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Christian’s Fitness Factory Keystone Bar & X Training Equipment Elite Bearing Bar Review

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I think I’m having deja vu.

It’s like I’ve come across this bar before…

I’ve said this before, but with the influx of import barbells to the weightlifting/crossfit market, you tend to see a lot of the same bars, just rebranded. To be fair, a lot of the barbells that are domestically made are the same ones as well. Now that doesn’t necessarily make them bad, but it sucks for me more than anyone else because I end up with a bunch of duplicate barbells; though I don’t mind all that much when the bars are good. In this case, it’s the latter.

A bar that I tried way early on when I first started reviewing things was the X Training Equipment Elite Bearing bar, which at the time, was really rough and lacked polish. The spin and whip were great, price point decent, but the knurling was just too uneven. On a whim, I picked that bar up again because it went on sale and ended up loving it. Everything that plagued the initial run of the barbell was fixed and I ended up PR’ing my clean at 300; something I never got close to on any barbell that cost 3x the price. I never updated that review, but you can take this review as and update to that.

Like I said, a lot of bars I run into are just rebranded versions of others and in this case, the Christian’s Fitness Factory Keystone bar is the same thing as the X Training Equipment bar. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not, but you’re better off just going for whichever one is cheaper at the moment.

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Construction:

Looking at the specifications of the bars, the CFF bar advertises a tensile of 205k PSI and a 166k PSI yield, whereas the XTE bar advertises their bar at 190k PSI with no yield listing. I know what you’re thinking, “If they’re the same bar, why is one tensile higher than the others?”, well when it comes down to it, you’re never going to be able to tell the difference. Anything over 190k PSI tensile is strong enough to take any kind of punishment and not bend (unless dropped directly on a point). I’m not saying CFF is lying about having a higher tensile, because they might, but it’s just not something you’re ever going to notice over the XTE bar.

Both bars feature a 28mm diameter shaft, 8 needle bearings (4 per sleeve), a light depth knurling and hard chrome coating. Everything about these bars is the same other than the “tensile”; if you put both bars side by side without end caps, you’d never be able to tell them apart. Once again, this isn’t a bad thing, the build quality of the bars is excellent with little play side to side in the sleeves and consistent knurling throughout. Any rattling you might get is just from the endcaps sliding around and not actually from the sleeves being loose.

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Performance:

$800 performance in a sub $300 bar.

Sounds pretty enticing right? Well, for the most part, it’s true. When it comes down to it, most people aren’t going to be able to tell the difference between either of these bars and an Eleiko bar as far as whip or spin is concerned. Obviously the Eleiko is probably going to be finished a little nicer with it’s polished chrome and it’s unique knurling, but for most people, the performance of the CFF/XTE bars will be absolutely stellar.

If you’re used to lifting on bushing bars, the spin alone of the CFF/XTE bars will make you a believer. Never will you have to worry about a slow turn over and having such fast, smooth bushings is like having wrist protection built into you barbell. The shaft rotates extremely well inside the sleeves which not only makes for a great weightlifting training bar, but also a great high rep CrossFit bar.

The bars are both pretty good as far as their whip goes; the oscillation is better than most and should be for most beginner to advanced lifters as well. Both bars don’t really get going until around 225lb/100kg, and like most 190k PSI bars it only gets better as you go up in weight. Best of all, the bar doesn’t wreck you when you make contact, which to me is one of the better indicators of the dynamic properties of a barbell, making for an overall smooth lifting experience.

Those of you looking for Eleiko knurling will be sorely disappointed. Personally, I like the lighter knurling of the CFF/XTE bars because I think they provide excellent grip without totally destroying your hands, but in no way are they close to the depth of an Eleiko bar. If I had to say the knurling resembled any, it would be closest to the Rogue WL training barbell, which in my opinion has one of the best, most well rounded knurl patterns out there.

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Value/Conclusion:

The CFF bar retails for $262 and the XTE bar retails for $300 normally. Both are excellent values for the price, but the edge goes to the CFF bar for normally being $40 cheaper. That being said, at the time of this review, you can get the XTE bar for $200 on sale and use code “enderton2016” for another $20 off, making the grand total $180 shipped. For that price, there is no other comparable barbell making the XTE bar, the best barbell on the market for the price. I’m not sure how long that’s going to last, but I highly recommend you jump on it while you can. Even if that weren’t the case, the CFF bar’s normal price of $262 is one of the best deals without any kind of discounts (though if you own an affiliate, that price goes down to $222 shipped!).

Nowadays, the selection for barbells is greater than it’s ever been before. If you needed an excellent performing weightlifting training bar or general use WOD bar, it’s really hard (impossible) to beat the price to performance ratio of the CFF or XTE bars. The only people I wouldn’t recommend these bars to would be people that love aggressive knurling, or people looking for press/squat bars. You can’t go wrong either way, so just pick whichever is the better price at the time and go with that.

Get your X Training Elite Bearing Barbell Here!

Get your Christian’s Fitness Factory Keystone Bar here!

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Reebok CrossFit Grace Shoes Review (From a male perspective)

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Now I know these shoes weren’t meant for me, being a male and all, but I couldn’t help not getting my hands on a pair on the Reebok CrossFit Grace’s to check out what makes them special. With that said, you can take pretty much all I have to say with a grain of salt. I almost didn’t even go through with the review, for the last thing women need is a guy commenting on a shoe designed specifically for them; but since I have them in hand, I might as well at least go over a few things about them after my time with them. Hopefully my female (or male) readers won’t mind too much.

I’m honestly glad that Reebok designed a shoe specifically for the females in the community. Guys usually get all the cool stuff, so it’s nice to see the gals get something for once. Women supposedly have more narrow heels and the balls of their feet are wider from a males foot of the same size. Typically Reebok shoes fit very close to unisex, though the female variants might be a teeeeeeeeeeny bit more narrow in the midfoot. Overall, the Nano shape is pretty accommodating to most people’s feet – wide and flat, which is great for weightlifting movements, but they’ve never been the greatest of running shoes. The Speed Tr to me was never a running shoe and more of a narrow Nano, but the Grace’s seem to be an even bigger step towards making a competent training shoe that’s okay for running.

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Looks/Construction:

Asides from a few colorways, you’d never even think just by looking at the Grace’s that they’re female specific shoes. In the black/white colorway, they almost look like the new Nano 7’s that Rich Froning has been training in. While the upper looks like it’s a knit material, it’s actually far from it. It’s a jacquard built from 3DFuseFrame, polyester and mesh that feels more like plastic you’d find on an old school folder than fabric. For the most part it’s flexible, but it does create a bunch of weird creases when it flexes, and feels kind of like having your foot inside a water bottle. Though for some reason, on the smaller model I ordered for my gf, the upper flexed much better and was less “crunchy” than on the women’s 11 I ordered for myself.

At the foot insertion point, there’s a rear bootie system that only extends about midway to the front of the shoe and is covered by the jacquard upper. While the bootie fits well around your ankle, the jacquard flexes oddly outwards here if you put pressure down into your heel, making you wonder why the two weren’t just connected in the first place. It doesn’t do anything adverse functionally, but it just doesn’t look good.

A lot of the shoe resembles the Speed TR, because it’s actually built on the same “FastFrame” that the Speed’s are on. The midsole is probably the same type of compression molded EVA found in most of Reebok’s CrossFit shoes. It doesn’t compress a ton, about the same as the Speed TR’s and slightly more than Nanos; I find it fairly comfortable nowadays and prefer it this way. The outsole uses the same type of rubber, shape and for the most part, tread pattern. The Grace’s have a much larger patch of the RopePro in the middle of the shoe, an area the Speed’s lacked in, but are missing the midfoot shank from the Speed TR’s. At the heel, the Grace’s are 10mm down to 6mm at the toe, giving them a 4mm drop.

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Fit:

Since the shape, and presumably last is built the same as the Speed TR’s, size them the same as you would those shoes. For those that haven’t tried the Speed TR’s on, they run slightly longer, so you’ll need to go down half a size from your standard training shoe. If any guy’s are looking to buy a pair of Grace’s, the normal standard for sizing is 1.5 up from your men’s size, but in the case of the Grace, just go a size up.

Performance:

2017 is the year of the CrossFit “running” shoe and the Grace’s are Reebok’s first hit at it this year, as we’re still likely to see the Speed TR 2 sometime. The shape of the Grace’s are even more geared towards a running shoe than any other Reebok training shoe before because of how aggressively the toe slopes upwards. You’ll immediately notice the shoe almost pushing you forward even just walking around. The shoe feels great and the forefoot is flexible for movements like running, box jumps or burpees. The multidirectional tread pattern also give the Grace’s excellent grip.

What make the Grace’s good for metcons, also make them suffer a bit for lifting movements, mainly Olympic weightlifting where you might find yourself landing on your toes more often than not. You can’t have it all, so if you wanted a better lifting shoe you might want to stick with the Speed TRs or Nanos.

Since the only thing holding your foot in the shoe is the bootie and the thin jacquard, the shoe lacks a little bit of structure at the heel; there is no counter that seems to be the current trend in training shoes.  I never noticed any issues of the midsole compressing while squatting, but you don’t quite get that locked in feel that you do with Nano’s or even the Speeds. This is probably an issue limited to me and probably any other guy looking to buy the Grace’s, but insides of the shoe don’t quite match up to my feet either, with the “arch” being too far forward on my foot and not actually meeting my arch. The shoe otherwise is still pretty flat, but it just feels like there’s a weird bump right under the balls of my feet.

The weight of the Grace’s also lend themselves towards more of a running/metcon shoe. They only weigh in at 9.5 oz per a size 11!

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Value/Conclusion:

The Grace’s retail for the same amount as the Speed TR’s at $100 and so only if you really wanted a shoe that’s a little bit more geared towards running, would I say go for the Grace’s over the Speed’s. Alternatively, these shoes would probably make for a great HIIT or boot camp shoe. If you’re a guy looking into the Grace’s, I wouldn’t do it, the shape of the shoe just won’t match up with your foot as it’s not a unisex shoe, stick to Nano’s, Speed’s or wait for whatever Reebok has in store for the guys.

Like I said, you can take whatever I said with a grain of salt, these shoes didn’t work out for me at the end of the day, but it could very well be because I’m a guy and these shoes weren’t even made for me. It wasn’t just that they didn’t fit me well, because that’s to be expected, but the weird plastic-y jacquard upper was just not pleasing to have your foot inside of. A female might think otherwise, like I said, the smaller sizes were more flexible.

Purchase your Reebok CrossFit Grace here!

NEW Images of the Reebok Nano 7 Knit!

I got some exclusive images of the upcoming Reebok Nano 7 knit! These show off some unseen colorways and probably the best details out of any picture yet.  Top two images look like men’s colorways while the bottom are probably females, the knit looks a little tighter on the men’s shoes.

More details to follow…

Thanks to Thoai for sending these my way!

File Apr 03, 11 01 53 PMFile Apr 03, 11 02 08 PMFile Apr 03, 11 02 17 PMFile Apr 03, 11 02 26 PM

Strencor American Lifter Barbell Review

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Strencor is a new fitness brand trying to make their name with a signature barbell made for Jared Fleming called the American Lifter barbell. The marketplace over the past few years has gotten saturated with tons of generic barbells, and not just limited to imports. Even USA made barbells typically come from the same places. Nowadays, I can usually tell when I look at the specifications, knurl, or even sleeves, but every so often a bar comes along that makes me second guess myself.

Not that the specs for the American Lifter Bar were bad, the product page was just a little all over the place. From experience with certain manufacturers, I know that there aren’t many USA made 28mm barbells with needle bearings because of sourcing the bearings; seeing those two things together was a little odd. The specs on this bar are a jumbled mess when you compare it to what their advertising on Instagram says. Maybe that’s what they were going for, because it piqued my interest and made me want to try out the bar for myself.

Construction/Build Quality:

Seeing “made in the USA” to me, means that there has to be a certain level of craftsmanship that must be upheld for whatever product it is. While not quite at the same level of polish as a Rogue barbell (not many things are), the American Lifter bar almost holds its own. The first thing I did upon receiving the AL bar was measure the diameter of the shaft and sure enough it was actually 28.5mm in diameter. I was really hoping that I was going to be wrong, but experience proved me right. The bar is also advertised at a 185k PSI yield strength; when asked why they went with a yield number over tensile, the response was: it’s a more relevant measure for the actual use of the bar. Honestly, in my experience, tensile strength doesn’t mean a thing in the real world.

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The sleeves on this bar resemble a bar made in 2012; the shoulders are still really wide compared to what you’ll currently find out there. Aesthetically it’s weird to look at since I’m used to seeing thinner shoulders, I don’t need to put rubber bands on them but it does decrease the loadable area of the sleeve. On a positive note, there isn’t much play side to side so there isn’t a ton of noise when you drop the bar. On the flipside, the sleeves are held on using a coiled clip as opposed to normal C-clips, making it much more difficult to maintain the bar.

For the most part, the knurling is well cut and uniform until you get to the areas around the IPF/IWF markings, where it protrudes a little bit. It never really bugged me and overall, I thought the knurling was great. I would rate it as a medium/light knurling thats comfortable to hold for reps and deep enough for weightlifting singles.

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Performance:

Numbers don’t mean jack, if the bar isn’t fun to use, but I think the American Lifter bar has a ton of character to it and is currently my daily driver! Even though it’s not a 28.5mm shaft, I can still perform oly lifts just fine with it. I’m mainly doing CrossFit anyways and the AL bar makes for an excellent WOD bar. Strencor went with the bigger diameter for this limited run because currently Jared is doing more CrossFit type training this year as he recovers from his ACL surgery. Compared to other 28.5mm bars out there, the AL bar blows them away in terms of “whip”/oscillation, which totally took me by surprise and is what makes the bar a lot of fun to use. It’s hard to put “whip” into words, but the best way I can describe this bar is that it’s “springy”.

When I first got the bar, I thought I had been lied to about the needle bearings. I couldn’t rest until Scott from Strencor showed me pictures of the actual bearings they use, which are larger than normal and are designed for durability rather than overall spin. Forewarning: the sleeves on the AL bar hardly rotate right out of the box and need a lot of breaking in. You can however, speed up the process by spraying some kind of lubricant into the sleeves. Even after doing that, the sleeves never really got going a ton, but they spin just fine for the weights most people are going to be lifting. I never noticed any kind of stickiness or slow turn over when working out with the AL bar. Still, the sleeves rotate about the same as an average bushing barbell, not something you’d expect from needle bearing.

For future bars: keep the whip, maybe add some light lubricant or more bearings to the sleeves, and hopefully get it down to 28mm and you’ll have a winner on your hands.

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Value/Conclusion:

While the barbell isn’t really all that expensive at $274, shipping can be; to get this bar to California, it costs a whopping $45. When you compare that to most people’s free shipping, the price overall isn’t quite comparable. You can use code “Fleming” for 10% off your order, but even after the coupon, it costed me a little under $300. If you live on the east coast, shipping is only $15, making the AL barbell a pretty good deal after the coupon.

I think the American Lifter bar is in an odd spot. Most people interested in this bar are going to be because of Jared Fleming’s name and Olympic Lifting legacy; I know I was. As a Crossfitter, it’s not the end of the world that the bar is 28.5mm in diameter, but that’s a deal breaker for all Olympic weightlifters, at least the ones I know. If this bar was “insert well known CrossFit athlete’s name here” bar, we wouldn’t even be talking about the fact that it’s 28.5mm. Another point is the price, which gives the bar a ton of stiff competition, especially when you can get the “big” name’s barbells at the same price or cheaper. Even 28mm import bearing bars for much less would entice the weightlifting crowd. “Made in the USA” is a big deal for me, but it’s not a deal breaker either.

I really do like the American Lifter bar, it really is a ton of fun to use as a general use WOD bar, but that’s pretty much what it is. Don’t expect true Oly bar performance out of it (like I did), or you’re going to be disappointed. Strencor is still a new brand and I’m sure they have a bright future ahead of them. Be on the look out for some competition ready stuff coming soon!

www.strencor.com

Strike-Mvmnt Chill Pill Transit & Mid Review (Collection 5)

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Shoe design life must be rough. We saw the release of Reebok’s Nano 7 earlier in the year and it was met with some pretty harsh criticism, but it seemed rushed and paled in comparison to the previous Nano 6. I think the main problem there was that they took such a radical departure from the previous model, which in my opinion is the greatest training shoe of all time. If they had somehow eased in the changes, people would have been a lot more receptive of the new model, but it is what it is and you can only learn from Reebok’s mistake.

Strike-Mvmnt has been releasing the Chill-Pill/Interval combo for some time now, with the biggest update to the shoes being when they added the Cross Platform outsole to the Chill-Pill in 2015. We’re currently in the 5th generation of Strike-Mvmnt shoes and every update since has been more of an evolution than revolution. Collection 5 adds minor updates to the stellar Chill-Pill line-up, further refining the already great shoe, just don’t expect a brand new model.

Looks/Construction:

You’d be lying to yourself if you thought the Chill-Pills were an ugly shoe. The design aesthetic is classic, unoffensive, maybe a little plain, but definitely not ugly. Personally, I think the Chill-Pills are the best looking training shoe out there, mainly because they don’t really look like a training shoe at all. Sure, by now they could use an update other than changing up the materials, but that’s probably because I own pretty much all of them. Also, some new colorways would be nice (*cough*red*cough*) other than the standard black and grey; once again, unoffensive.

There was an (excellent) shoe called the Pace they had out for a short amount of time, but was discontinued. When I asked what happened to it, they said they put production on hold because the inside tag wasn’t staying glued on.  THAT’S IT?! Such a small thing that most manufacturers wouldn’t even bother with, but that just goes to show the level of quality Strike-Mvmnt puts into their products. Strike-Mvmnt is a smaller company and the build quality of their products reflect this. Everything seems to be made with a little more attention and care than what you’d find on some of the bigger brands. There’s no loose seams, glue, or stitching anywhere on all three pairs of Collection 5 shoes that I
received.

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For colorways, I went with the Storm Grey Transit and Grey Melange Mid. The Transits have ballistic nylon around the shoe’s quarter (ankle area) and is topped off with a plush micro-suede material on the toe-box. The Mid’s use a new melange fleece material throughout that is a little rougher to the touch, but is still as flexible as the Transit. Since the mid has a higher cut, there’s also a neoprene pad at the Achilles area of the shoe to prevent chaffing, but I never really noticed it working or not (that probably means it does). Both uppers aren’t resistant to dirt, but you’ll be able to rope climb in both without damaging either upper.

One thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of in the Collection 4 Chill-Pill was that I thought the shoe lacked structure. Collection 5 updates this with high density foam around the collar, new tongue stays and a new insole. The fit is improved greatly with the new collar foam, giving you a more secure in shoe feeling. The new tongue stays make it a little harder to put your laces inside the tongue’s pleasure pocket, but that’s not a big deal considering the tongue now feels a bit more structured. I didn’t mind the paper thin insole from before, but the new one does feel a little nicer on your feet. The weight of the shoe is increased by about half an ounce, but the shoe feels more solid overall.

Fit:

Not much has changed in this department – I wear a size 9.5 in my Chill-Pills and they fit me perfectly. The overall shape resembles the Nike Metcon line-up so I would recommend sizing the same. What I found to work best when sizing shoes is to just go by the EU sizing, it makes the most sense compared to all of the others. Those with wide, flat feet, beware, there is a feeling of “arch support” in the Chill-Pills caused from the semi-curved last. I’ve got pretty normal feet and it doesn’t bother me, but I’ve heard from people with flat feet that it can cause some plantar fascia pain.

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Performance:

“United by Motion” is the mantra of Strike-Mvmnt – whether you’re a Crossfitter, b-boy, or parkour-er; movement is movement and these are probably my favorite shoes to move in. I’ve always said this, but the addition of the Cross Platform outsole was the best thing Strike has ever done to their shoes; I’m just waiting for an Interval with it.

Strike’s uppers were always light and flexible, but the Stable Platform outsole was just a tad too soft when it came to heavier lifting, unlike the medium density midsole and Cross Platform outsole which is almost incompressible. Stability and responsiveness is top notch and rivals the best shoes in the training world, but while those fail in flexibility, the Chill-Pills come out on top. The low midsole stack, 2.5mm drop and incompressible outsole make for some of the most stable lifting shoes for either weightlifting or powerlifting. I haven’t had any issues with the midsole being overly soft, even hitting deadlifts over 500lbs in these shoes.

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There are other shoes with excellent power delivery, but they’re usually pretty bad for anything that requires you to be quick on your feet. The flexibility of the Chill-Pills in combination with their stability make them some of the overall best training shoes around. I did the Open workout 17.5 in my Chill-Pills, which in total was 90 thrusters and 350 double unders – and yes, my feet did hurt, but it was minimal and wasn’t enough for me to take my focus off the workout. I don’t think you could do that workout in any shoe without any kind of foot pain. I couldn’t imagine how much my feet would have been burning up if I were using Nano 7’s.

Another massive benefit of the Cross Platform outsole is just how grippy it is. I have smoother rubber mats in my gym that even some weightlifting shoes have issues gripping and the Chill-Pills have never left me with a loss of footing. Landing box jumps feels sure footed, as is gripping the rope while climbing.

The only real difference between the Transit and Mid just comes down to the cut; Functionality wise, they’re pretty much identical. Personally, if I had to recommend one, it would be the Transits because I think the low cut is just a little more comfortable for training and running. If you wanted more of an all purpose shoe for hiking as well, then I would go with the Mid’s. They work well both ways and I don’t keep my Mid’s laced up all the way anyways.

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Value/Conclusion:

Transit’s will set you back $115 and Mid’s $129, which fall in line with just about everything else out there. Strike-Mvmnt is a small brand with not a ton of brand recognition, but in my experience, they’re a great company. It’s up to you if you want to support the big dogs, or if you want to support a brand that actually has real passion in what they’re doing. The quality and performance of their goods is excellent, so you won’t be disappointed in their product. Brand whores might not acknowledge you, but if you want to swim away from the mainstream, Strike-Mvmnt is one of the best ways to go.

The first day I laced up my Collection 5 Chill-Pills and hit the gym, was one of the best lifting days I had in a long while, especially after hurting my back. I knew that whatever movements I was doing that day, I had the shoes to perform in. Confidence defines your lifting and I’m just sure I can do anything when I have my Chill-Pills on. Doing what I do, I don’t get to spend a lot of time with shoes that I really like, so getting to review the new Chill-Pills was like coming home. 2017 has already been a big year for training shoes, and as of right now, Chill-Pills are my top choice of available training shoes. If you care about movement at all, I’m sure you’ll feel the same.

As always, big shout out to Marc over at Strike-Mvmnt for hooking it up with the shoes. Much appreciated!

https://strike-mvmnt.com/

(You can currently get the still excellent Collection 4 Chill-Pill Camo’s for only $78!!!)