Pros: Compact, easy to store, smooth working, well-designed, sturdy, lots of exercises.
Cons: Complicated exercise instructions; decent workout video would improve product immensely for beginners.
I got my Bowflex Power Pro XTL a few days after New Year's -- just in time for that traditional resolution to get in shape! I'm a woman, 5' 10", mid-40's with a serious weight problem, looking for a fun and practical way to build the lean muscle tissue needed for increased metabolism and permanent weight loss. The question: Is the Bowflex the answer?
Some reviewers have complained about lousy customer service. My experience has been pleasant with three separate reps. I asked for and got the lat tower for $200 over the infomercial price of $999, which included the free leg extension, and I also got an extra 100 pounds (two 50-pound rods) for $99 on the advice of the rep, who said that the standard 210 pounds would probably not be enough after a while for leg work. My total shipping cost was $149, with no extra shipping charge for the added rods. If ordered separately, there would have been a $10 shipping charge.
Delivery time was very good (around two weeks). There were three boxes total. I had to help the UPS man get the main box (92 pounds) into my house, as there was a raging blizzard going on and he couldn't use his hand cart. The leg extension box was 30 pounds and the lat tower box was 40 pounds.
I was able to get the unit up the stairs to my second-floor apartment by taking it apart downstairs and bringing the various parts upstairs in sections. I didn't have the various sized wrenches they recommend, but was able to put everything together using pliers and a universal gripping device. I would advise you to try to get the right size wrenches before you start, however; it took me hours to get the thing put together, where others report that it only took them an hour or two. I found the assembly instructions pretty clear and straightforward; I was only confused at a few points, and managed to figure out what was needed fairly easily.
I've never been a body builder or even belonged to a gym, so perhaps that's why I feel like I'm facing a steep learning curve with all the exercises available with this machine. There are a lot of terms that are vaguely familiar to me ("triceps," "deltoids," "hamstrings," etc.), but where these muscles are located and, more important, which exercises work them are proving to be complicated to figure out.
The instruction book contains start and finish photographs for each exercise, but I find that it's hard from those pictures and the written descriptions to tell whether I'm doing the exercise correctly or not. The video that accompanies the machine makes it very clear that doing the exercises correctly is of vital importance -- otherwise, you're just wasting your time. Unfortunately, the video itself is very general in nature and doesn't offer a real-time accompaniment workout.
Another issue I have with the written instructions is that they contain a lot of details like, "keep shoulder blades pressed together," "lean forward from hip, not waist," "keep abs tightened to support spine," etc. It's taking me fifteen minutes to do each exercise because I have to keep checking back to make sure I'm doing everything just right! A work-along video would be a godsend to supplement or even replace this book. Maybe a seasoned body builder wouldn't have such a problem understanding the correct form to use, but for a beginner like me it's very frustrating.
There are several exercises that work one or two muscles or groups, but only one or two exercises for some areas (like the lower back). The infomercial says you can be "creative," but what good is that if you don't know anything about the anatomy of your muscles?
For example, there are at least half a dozen exercises to choose from that target the upper back and triceps or biceps, but how are you supposed to know how to substitute for the one exercise they provide for the lower back? An exercise which, by the way, is extremely painful at anything above 10 or 15 pounds because you have to slip the arm cuffs around your forearms, cross your hands across your chest like a mummy and then lean forward and backward. Try it with 30 pounds and you'll feel like the cuffs are cutting through your arms -- yet even with 30 pounds, I felt little if any reaction in my lower back muscles and easily did 15 reps. You're supposed to work to deterioration of form by 15 reps.
You are also going to have to use trial-and-error to know how much weight to use with each exercise, so add that into the learning curve when figuring out which exercises to do. On some exercises you'll be able to do 10, 20 or more pounds, but have to reduce it or add to it for the next one. It's very individual and depends on your level of fitness as well as the body part being worked (legs usually can do more weight than arms, especially with women).
The exercise manual provides sample workouts that you can follow instead of making up your own, which is particularly helpful if you're a beginner like me. However, I can't understand why they didn't arrange them better to make it a smoother workout. I had to stop and change the bench, take off the handles and replace them with the belt, then put them back on and replace the bench for the next one, etc. Just figure it all out so that you can do everything with the bench in one position, then go on and do everything with the handles, and so forth. It will go a lot faster.
I love the lat tower! It feels great when I'm working it and I wish there were more exercises I could do using it. When I know a little more about how to make up exercises I hope to devise some that will let me make better use of the lat tower.
I hate the leg extension! It's bulky and wobbly, and the pressure against my shins when I use it is almost painful at only 30 pounds. I can't even get into position to do the hamstring exercise on it, which requires you to bend over the seat and support yourself with your hands on the floor or bench while you try to swing your feet into position against the pads. I felt like I was going to fall over and hurt myself and gave up without even being able to do one rep. You also have to remove this extension to fold up the machine, as well as to do many of the other exercises. If I had it to do over I would have saved myself $200, plus the extra $20 shipping charge, by substituting the lat tower as my freebie.
I love that the Bowflex folds up to a two-foot area so easily! I have set aside half of my large bedroom as an exercise area, and this feature of the Bowflex makes it possible for me to spread out my yoga mat and do a floor workout without having to maneuver the machine into a closet or another area of the room. The lat tower does make the machine more top-heavy, though, so if you're considering storing it be advised that it will be harder to push around and will also make the machine wider -- you'll have to take the lat bar off to get it through a closet door. But don't store it like that, please! You know you'll never use it if you don't keep it out and ready to go. It folds up so compactly that you really don't have to do anything to conveniently store it besides folding it and hooking the handles around it. Your only problem is going to be finding a place to store the leg extension, which you have to remove to fold the machine. The lat tower remains conveniently in place.
I'm glad I bought the Bowflex and I'll add to this review after I've had a chance to use it for several weeks or months. I'm sure the learning curve I'm facing will get easier as I use the machine, and with a good sensible diet I hope to report very positive changes before long.