Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: Power Wheel (Lifeline USA)

I'm always interested in new implements that can be integrated into CrossFit training (up on my list are slosh pipes and tires, and I spied a sledgehammer in my friend's garage... haha), and surfing the Internet often leads me to websites and blogs where people have recorded their experiences using new training tools. Of course, I mainly peruse blogs that are concerned with performance training, so I can safely say that you will never see me endorsing the Hawaii Chair or even the Bowflex Revolution, or other exorbitantly-priced pieces of junk. I like equipment that is easily portable and versatile in terms of use, does not lock you into fixed planes of movement, and has proven to be effective in achieving any or all of the ten foundational elements of fitness that form the rationale for the CrossFit training methodology.

After reading Zach Even-Esh's blog , as well as the Ice Chamber Athletic Performance Training blog, I noticed that both made plenty of use of the Power Wheel in their training. For the record, Zach is the owner of CrossFit Underground in Edison, NJ, and Ice Chamber is a strength and conditioning training facility (no current affiliation with CrossFit, however) in Albany, CA.
The Power Wheel by Lifeline USA

Before you dismiss the Power Wheel as merely a jazzed-up version of the five-dollar plastic ab wheel you can purchase at most sports stores, or superstores like Target and Walmart, you might want to read this. The main feature that differentiates the Power Wheel from a generic ab wheel is that it comes with footbeds, bands and straps attached to the handle, which allows you to strap your feet into the wheel, thereby greatly increasing the range of exercises you can perform with the wheel.

Order Process/Customer Service/Shipping:
I ordered a Power Wheel (manufactured by Lifeline USA) from Perform Better's online store. At that time, Perform Better had the Power Wheel on sale for only USD $39.95, which definitely was a major factor in my decision to buy it. However, I can't seem to find the Power Wheel in Perform Better's store any longer - I'm guessing it probably sold out, what with the temporary price reduction and all. I had zero problems with shipping and the package arrived in approximately 3 days.

Design and Specifications:
The Power Wheel came disassembled, with accompanying instructions for assembly. Two Allen Keys are provided in the box and there is no need for additional tools. Assembly is pretty quick and intuitive (you can pretty much figure out how to put it together, just by looking at pictures of the wheel).
Closeup of the wheel and footbed

The handlebar is made out of steel and comes with rubber grips that you can slip over the handles for a superior grip. The footbeds are made out of strong plastic, while the attached straps are around an inch and a half in width, pretty thick, and have velcro attachments. The straps hold the toes of the foot in place.
Closeup of the footbed, velcro strap, and band

Two elastic bands come in the package, and they can be looped over the rear of the footbeds and used to hold the user's heels in place. The wheel itself is made out of heavy-duty rubber, with aggressive tread marks that make it suitable for outside use on uneven, rugged surfaces. The spokes on the wheel are fashioned out of plastic and hold up well. All in all, it looks to be a durable, sturdy piece of equipment that is relatively light, easily transported in the back of a vehicle, and quickly disassembled should you want to transport it in a flat box. I have never owned an ab wheel but I've heard that some are shoddily constructed out of cheap, flimsy plastic, and break in no time at all. I can't speak for those wheels but in my opinion the Power Wheel will last for a long time yet.

Training/General Observations:
To get a sense of what the Power Wheel can be used for, watch this video (courtesy of Ice Chamber), which features its owner Steven performing a series of some extremely challenging movements. The Power Wheel is featured approximately 1:24 into the video. (An aside: That video is pretty darn hardcore. Man, that's what I'm talking about when I mean performance training!)

Of course, you probably wouldn't want to start with the "Clap Roll Bridge Series" right away. The Power Wheel I ordered came with an instruction leaflet which, besides detailing its assembly, also provided a short list of movements. Perhaps most intuitive would be to use the Power Wheel as an ab wheel and perform ab wheel rollouts. I won't go into detail on how to do those as you can do a simple Google search which will yield many sources. For the average person, performing a complete rollout (ending with your nose to the ground), even while kneeling, is already considerably challenging. The first time I tried the Power Wheel I did 3 sets of 15 reps of ab rollouts from a kneeling position, and felt it very distinctly the next day. My training buddies have lovingly christened it the "Wheel of Pain".

As I mentioned earlier, the main feature that distinguishes the Power Wheel from a generic ab wheel is that it comes with footbeds, straps, and elastic bands that hold your heels in place. This allows you to perform an entire host of other exercises, most of which are also targeted at core strengthening and balancing, and also some which help you work on hamstring strength and flexibility. You can perform lying leg curls with hips elevated, which really fries the hamstrings. On his blog, Zach suggested something called the 15/15 workout, which involves 15 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, performed with pike-ups and leg curls. Just four minutes and your hams and abs, not to mention your shoulders (and probably the rest of you) are pretty much toast. You can also strap your feet into the footbeds and perform pushups (or clapping pushups), or go for a walk on your hands.

A particularly lethal combination is as follows: Begin parallel to the ground, feet strapped into the wheel, palms on the ground and elbows locked out. Perform a pike-up by rolling the wheel in towards your hands, roll back out, perform a pushup, and then walk two steps forward, using your hands. Rinse and repeat for the length of a basketball court. A guaranteed doozy!
View of the underside of the footbeds

Simply put, the Power Wheel allows you to do fun things on your hands. Alright, maybe not "fun things" in the usual sense of the word, but movements that recruit major muscle groups, demand high levels of core stability, concentration, and coordination (because the likelihood of an unglamorous faceplant is significantly heightened when your feet is on something resembling rollers and you lose control). One of the things I've noticed with the Power Wheel is that it's also a great way to strengthen the smaller stabilizer muscles in the shoulder (think about wheel rollouts, hand-walking) because those muscles are extensively recruited in a lot of the movements. It sure beats doing mundane rotator-cuff exercises with light dumbbells!

Purchasing Options:
I did a quick search on Google and as of this time, there appear to be three options for purchasing the Power Wheel. The first is through the Lifeline USA website (link above), where it retails for USD $59.95 plus S&H, and comes with a video that details how the Power Wheel can be used for training. The other option is to order via Lifestyle Sports on Amazon, where the Wheel retails for $46.95 (free shipping). Another alternative is to order via Allegro Medical on Amazon, where the Wheel retails for $39.00 (but shipping costs $8.95). While I can't recall what I paid for shipping, I'm guessing that the latter two options result in a total cost that approximates what I paid for my Power Wheel. The Power Wheel I ordered didn't come with the training video either. I believe you can only get the video if you order directly through the Lifeline USA website.

Other Considerations:
If you're just looking for a wheel for simple rollouts, pikes, and movements that don't involve strapping your feet in, you can get the same workout with any generic ab wheel. Alternatively, you can use a barbell or dumbbell with round plates to perform rollouts. A variation of the ab rollout, known as the jackknife, can also be performed using a pair of rings mounted low to the ground, where you begin in a pushup position on the rings with your feet on the ground and proceed to push your arms out away in front of you, keeping your elbows locked out, till you come as close to being parallel to the ground with your arms outstretched. I only recommend the Power Wheel if you're pretty sure that you intend to use it for the hamstring and hand-walking work I detailed above. If you plan to incorporate these movements into your workout arsenal, the Power Wheel by Lifeline USA is the best device around (as far as I know, there aren't any other wheels currently on the market, that allow you to strap your feet in and attempt such exercises).

I find the Power Wheel to be a useful tool and a worthwhile training device for any CrossFitter or fitness enthusiast, as it heavily targets the core stabilization muscles. However, I wouldn't consider it an absolutely essential acquisition, especially if you're just starting out and wondering what to buy to set up your first home gym. If that's the case, grab a cheaper ab wheel instead and buy the Power Wheel if you have some spare cash left over after purchasing the basic pieces of equipment (Olympic weight set, rings, dumbbells, kettlebells, jump rope, plyo boxes, pullup bar).

For me, I generally work out in a globo gym where I have access to a weight set, pullup station, and dumbbells. I have a couple of kettlebells, rings, a jump rope which I bring with me to the gym, but no plyo box (but that will be remedied soon). So the Power Wheel is a good option for me since it's easily portable. I can bring it to a playground and put together a firebreather of a workout with only the equipment I have in the back of my car.

So in terms of straightforward priorities, the Power Wheel ranks lower down on the list of immediate need. However, I definitely think it's worth the price I paid (USD $39.95) because there's a myriad of non-traditional exercises that can be performed using it, and after all, variety is the essence of CrossFit.

In my opinion, the Power Wheel gets a 8 out of 10.


Jay C said...


Nice write up, awesome video, very sick stuff.
I made a basic ab wheel, but the straps and foot bed make for a potent training device.

Hope you are well.

Samantha said...

A very insightful post on concentration exercises. Here's a website that i thought i might share with you, which is very helpful on teaching you how to improve your concentration. It's at www.attention-deficit-disorder.net. There are easy guides for you to follow too.