The MAJOR FITNESS Spirit B52: Our Review of the Rack+Smith Machine

Reviewed by: Tom Eskey

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I’m not totally familiar with the history and hierarchy of U.S. Air Force planes, but I seem to recall that the B52 has been around for a long time.

They full name of the B52 is actually the “B52-Stratofortress”.

I’m not sure what differentiates a “stratofortress” from any other type of large, seemingly indestructible armored entity, but now that I’ve got my hands on the MAJOR FITNESS Spirit B52 Smith Machine All-in-one Home Gym Machine, I feel like I have a fortress in the comfort of my garage.

Why does my Spirit B52 Smith Machine feel like a home gym “fortress”? It takes everything I thought I needed in a “complete” home gym setup and threw in a bit extra. Let’s take a quick look at my new B52 (next time, you’ll have to pay a membership fee!)

Can a Power Rack and a Smith Machine Really Co-Exist?

The Spirit B52 combines everything you could generally ask for in a standard home power rack with the luxury of a Smith Machine. While most people probably don’t go out of their way to purchase a combination machine like it, they almost certainly would not regret the extra functionality and exercise versatility it presents.

Pros

  • Unmatched exercise and movement versatility. Can perform all “traditional” power rack exercises and Smith Machine exercises.
  • J-hooks, dip bars, and safety bars are all single-piece, solid metal components adding degrees of stability and instilling confidence during intense sets.
  • Even as a combination machine, assembly is not exponentially more time consuming or complex. It is easy to put together and start lifting on!

Cons

  • Pulley cable holders must be screwed and unscrewed each time the height is changed which is slightly time consuming.
  • Only a small portion of the assembly instructions are written out (the majority are simply pictures).
  • Safety bars do not extend very far, making it necessary to squat really close to the rack in order to take advantage of them.

Shipping and Packaging

The B52 arrived in four cardboard boxes of different sizes, tightly sealed in plastic, with the MAJOR FITNESS company logo and imprint of the all-in-one displayed on the exterior. The cardboard boxes are composed of two separate (top and bottom) pieces, so you can easily reuse the boxes in the future without necessarily having to re-tape everything. The packages were shipped via FedEx, and I was able to track them on their website prior to an on-time arrival.

Each box weighed around 80 pounds, so you may want to consider using a dolly/hand truck or the like for transport if you’re planning on having them delivered somewhere separate from where the rack will end up going. Also, keep in mind that the largest bars (as well as the Smith Machine barbell) are solid pieces of metal around 7’ long, so if you’re planning on putting this in a basement (or somewhere less accessible than a garage) make sure you’ll have room to maneuver down stairs/around corners/etc.

Unboxing the Major Fitness Spirit B52

Within the boxes you’ll find an assortment of unwrapped larger metal pieces; individually wrapped smaller pieces or accessory items; two flat boards encased in plastic containing all your nuts/bolts/washers and wrenches; four packing slips containing item lists (one per box); and a paper instruction booklet.

Everything is carefully packaged in either cardboard or plastic (sometimes both) in order to ensure nothing is damaged prior to arrival. Items enclosed within smaller cardboard boxes themselves all had pictures or labels of their contents on the front, which is helpful and saves a bit of time from having to unbox absolutely everything. A box cutter or pair of scissors would help speed up the unboxing process (and are necessary to separate some pieces that are zip-tied together).

The company reminds you on both the packing slips as well as the instruction manual to check for missing pieces and to contact them if you don’t receive everything. Fortunately, my shipment was complete.

The only problem I incurred during the unboxing and assembly was that three of my longer metal bars (with a flat “T” shape protrusion at the end) all came slightly bent. I assume it was a production error, as all of my other materials (as well as the cardboard boxes) arrived undamaged.

I was able to hammer out the bends, although this tore some of the black coating off and left behind a noticeable crease in the metal. Fortunately, these “T” parts ended up being installed face-down onto the bottom bars of the rack, so none of the damage was noticeable once the all-in-one was fully assembled.

Assembly

The fully-assembled rack measures almost 65” deep by nearly 79” in length and almost 83” tall. However, I found it quite helpful to completely unbox everything before I started putting it together, in which case I’d allocate double or triple the space (in my case, basically the entire empty garage). This helps in the beginning to make sure you aren’t missing any parts, and throughout the process as you’ll be able to easily locate the next piece. You don’t necessarily need a lot of extra space, but it would’ve taken me a lot longer if I’d had to dig around in boxes filled with parts every time I proceeded to the next step.

(Pro-tip: when unboxing, try to keep the pieces from each box near each other and separate from the other boxes/pieces. There are a couple items that are not identical but are very similar to each other, and you could easily mix up one piece with another and end up having to backtrack after a mistaken installation.)

Aside from a single paragraph explaining the B52’s installation, the instruction manual contains no written instructions (just pictures of the equipment in their various stages of construction), which was a bit concerning at first. However, my worries were alleviated after the first couple of steps, as it became clear that the rack was designed in such a way that it’s fairly straightforward to put together.

There are a couple places where you need to pay close attention to how you’re assembling things (the front metal posts, for example, only have numbering on one side, whereas many other pieces are symmetrical and it won’t matter which way they’re inserted), but for the most part it was easy to move from one step to another.

The only change I’d suggest to the manufacturer is to better emphasize which bolts to use in which steps, as all the nuts and washers are identical, but there are several different bolt sizes and certain steps require specific bolts (they do include that information in the instructions, it’s just in much smaller font and easy to overlook).

The instructions are printed in black-and-white, and there were a few times where I couldn’t quite tell where one part began and another ended (or exactly where something needed to be inserted, etc.), but fortunately the cover of the booklet has a full-color photo of the assembled rack, and a glance at that always helped clarify what the instructions were trying to tell me. At no point did I need to consult Google or YouTube for help, which is really saying something as I’m no Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor.

You had to be there!

MAJOR FITNESS includes an Allen wrench and two double-ended metric wrenches (sizes 14 and 17) for tightening the bolts. The opening page of the instruction manual insists that you’ll need other tools (like an electric screwdriver, hex wrench set, and machine lubrication), but I found that unnecessary and didn’t bother using any of the suggested items.

However, I would highly recommend using a socket wrench set instead of the included wrenches, as about 90% of your assembly time is spent simply tightening everything.

The nyloc nuts provided are great for ensuring tightened bolts stay tight, but you do need to apply a decent amount of elbow grease to fully tighten them. There are a couple of tight spaces (like tightening the nuts under the base along the bottom of the structure) where again, it’s certainly possible to use the two included wrenches, but much easier to simply use one wrench to hold the nut steady and use a socket wrench to tighten from the bolt side.

The same page of the manual insists that you’ll need two people to assemble, but again, I didn’t find that to be the case (I assembled the entire thing by myself). There was only one part of the assembly where I thought I might need a second pair of hands (inserting the pull-up bar between the front two columns), but I simply set both cable attachments to their topmost position and rested each end of the pull-up bar on them while I slid in the bolts and tightened them.

While you probably won’t need additional help putting any other parts together, you could cut the assembly time in half if you had a friend with an extra socket wrench simply helping you tighten everything – it really does take up that much time. And if you’re on the shorter side like I am, you’ll appreciate a small step ladder for putting together everything along the top.

Finally, the instruction manual suggests you install all pieces prior to tightening bolts. I wouldn’t necessarily wait until everything is put together to tighten (the bars move and sway a bit if the bolts aren’t tightly screwed in, making it difficult to install a lot of the top half of the rack), but it’s definitely worth waiting until the end of each step to tighten, so you can make sure everything was put together correctly. Trust me; it gets really annoying having to undo and then repeat ten minutes of bolt tightening just because you happened to put a piece in backwards. Check twice, tighten once.

Using the B52

Once assembled the rack looks and feels like a solid, professional piece of equipment – just what you would expect from the sort of rack you’d find at your classic, neighborhood bro gym/globo gym. Aside from some of the accessory handles and pieces like the pull-up or dip bars everything is solid steel, giving the rack an imposing look and a very satisfying heft when used.

The black finish has something of a matte look and feel to it in places, adding a bit of texture to the color. This subdued black-and-silver sheen should fit in well with whatever style or décor you have in your home.

Exercises

Given it’s titled an “All-in-One Home Gym,” can you really do everything here you’d do at a typical commercial gym? Assuming you have a bench/barbell/plates (whether from one of Major Fitness’ upgraded packages or elsewhere), the answer is “yes”!

There’s really very little you can’t do with the rack: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, chin-ups/pull-ups, rows, dips – all your major compound lifts are easily completed. The J-hooks can hold up to 1,000 lbs. and each weight holder on the cables supports up to 300 lbs. apiece, so even experienced lifters will find the rack accommodating for their heaviest workouts.

The Smith Machine works flawlessly and adds a lot of functionality without adding a ton of additional space, weight, or assembly time (maybe 30 minutes, nothing too difficult). Its attached barbell is a standard Smith Machine bar which racks and un-racks easily while tracking the entire length of the rack. Two safety bars are easily moved to different positions, and their spring-loaded bumpers ensure a safe landing if you were to drop the Smith Machine barbell rather than docking it.

While the Smith Machine allows for controlled versions of most barbell exercises (like the squat, bench press, or military press), it also opens up some new possibilities, like vertical leg presses and calf presses. I’m able to easily twist the barbell with the soles of my shoes to re-rack it at the end of each set, although you could also place the safety bars appropriately and simply rest the barbell on them when finished.

While it does make the rack larger and more expensive, the Smith Machine not only provides the opportunity to perform additional exercises, but also opens up possibilities for the future, whether that be better targeting of specific muscle groups, balance assistance during injury rehab, or simply added stability when pushing yourself towards a new (Smith Machine) PR.

The only downside is that if you’re a taller person – like 6’2” or taller – you might not be able to fully extend your arms during a standing military press, although you’d be just fine doing it seated.

Accessory pieces like the landmine and footplate (the B52’s footplate has three different angled positions) provide additional exercise options, and the resistance band pegs at the top or bottom expand your range of possibilities as well (whether you’re attaching them to a barbell, or just using the bands by themselves).

Major Fitness includes two handles – a shorter straight bar, and a longer lat-pulldown bar – for use with the cables (which are easily adjusted along their columns and can be used separately or together), as well as a T-bar for use with the landmine.

“Major” Benefits

Everything on the Spirit B52 works and feels as it should.

  • The cables pull through everything without catching or slipping off their wheels;
  • The dip handles stay firmly in place when in use;
  • The footplate is solidly welded in place and provides no give when pressed against during cable rows;
  • The landmine swivels effortlessly in every direction; the weight holders smoothly traverse the metal poles;
  • The rack barely makes any noise when I perform a set of pull-ups (if you notice a lot of clanging or creaking you probably just need to tighten a nut or two).

Appreciated “Minor” Touches

  • Plastic bumpers below the weight holders (to prevent damaging the rack if you were to “accidentally” drop the cables after your last rep, sending the weight crashing down)
  • Grease was pre-applied to the insides of the weight holders to ensure a smooth ride up and down the metal poles (just take note during installation not to grab the poles since they’ve already been greased up!)
  • Cylindrical weight holders on the back of rack allow weights to be stored on the rack itself, eliminating the need for additional weight storage equipment
  • Simple, single-piece metal butterfly clamps are included for all four weight-bearing cylinders (much better in my opinion than the plastic clamps involving multiple parts which can break);
  • J-hooks, dip bars, and safety bars are all solid, single metal pieces inserted into the front columns and secured simply by twisting 90 degrees – there are no moving parts, pins, or springs in them (makes adding or removing them a breeze and reduces the chance of additional parts breaking over time, similar to my complaint about plastic clamps).
  • The top connector includes two sets of bars for (somewhat) neutral grip chin-ups as well as wide-grip pull-ups, and the dip bar attachments contain two evenly-spaced handles, allowing you to perform a more narrow set of dips (to target the triceps) or a broader set (focusing more on the pecs/shoulders).

Suggestions

The safety bars are a good 6-12” shorter than they should be, which could make safely squatting more difficult.

Due to their shorter length, you have a very narrow range of space to squat once you’ve moved back far enough to avoid hitting the J-hooks on your way up. If you were to fall forward or straight down they would catch the barbell just fine, but they don’t extend far enough to catch it if you were to fall backward.

To clarify, you certainly can safely squat with these; you just need to be very cognizant of exactly where you are before starting your set, and you’ll need to pay closer attention on your way back up from a squat to ensure you don’t hit the barbell holders.

This shouldn’t be an issue for any other exercise aside from squats; the bars work just fine for deadlifts, rows, standing press, etc. Front squats would present the more pressing issue, as with back squats you could simply let the barbell fall behind you.

Ultimately, I would prefer safety bars that are a bit longer.

The J-hooks (for the regular barbell, not the Smith Machine) can shift a bit if you move the barbell from side to side. They don’t come anywhere near falling off, so it’s not that big of a deal, but if you’re constantly readjusting the barbell while it’s racked just know you’ll need to push the hooks back a bit to have them flush against the rack.

The cable holders attach to the frame with a bolt that screws in (as opposed to a spring-loaded bolt that immediately pops into place), so every time you want to move them you have to fully unscrew and then re-screw them into the new position. It only takes ~ ten seconds per holder, but if your routine has you frequently shifting cable positions it could be a bit annoying.

While slightly annoying, none of these issues are a deal-breaker, or seriously detract from the experience of working out in the B52.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re looking for an all-in-one home gym solution, MAJOR FITNESS’ Spirit B52 is an excellent choice. It’s solidly built, straightforward to assemble, and provides a range of optionality that covers just about every exercise you could want to perform.

It has a sleek, dynamic design, an attractive color scheme, and should fit comfortably into most garages or basements without compromising on the space one needs to easily perform any exercise. While the basic package provides plenty of functionality, the company also sells a variety of additional accessories (such as leg holder attachments, Olympic EZ Curl barbells, weight holders, and resistance bands) to complement and expand your workout possibilities.

Is it worth the $1,499 price tag? Honestly, I think it all comes down to how much you want the Smith Machine. Personally, I tend to lean towards “better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”. The Spirit B52 isn’t that much bigger or difficult to assemble than similar MAJOR FITNESS racks, and you get quite a bit of functionality for a slightly higher price.

If you never use a Smith Machine and can’t see yourself trying it out, then you might want to try the F22 Raptor which is more of a “pure” power rack. However, if you think you’ll appreciate the unique possibilities the addition brings to the setup…well…if you cancel your gym membership after purchasing the rack, it will quickly pay for itself.

Taking into account the entire experience of receiving, assembling and using the rack, as well as my minor critiques above, I’d rate it overall at 4.5 / 5 * and would heartily recommend it to beginners and experienced lifters alike.

…and, just to reiterate, if you are in the market for a quality rack that doesn’t have the extra capabilities of a Smith Machine, check out our review of the MAJOR FITNESS Raptor F22…a quality fighter jet/dinosaur-themed rack!

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AUTHOR

Jonathan Kaplan began his fitness journey a decade ago shortly after graduating from the University of Texas. Horrified at the state of the modern agricultural system, he dedicated himself to rebuilding a healthy lifestyle from the ground up. An avid lifter, CPT in training and paleo cooking connoisseur, Jonathan is passionate about maximizing his healthspan and pushing his body to the next level.

2 thoughts on “The MAJOR FITNESS Spirit B52: Our Review of the Rack+Smith Machine”

  1. Hello Jonathan,
    I am looking at this unit and contacted the manufacturer about the pulley cable holders and asked if they have to be screwed in. They said No, and sent a video showing that you don’t have to screw them in to move them. Can you elaborate a bit more on this from your perspective?

    Reply

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