal contact when you put (or drop) the Olympic Bar onto it, which works nicely (having tested it a few times already).
A few specific comments on some of the equipment:
The chin-up bar is just right; not too fat, not too thin. It has a smooth surface though, which makes grip more difficult (and pull-ups are hard enough for an old guy). A knurled or partly-knurled surface would have been preferable, so this is just a minor irritation.
I suspect I could modify the bar, but again it seems like a silly omission. There's also nothing other than a straight bar for chin-ups (the same in all the equipment I reviewed, by the way). It would be nice (even as an extra-cost option) to have a different chin-up bar that has a wider variety of grip options (e.g. neutral grip) on one side, for example. Again, not a big deal.
Bar hooks only allow a barbell to be placed on one side (either inside or outside the cage depending on how you install the hooks) Why the heck didn't they put another bar holder on the opposite side of each hook? It's just welded on, so it couldn't be too hard? There's clearly enough room? I give 3/10 here to BodyCraft, and it's quite an inconvenience.
The hooks themselves work well of course, and most of the time I have the bar in the cage, but when I don't, I have to put it on the floor or weave it back inside the cage because I can't place the bar on the hooks outside the cage as there's no where to put them.
This is notably irritating, and again shows poor creativity in the design. I sometimes wonder if anyone at BodyCraft does any weight lifting. The pictures on BodyCraft's web site don't show this "feature" well, you might mistakenly think that there are Barbell holders on both sides of the hooks. And there's no easy solution; you can't even buy yet-more-hooks as you'd have to stack them one above the other, which will limit your options one way or another. This is perhaps the worst feature about the equipment.
The handles are a little thin, which makes them hurt your palms, thus making dips (more so with weighted dips) more difficult, but for the wrong reason. I have experimented with some foam (actually the Olympic bar pads from BodyCraft.com!), and am having some success, but BodyCraft could fix this as easily as anything.
One note: the dip bars are inserted into one of the spotter bars (either one). Strictly, I would have placed the spotter bars the other-way-round had I thought about this during assembly of the cage: mine are such that when I dip, my head can come close to the chin-up bar, had I put the spotters onto the rack the other way round, this would not occur. I didn't think about this during initial assembly, so they're clearly not idiot-proof instructions. To change this will cost me an un-bolting / re-bolting session of about an hour. Being as I never hit the chin-up bar during dips, and really shouldn't, I can't be bothered to change it.
Assembly was fairly easy, but strains your eyes somewhat with the provided diagrams. They could blow up some of the parts to show left-and-right components (it does matter). Overall though, assembly went smoothly, even the cables. Again, construction is excellent and when you bolt this to the cage, it makes everything even more solid. I'm very pleased that I got the unit that attaches to the cage, I have no concern about using some decent weight, the thing does not move or flex during use, which is important to me.
The pulley's feel very good. BodyCraft seem to have that just right, well done guys. The pulleys feel better than some professional equipment I've used before. Rather cool!
The cable is great, longer than you can pull even for hi-to-low wood-chop exercises etc. They're also smooth to pull and as strong as you'd expect them to be. The Cable crossover attachment is a great accessory. Not cheap but I love it.
Note that there are two pairs of pulleys; one at the top and one at the bottom of each column. Unlike some models, the height of these cannot be adjusted. This is of no concern to me, but might be to others? If so, you need another system, such as the Powertec (similar price, but its stand-alone so might not be as sturdy, especially with high weights)?
Also note that the weight stack is not selectorized, even as an option. Fixing this (to make them selectorized) is an engineering project (which I may undertake one day). I know this would make it more expensive, but selectorized weights are useful.
You may also need four standard-to-Olympic converters unless you happen to have standard weights (I didn't, and didn't want them either as I have nearly 500LB of Olympic weights, so I bought several standard-to-Olympic adapters). The weights shouldn't fall off of course (they remain horizontal throughout all movement), so you could probably put Olympic weights on the standard bars. Personally, I bought the adapters for good measure.
Another minor irritation: why didn't BodyCraft use the same color paint on both the Power Cage and Cable Crossover? Obviously, this does not affect the functionality of the equipment, but aesthetics is still a consideration.
I bought the selectorized version (an extra $200 or so), so I could change weights more rapidly and conveniently. Assembly was easy. The equipment is built very well and again feels very solid.
The supplied Lat Bar is wider than the Power Cage, which sometimes means you have to wiggle the bar to get it out of the way of the top of the cage, and you also probably need to lower the spotter bars out of the way (which is fine, they're not needed, it just means you have to move them and I'm a lazy sod by nature). The Lat bar is very good, and I personally like it being very wide; gives you better workout options. Simply excellent.
Conversely, the supplied row-bar looks a bit tacky looking and is a simple straight design (I'll be ordering a few more bars, I suspect). It works of course.
Importantly, the weight selector works well, everything lines up nicely (no forcing). This is GREAT. The BodyCraft design engineers were on the ball here, and they deserve some credit for this as it's so easy to screw it up with tolerance build-up problems.
Operation: very smooth operation; the cable system that BodyCraft uses is truly first class. Weights go up 'n down on the chrome plated guide rods nice and easy. It feels very professional.
One weakness that will affect you stronger folks out there (and hopefully me one day): there's no leg or knee hooks, so you won't be able to pull down more weight than your body itself weighs; you'll just lift off the seat/floor. Personally, I'm still stuck at 11 pull-ups anyway, so I don't think I'll be doing Lat Tower work with even as much weight than my own body mass, but I know some of the strong (or heavier) folks out there can pull down considerably more, but not on this system, sorry!
A simple foot bar will prevent this, but it's not there (not even an option). This is another clear example of BodyCraft not thinking through their design properly. I'll almost certainly add my own (mainly to give me a footplate for rowing, see next item), but it won't look pretty and it will probably take me quite a while to get it sorted.
Similarly, for rowing, BodyCraft have the equipment designed such that sitting on the floor is the optimum position. I'm OK with this, but there's also no foot plate, so you have to do your best with feet position when you're pulling really heavy loads (you have your heels only for support on the Power Cage bar, and it's possible to slip). More evidence for lack of creativity in the BodyCraft design shop, I'm afraid.
I bought the "econo" (F320) bench after some discussions on bodybuilding.com, when I finally twigged on why many benches don't work well in a rack, you need a bench that will fit in the rack when the bench fully inclined, so you can do upright barbell exercises, for example. Benches that incline by bringing the back upwards and forwards (=most dumbbell benches) might not fit at full incline, the rear feet of the bench hit the back of the cage before the actual seat can get into the cage. You can turn the bench around, but this is obviously not convenient. The BodyCraft F320 version solves this very elegantly.
The F320 bench is great in that when you incline it, the seat moves back and the back comes up, it goes further into the cage. Also, as it goes back, the seat goes closer to the floor which makes it easy to pick up dumbbells. I like the bench. The feel of it is not perfect: it's not exactly wobbly, but it's also not 100% stable either.
I believe the support bars for the bench could be more stable if they were thicker and/or reinforced. I've never had any problem using it to date, even with heavy work, but I do note that it doesn't feel as solid as some professional gym benches I've used. Perhaps that's common for home equipment, I don't know? I may experiment with a reinforcing bar or two at some later date, but only if it becomes a problem.
This works ok. It's never as good as dedicated equipment, but it's usable (I rarely do this exercise anyway; I do more compound movements and much less isolation exercises right now). Note that the attachment takes standard weights by default, so if you have Olympic weights, you'll definitely need another darned adapter.
One thing: when you load more than about 150LB onto the leg extension (hardly a lot, by any standard), the seat becomes front-heavy, and topples over: the rear of the bench lifts into the air and the weights on the front hit the floor. I end up having to put dumbbells over the rear feet to keep it on the floor (or put a 45LB plate on the back of the seat, either works of course). Do you want me to further comment on the creativity of BodyCraft's engineers again, or have I made my point yet?
To date, (19th June) I still don't have this attachment (been on back-order for several weeks now). BodyCraft have never told me when it's going to come, and when I call, I always get an unsatisfactory response. I'm sure I'll get it one day; they're not intending to rip me off over this, but Customer Service and BodyCraft don't go well together, based upon my personal experience, which brings me on nicely to my biggest beef with BodyCraft.
I rate this poor; items not in stock, and then they forgot to ship some. They also screwed with me on the original supplier, and left me (and him!) in the lurch (prevented me from buying online at one supplier because he discounted the prices, and didn't help me find another one; they just gave me the nearest and told me to get on with it).
They almost lost my custom order for this, but after all my research I felt their equipment was the best for me, even if their service sucked. Hopefully, I only have to deal with them "once". I hope your experience is better than mine! God I hope I never get a fault with the equipment! I can only imagine what it would be like trying to get them to do warranty work: if it's been this bad to buy from them, what will they do when I want them to fix something at their expense (a sharp breath intake and feeling of dread in the author).
The BodyCraft equipment is very solid in construction and in great physical condition so it looks pleasing on the eye too. Assembly is fine, with only minor issues. The way the cable crossover is integrated into the Power Cage is EXCELLENT; it makes everything even more solid, and extends exercise options by a wide margin.
The design of the equipment is not perfect, and it is evident that no-one from the design department at BodyCraft is a caring bodybuilder. Several niggling issues that would be simple for them to solve (even at extra cost to Customers), but will cause a user quite a bit of aggravation to resolve for themselves. To summarize:
1. Lack of numbers on the Power Cage holes so it's not obvious when you have the spotter bars (or bar hooks) at different heights.
2. Chin up bar is straight and smooth. A better option would be knurled (or partly knurled) and also to provide for neutral etc. grip positions.
3. Bar hooks should have bar holders on BOTH sides (very frustrating probably the worst thing about the equipment really).
4. No foot/knee hooks for lat tower, so you can't use more than body weight, as you just lift off when you pull the handle down.
5. Similarly, no foot brace when rowing and your heels can slip off the narrow Power Cage.
6. The F320 bench support bars are a little thin, which gives a very slight movement (not quite a wobble) to the bench during use (e.g. step-ups).
7. The bench Leg Extension attachment becomes top-heavy and topples over with weights above about 150LB or so, so you have to put something on the back of the bench to stabilize it. I still laugh at the stupidity of this to this day.
8. BodyCraft Customer Service SUCKS! They return your calls 50% of the time, they don't follow up, and they don't care about messing with your order (or even your supplier). They are the worst fitness product service provider I have dealt with to date. They should buy from BodyBuilding.com's web site if they want to see what a good service looks like!
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