As you probably know, the fitness industry is growing bigger and stronger than ever. (Yay, health!) With that we also get fun and sometimes wacky new workouts, fitness tech, and exercise tools that the #ShapeSquad just has to try. (Just check our recent reviews of the latest, greatest workout gadgets.)
Our newest curiosity: Power Reels, the magical 2-pound baby that comes from a three-way between a resistance band, dumbbells, and a pulley machine. The patented design promises consistent resistance throughout the movement (unlike elastic bands, which serve up light resistance at the initial pull and heavier resistance at the end). The result: You can build lean muscle without using heavy weight or tons of equipment. (And, ICYMI, a recent study shows that lifting lighter weight for higher reps produces similar muscle gains as lifting heavy weight for low reps.)
Not sure what to do with them? There's a library of 10 online video workouts that range from total strength and HIIT to kickboxing and Pilates, all using the Power Reels. They come in 3-, 5-, and 8-pound resistance levels—but each one weighs in at only 2 pounds, making them easy to tote around. Despite being ultra lightweight, these babies have a heavyweight impact on your wallet: Just one set costs $70 on their website.
But is the price tag worth the sweat? Is this newfangled contraption really better than plain ol' dumbbells and resistance bands? Shape staffers geared up and grabbed a pair of the 5-pound Power Reels to find out.
"I liked the familiar grip of a dumbbell."
If you have a love-hate relationship with holding onto resistance bands, these might be a game-changer: "While I'd say that this tool has some limitations when you compare it to, say, resistance bands, I did find the familiar grip of a dumbbell shape to be an advantage," says Alyssa Sparacino, Shape Web Editor, who tried using the Power Reels for reverse flys, biceps curls, shoulder presses, and plank rows. "When doing some moves with a resistance band, the handle or the tubing can dig into your hand, which can often cause you to quit before your working muscles want to. Regardless, I don't think the Power Reel offers anything that another standard tool or even your own bodyweight cannot or doesn't do."
"I'd need to do a million reps in order to really feel the burn."
Jasmine Phillips, Shape Social Writer, agreed that the grip is a major plus: "Since the Power Reels have a dumbbell on each side, it's easier for me to grip than a regular resistance band," she said. "But I would have to do a million reps in order to really feel the burn." (If grip strength is your biggest problem, try this grip strength workout.)
"Because I'm not a big fan of dumbbells in general, I'd be more willing to use this."
On the other hand, if you steer clear of dumbbells, this alternative tool may just be heaven-sent. "I generally don't like working out my arms," says Sophie Dweck, Shape Web Intern. "In fact, I'm the biggest wuss when it comes to dumbbells. I thought I wasn't going to like the Power Reel... but it was more stable to use, and I especially liked using it while doing a side plank." (BTW here's why you shouldn't be afraid of the big dumbbells.)
Next up, we gave the Power Reels to our new Shape Fitness Editor, Sara Angle. She tried the same moves using both the Power Reels and resistance tubing, and found the tubing to be more challenging and therefore more effective. "Plus, you're not supposed to step on the Power Reels in any way, making it less versatile than resistance tubing," she says. "I'd be interested in trying a heavier set, but even with the heaviest set they offer I'm not sure if they could stand up against the more portable and affordable resistance tubing."
"Certainly nothing you couldn't do with dumbbells or a resistance band."
Shape Health Editor, Mirel Ketchiff, tried a wood chopper, plank shoulder press, and side plank pullover, and agreed that they're a little more stable than dumbbells and neater than a long resistance band. (Great point: These things won't get knotted up in your gym bag, or caught on the wrong body part mid-workout.) "But all in all, seems like it has limited uses and certainly nothing you couldn't do with dumbbells or a resistance band," she says.
And while they're super lightweight, they're not quite as compact as a band or tube; "I found the equipment to be clunky in my wood chop low to high pull," says Marietta Alessi, Shape Social Media Editor. "I feel like doing the same workout with just a resistance band would give me more tension and a better workout—plus it's easier to scale up and down and takes up less space." (And resistance bands really work; just try this metabolism-boosting resistance band workout.)
The Shape Consensus
If you're going for a heavier burn or want more bang for your buck, you might want to pass on these guys. But if you hate handling resistance bands and aren't into lifting heavy? This lightweight tool could make a great addition to your gym bag or at-home workouts. (Just remember: You can do killer things with only your bodyweight too.)