The Bowflex home gym definitely works for some people in particular circumstances. If you have space restrictions, the Bowflex home gym offers exercise variety without the need to buy a lot of additional kit. If you’re an advanced exerciser, you may find the weight and movements a little limited.
As a gym owner and personal trainer, I’m well-versed in exercise equipment. I’ve used and reviewed thousands of items of equipment and I’ll be using that experience to provide you with an honest assessment of the effectiveness of the Bowflex home gym.
I’ll look at the functionality, practicality, price and user experience of the Bowflex.
The information in this article has been gathered from a wide variety of sources to help you decide if a Bowflex is worth it for you.
- Does the Bowflex Home Gym Work?
- Does Bowflex work as well as free weights?
- How does the Bowflex provide resistance?
- What results can I expect from a Bowflex home gym?
- Bowflex Home Gym Pros and Cons
- Bowflex Models
- Bowflex FAQs
- The Bottom Line
Does the Bowflex Home Gym Work?
The Bowflex home gym works. it provides the user with a variety of resistance exercises across the whole body, so as long as you use it frequently and with the correct intensity you’ll benefit. It can help beginner weight lifters gain muscle and strength.
The real questions should be:
Does the Bowflex home gym work better than other types of resistance exercise?
Is the Bowflex the best choice for me?
Who is the Bowflex home gym for?
The Bowflex home gym is best for a complete beginner to resistance training, who is looking for something to train with at home. If you’ve got very limited space, the Bowflex is a decent option. The Bowflex is an all-in-one system, so you don’t need additional storage for plates etc as you would with a barbell, squat rack and weight bench.
You don’t need to learn technique or body positions, you can start straight from assembling the machine.
The Bowflex home gym could also be a good idea for someone with compromised mobility, such as those suffering with arthritis or similar conditions.
What exercises can you perform on the Bowflex?
The exercises you can perform on the Bowflex home gym depend on the model you buy. The two most popular models of Bowflex home gym are the Xtreme 2 SE and the PR1000. On the Xtreme 2 SE you can perform 70 different exercises, on the PR 1000 you can perform 25-30.
There are other models though – take a look at our best Bowflex home gym model guide for more information.
You can train all of the major body parts on both machines, so pulls, pushes, curls, rotations and the like are all possible.
Does Bowflex work as well as free weights?
The short answer is no, the Bowflex doesn’t work as well as free weights. It has movement restrictions because it’s a machine, so it lacks the versatility of free weights. It also doesn’t provide the same force curve throughout the exercise.
There are phases of the movement on the Bowflex where the exercise is too easy because there’s little to no resistance provided by the rods. Although the Bowflex Revolution model uses slightly different tech to the more popular models to avoid this.
That’s not to say all machines are a worse version of their free weight equivalent.
But the delayed muscle engagement with the Bowflex is an issue.
With the Bowflex, the start of the exercise is easier than the end because it takes time for the resistance to build up as you push or pull through the movement. Thanks to this, the time under tension (TUT) is lower relative to free weights, and we know that TUT is a factor in increasing muscle mass.
How does the Bowflex provide resistance?
The Bowflex provides resistance via a cable, pulley and rod mechanism. As you push/pull the handles, the cables pull on the rod bars, which provides resistance for the user. As the movement continues, the resistance provided by the rod increases, making it harder at the end of a movement than at the start.
You can increase or decrease the amount of resistance by clipping the cables to different strength rods. The stronger and more rigid the rod, the higher the resistance.
Bowflex rods can lose rigidity over time
It’s important to note that the Bowflex resistance rods can lose rigidity over time. When they’re used frequently they become less stiff, more flexible and easier to move, reducing the resistance from the machine.
It is possible to replace these rods so if you don’t mind doing that, this may not be an issue for you.
You can also add extra resistance on the Xtreme 2 SE model, taking it from a maximum of 210lbs of resistance to 410lbs of resistance. But you need to account for this extra cost.
The Bowflex force curve isn’t as natural as free weight
A free weight weighs the same throughout the movement – the resistance doesn’t increase or decrease.
There are phases in free weight exercises where the lift is more difficult because of body positions. With most Bowflex home gyms, the force curve is compromised irrespective of the body position because of the way the machine generates force.
The only model that is a bit different is the Bowflex Revolution. It uses “spiraflex technology” that was designed for astronauts to work out in space without gravity. This means the resistance is the same throughout the whole range of movement.
But for the price, I personally wouldn’t recommend this for most people. You can find out more about the Bowflex Revolution technology here.
What results can I expect from a Bowflex home gym?
In terms of Bowflex results, if you’re new to exercise you’ll enjoy ‘beginner gains’, where you’ll gain strength very quickly. You’ll also build a little muscle.
If you’re an experienced gym goer though, you’ll find the exercises elementary and depending on your strength levels, you may feel the machine is a way too light. If you’re new to exercise it’ll be a fairly long time before you reach that point though!
Can a Bowflex build strength?
It is possible to build strength using a Bowflex machine. If you’re a beginner, you’ll gain some strength through training on the Bowflex. If you’ve lifted for a while though, that’s unlikely to happen – there just isn’t enough resistance to build serious strength.
The reality is that although Bowflex may claim the machine provides 210-410lbs of resistance, most experienced male gym goers can press the full 210lbs easily. It’s not even close to a ‘real’ 210lbs on a bar or in dumbbells.
Can a Bowflex build muscle?
A Bowflex can build muscle, especially for beginner weight lifters. If you’re an experienced lifter though, the Bowflex isn’t going to kick you out of a muscle-building plateau. The reduced force curve, limited exercise options and the lack of resistance will be too restrictive to build a lot of muscle.
Can a Bowflex help with fat loss?
A Bowflex machine can help with fat loss. Losing fat is a question of burning more calories than you consume. If you train on a Bowflex and eat a calorie controlled diet, you’ll lose fat. That’s not all down to the Bowflex though – that’s the diet too!
Bowflex Home Gym Pros and Cons
I’m aware that so far this has been largely negative towards the Bowflex. Here’s a balanced view of the pros and cons…
- Versatility – Bowflex offers a wide number of exercises
- Space saving – the Bowflex is great in a small space. If you’re in a tiny apartment, it’ll work for you.
- User friendly – the Bowflex is easy to use for beginners
- Gentle introduction – if you’re new to strength training, it’ll build a foundation strength
- Good build quality – it’s generally accepted that Bowflex make good kit
- It’ll help get your body conditioned for harder workouts in future
- Limited weight – although the claim is up to 410lbs, in reality it’s far less
- Not suitable for intermediate/advanced lifters – too light, not varied enough movement pattern
- Impaired force curve – the gradual increase in resistance rather than the normal force curve is an issue
- Limited exercise variety – your options are governed by the machine
- Loses resistance over time – the rods lose rigidity over use so weight is reduced
- Expensive – the $1500 for the Xtreme 2 SE could be better spent elsewhere
- 25-30 Standard exercises
- 210lbs resistance (fixed)
- Row feature added
- In-built media station – place a phone on the machine whilst you work out
- Folds up after use
- Workout area dimensions: 203 x 262 cm
- Machine dimensions 208 L x 203 W x 209 H cm
- Over 70 exercises
- 210lbs resistance as standard, upgradable to 310lbs or 410lbs
- Angled lat bar for more variety
- Leg developer included
- Bar system for squats and presses
- No change pulley system to switch between exercises quickly
- Workout area dimensions: 244 x 196 cm
- Machine dimensions: 135 L x 124 W x 208 H cm
The obvious difference comes from the versatility between the models. With nearly 3 times the versatility of the PR1000, the Xtreme 2 SE is the better machine. It’s also the one for more serious trainers from a weight perspective – it can provide nearly double the resistance of the PR1000 (210lbs vs 410lbs).
That being said, it comes in at three times the price.
If space is a consideration, the Xtreme 2 SE is a significantly smaller machine yet offers more versatility. Of course if you’re limited to $500 then the choice is made for you.
|Bowflex PR1000||82||82||38||145 lbs|
|Bowflex PR3000||82||63||78||157 lbs|
|Bowflex Xceed||82||53||49||157 lbs|
|Bowflex Xtreme 2SE||82||53||49||157 lbs|
|Bowflex Revolution||73||55||37.8||336.2 lbs|
Owner video review
If you’d like to see a video from a Bowflex home gym owner, this one is particularly useful.
He echoes a lot of the sentiments I have shared in this article and will help to inform you about the Bowflex.
The Bottom Line
The Bowflex home gym is a useful item of home gym kit, especially if you have severe space restrictions. It’s best suited to beginners – more experienced exercisers will find the weight and muscle engagement limiting.
If you’re desperately short of space, give it a go. If you’re not, there are better options out there and they’ll provide you with more workout variety and progressions over time.
For more information on Bowflex home gym, head to our in-depth article on the Bowflex range here. If you don’t have the space restrictions and are looking to build a great home gym, take a look at our Ultimate Home Gym Guide.