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Vulcan Strength Gymnastics Grips Review

If you head to Amazon and search “CrossFit Grips”, you’ll be bombarded with a TON of brands that are usually just all the same ones with different branding on them. The problem about the sport of fitness growing is that everyone wants a piece of pie and it just over saturates the market. Another problem is that it confuses the shopper and leaves you with a sub-par item.

Vulcan Strength’s supplier for gymnastics grips is a company that specializes in gymnastics equipment, Bailie. Their grips are also made in the United States, so you can rest assured they’re not a cheap import rebrand and they’ve been used in serious gymnastics competitions (read: Olympics). Vulcan is a company I’ve worked with for a long time and if there’s anything I know about them, it’s that they don’t stock junk.

Right out of the box, you’re going to notice that the leather on these grips is extremely stiff while thickness is pretty much on par with any other gymnastics grips. The break in process is not for the faint of heart, the edges of the grips are pretty sharp initially and it takes a few workouts for that to go away. Instructions per Vulcan’s website say that you should roll the grips around before you use them, which I did and made the grips much more pliable.

Another difference between the Vulcan grips is that they taper in the middle of the grip, which is actually pretty nice as it sheds some of the bulkiness away of having grips on, though I think the top of the grip could be slightly narrower. I still would not use these grips for any kind of barbell movement because they’re just a bit stiff. Fortunately it’s really easy to just take them off and flip them over when you head to the barbell. The velcro strap isn’t too out of the ordinary and has enough to go over a set of wrist wraps.

Once you get past the strenuous break-in process, the Vulcan grips provide some of the best holding power to be found on any set of grips. Put a light dusting of chalk on your hands and these things keep you locked down to the bar, coated, bare steel or even wood gymnastics rings. I usually have issues with too much leather bunching up in the middle of my palm with grips for ring muscle ups, but since these taper, that isn’t an issue I’ve had with the Vulcan grips.

The best thing about the Vulcan grips is that they’re also one of the best deals when it comes to grips. You don’t have to sacrifice performance for price because a pair of grips will only set you back a cool $20 shipped; which is pretty much in line with the junk you’re going to find on Amazon. They’re a bitch and a half to break in, but the performance for the price is unbeatable and based on that alone, I recommend the Vulcan grips.

Get your Vulcan Gymnastics Grips here!

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Inov-8 All-Train 215 Shoe Review

We’ve been at a standstill in training shoes for quite some time now, not a ton of technology has really changed. Not that the formula didn’t work, but we’ve really just had the same shoes with different brands on it. It’s just the beginning of the year but 2017 is looking to change all of that. As the sport of fitness evolves, so does the footwear we require.  Interestingly enough, we’re starting to see a departure from the rigid, flat soled shoes into shoes that are a little more geared towards all around performance, with running included. Not that you couldn’t run in flat shoes of old, but they were a little clunky and athletes nowadays are required to be more agile than ever.

Late last year, I reviewed the Inov-8 F-Lite 235v2, which I loved. It has all the makings of a great training shoe: zero drop, flexibility, lightweight, and dense midsole. I don’t mind running in them, but like all wide and rigid trainers, they can be a little choppy to run in.  Leave it to the masterminds at Inov-8 to shake up the formula with the All-Train 215 by fusing their roots in all-terrain running shoes and training shoes to make one of the best all around trainers of the year.

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Looks/Construction:

Honestly, Inov-8 trainers have never been my favorite shoes to look at since the 195. While the 235 and 250 are great performing shoes, their blocky aesthetic and choice of color combinations are probably the biggest reasons why they haven’t really taken off with the mainstream. I don’t really think they care that much to appeal to everyone, but having attractive shoes isn’t a bad thing. The All-Train 215’s are the best looking shoe silhouette that Inov-8 has come up with, period. They look like the spiritual successor to the ever so popular 195 – not overdone, sleek with a little bit of tactical badassery. Most of the colorways fit the design of the shoe and aren’t really outlandish, but this is still an area I think Inov-8 could work on a little bit. When in doubt, just get black.

Build quality is the typical, excellent quality of Inov-8 shoes though one might initially mistake them for being built cheap because they’re so lightweight weighing in at just 7.5oz/215 grams per shoe. Inov-8 keeps things flexible compared to a lot of the other brands out there with a more normal synthetic and mesh upper. One question might be long term durability, but I don’t think any of us have had these shoes long enough to comment on that. They survived a few rope climbs here and there, but who knows what they’ll look like after a hundred or so.

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Fit:

Inov-8 shoes run small on me, so I went with a size US10. I would always recommend just going with the EU size since I think the sizing is a little more accurate that way, in which case I wear an EU43. Compared to the 235’s, the 215’s feel a little bit more fitted since the shape is more like a running shoe, which I prefer over the more boxy toe. I wouldn’t say the 215’s are narrow shoes, but they’re more so than the 235’s just mainly at the toe. Here are my sizes for reference:

  • 215/235v2 – 10
  • Nano 6/7 -10
  • Metcon – 9.5
  • Ultraboost – 9.5-10
  • Boots – 8.5
  • WL Shoes – 9-9.5

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Performance:

Are they running shoes or are they training shoes? They’re both.

The 215’s aren’t marketed as “cross fitness” shoes (which I’m using them for), but rather as a more general training/HIIT gym shoe. It seems that Inov-8 is trying to attract a broader/different audience with the 215’s, or even new grassroots fitness communities, since ours isn’t so much of one anymore. Either way, the 215’s still work excellent for what we do as “cross fitnessers”.

Before receiving the shoes, I was thinking that they might not be good to lift in because of the way they’re marketed. The biggest difference from the 235 is the midsole construction, in that the 215 use an injection molded Fusion EVA midsole rather than a compressed one. While it’s similar in height and drop to the F-Lite 250 (20mm heel/12mm forefoot/8mm drop), the overall feel is different since the 235 and 250 both use the stiffer CMEVA Powerheel. You’ll notice that steps in the 215 have a little bit more “bounce” and are cushioned more, which favor running and plyometric movements, but that doesn’t exactly make them running shoes, as they’re still very responsive for lifting.

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One thing that takes a little bit of getting used to is the forward bias caused by having the larger drop. On the 250’s, you can anchor down more on the heel of the shoe since it doesn’t compress, where you might notice your feet sliding a little forward more in the 215’s due to the slightly more compressible midsole. Even though the majority of the cushioning is at at the heel of the shoe, it doesn’t give enough to detract from most lifts. I’d still use my 235’s for 1RM deadlifts or backsquats, but I felt comfortable enough to do all of my percentage lifting in the 215’s.

Where the 215’s shine the most is in the name: All-Train. These aren’t shoes designed just for lifting, they’re for everything in the fitness world. If you want to go on a trail run, then hit the gym for some lifting, and maybe even go on a swim – the All Train 215’s are the shoe for you. For me, they’re one of the most complete WOD shoes available. They have just enough cushioning to keep my feet comfortable for runs I’m doing in WODs, but I wouldn’t be afraid to wear them for up to a few miles. Since WOD’s don’t typically have 1RMs in them, they’ve been stable for all the lifting I’m doing in a WOD. They’re probably best suited for workouts with a fair amount of plyometric movements since they’re so flexible and most of all, lightweight. You’ll barely even feel like you have shoes on, except that the outsole lug pattern gives you excellent footing no matter what the surface is, asphalt, gravel, rubber or wood. For most people, you’ll never need another pair of training shoes!

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Value/Conclusion:

The All-Train 215’s retail for $110, but you can usually find them slightly discounted if you shop around. At MSRP they’re a steal, but if you can get them cheaper, it’s a no brainer. The All-Train 215’s are currently one of the best deals in training shoes.

I typically favor shoes that are just rigid, flat and favor weightlifting, but it’s impossible to not like the 215’s. If you were a fan of the 195, or more so the 240/230’s, you will no doubt be a fan of the 215. These shoes return to the greatness (not that they ever left) that were the original Inov-8 cross-training shoes. There are better lifting shoes and there are better running shoes, but there are very few shoes that have combined the two as well into a training shoe like the All-Train 215’s. If you’re a cross-fitnesser looking for a WOD shoe and you do your lifting in Oly shoes, or if you’re just someone looking for a damned good pair of training shoes, this is the one.

Get your Inov-8 All-Train 215’s here!

For additional information check out Inov-8’s product page.

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!

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!