In early 2016 I moved to a two-bedroom, ground floor flat, so space was at a premium and I no longer had room for the Body-Solid Series 7 Smith Machine I was using. I love my weight training but the quality and quantity of good gyms where I live leaves a lot to be desired. Besides, there's nothing like the convenience of having your gym in your home.
A power rack would be my first choice but the space needed for the rack and a 7ft bar — plus the additional space either side to get around it and load plates — makes it impossible for me.
But I do need some form of self-spotting as I train alone, so, with a power rack ruled out, this had me looking at Smith machines and lever gyms.
Smith machines take up nearly as much space as a power rack so this, by degrees, is how I ended up with the Powertec Workbench LeverGym.
The Powertec Workbench LeverGym comes in three boxes and they're well packaged so it's unlikely they'll arrive damaged.
It will be easier to assemble if you have a helper at hand, although I did it by myself in a couple of hours. The instructions are reasonable and if you take it slowly you should be okay.
You'll need a set of sockets and/or spanners.
It has a reasonably small footprint for such devices:
- 207 cm (81.5 inches, 6ft 9.5ins) deep
- 146 cm (57.5 inches, 4ft 9.5ins) wide
- 208 cm (82 inches, 6ft 10ins) high.
Those dimensions include the bench when it's attached to the machine. Without the bench it's about 122 cm (48 inches, 4 ft) deep.
You'll need to add about 12 inches on either side of the width to allow you to get around the machine and load plates and you'll need to add about 18 inches to the depth to allow the rear lever to be raised by the pulley system. It should fit in most homes or garages in terms of the height.
The LeverGym itself consists of three main components. There's the front pressing lever, which is rated up to 500 lbs, there's the rear lever, which is operated by the high and low pulleys and is rated up to 300 lbs, and there's the bench. The bench attaches to a slot at the bottom of the LeverGym and there's a screw-in pin that makes it easy to attach and detach.
This a plate-loaded machine. There are no weight stacks and it just takes Olympic weight plates (with a 2 inch hole) on both the front and rear levers. I believe you can get converters to allow it to take 'standard' plates (with a 1 inch hole) but I didn't need these so I haven't bothered to look them up.
I much prefer plate-loaded systems to weight stacks. Stacks can be convenient, I admit, but you generally pay more for stack systems and I prefer the adjustability of plate-loaded systems (you're not limited to weight jumps of one 'notch' on the stack). You're also getting good value out of your plates as they can be used for standard barbell and dumbbell exercises too.
The bench has two 'locations'. You can locate it forward so that the weight is towards the front of the bench; this is where you'd need it for flat bench presses or to sit on for lat pulldowns. Or you can locate it backward so that the weight is towards the rear of the bench; this is where you'd need it for shoulder presses or leg extensions (with the optional leg lift attachment). These 'locations' are all about setting the centre of balance. The back of the bench can be set anywhere from decline to nearly upright (there's still a slight angle back) and the seat can either be flat or inclined in one of three positions.
The bench can take a number of attachments: a leg press attachment, a flye attachment, a curl attachment, a dip attachment and a leg lift attachment, which is the only one I bought along with the LeverGym. I have read poor reviews of the leg press attachment but the other attachments seem to be okay, although I only have direct experience of the leg lift attachment, which is fine.
The bench is decent enough. There's a slight wobble when it's in the front position, which I don't like, but it's not too distracting. It can be fixed to some degree by making sure the slot on the lever-gym where the bench attaches is bolted up really tight. Ideally, the bench could do with two feet at the front, like it has at the back.
The bench has wheels at the back to that it can be moved around easily and there are handles at either side of the seat you can hang on to when you're doing things like leg extensions. The only trouble with these handles is that they can get in the way when you're doing dumbbell work with the seat back vertical.
The Front Lever
The front lever is mainly for pressing movements. You can use it for bench presses (incline, decline or flat) or shoulder presses and it feels both smooth and natural. This is one of the areas in which this LeverGym excels. You can also use it effectively for bent over rows and shrugs. The lever is adjusted to different heights by repositioning a pin.
The pressing arm has another pin that locks both of the pressing arms together but you can remove the pin and operate each arm independently if you wish.
There is also a padded crossbar that slots into the holes on the ends of the pressing handles. This is to allow you to hold the pressing lever across your shoulders so you can do squats or calf raises. The squat movement itself feels natural enough but one difficulty here is that you're starting the movement from the 'down' position. This doesn't seem to matter with pressing movements but it's much more noticeable with squats. It can be awkward to get into position and lift yourself upright under weight. In practice you have to perch on the bench and lift off from there. I'd argue this makes it impossible to do truly heavy squats on the LeverGym. I've tended to go much lighter and just to more reps, which is not always ideal.
The Rear Lever
The rear lever is operated by the lat pulldown and cable row system. You just load plates on the rear lever at the bottom and you're good to go. The pulley system is top notch — it's really smooth and as good as any pulley system I've used, better than most.
The LeverGym only comes with three attachments for the pulley system: an angled lat pulldown bar, a small, straight bar that can be used for cable rows or triceps pressdowns and a D-ring. Chances are you'll want to improve on this, maybe with a double-stirrup 'V' bar or some ropes for triceps work. You may also want some lengths of chain to extend the reach of the pulley system and give you some room to manoeuvre.
Other Notable Points
There are two plate storage prongs on the LeverGym, which are fine as long as you don't store large plates on them and want to use the LeverGym with the pin at its lowest setting. In that particular configuration the stored plates can interfere with the plates on the front lever.
If you get yourself a calf block you can do calf raises on this machine by using the squat bar with the front lever held across your shoulders.
The bench can of course be detached from the machine and used for other things, such as dumbbell work, in a power rack or whatever.
The weight of the front pressing arm (without any plates on) is 15 lbs (7 kg) and you need to deduct about 10% from the LeverGym movement to translate that to what you might lift with free weights. So, for example, a 100 kg bench press on the LeverGym translates to a 90 kg bench press with free weights. This is of course just a very rough estimate.
The Powertec Workbench LeverGym is a worthy machine. A power cage would be better of course but if your space is limited and you want a versatile, multipurpose machine, then the Powertec Workbench LeverGym might fit the bill. I'd argue that you can't really squat heavily on this machine and that ranks as its major bad point. In most other areas it's pretty good.
However, there is an important point to make. It would be remiss of me not to add that if you’re a keen bodybuilder or powerlifter training at home in limited space you’ll probably get fed up with this machine if it’s your only workout kit. You’ll yearn for a barbell-based workout instead, even if it’s only one on a Smith machine. Trust me, you will. So, if this is going to be your only bit of workout kit, I see this as something that would suit someone who simply wants to keep fit rather than a dedicated weight-trainer.
- Compact design as far as home gyms go,
- good, natural-feeling pressing arm,
- very smooth pulley system,
- isometric arms that can be used together or independently,
- reasonably priced,
- ideal for someone who had general fitness as an aim rather than dedicated muscle or strength building.
- All exercises on the front lever start from the 'down' position. This is not a problem for most exercises but it makes squats with a challenging weight very difficult,
- plate storage prongs can interfere with the front lever (when large plates are stored on the storage prongs and the pressing lever is used at its lowest setting),
- slight wobble from the bench,
- handles on the bench can interfere with dumbbell exercises,
- not suitable for the dedicated weight-trainer, bodybuilder or powerlifter if it’s the only bit of kit you have.