Pros: Sturdy; Compact; No spotter needed; Changing resistance is easy; Lots of exercises.
Cons: Expensive; Limitations on some exercises; Not enough resistance for heavy lifters.
Like many people, I thought the Bowflex was typical infomercial junk...until I tried a PowerPro on display at a local Fitness Depot outlet. The salesperson was very helpful and let me spend almost an hour testing the machine out in every way I could think of. After trying at least one exercise for ALL my muscle groups, I had to admit it was an excellent ALTERNATIVE to the good ol' fashioned barbells and dumbbells that I was used to. Still not totally convinced, I spent the next three months researching everything I could on the internet about the Bowflex, looking for pros and cons. I was amazed at the overall positive response the Bowflex was getting!
So, after comparing the PowerPro and the Ultimate, I decided I would be much happier with the Ultimate despite its higher price and ordered the Ultimate XTLU (all the attachments) with an additional 100lbs resistance (410lbs max). I must say, when I ordered the machine I had "buyer's remorse" (it's pricey) untill it came to my door 2 weeks later and I put it together! It was love at first workout!
If you're reading this Ultimate review, you're probably wondering if the Ultimate XTLU is really worth the extra cash over the PowerPro XTLU. Answer: ABSOLUTELY!!
The PowerPro, introduced in 1993, was the top model untill the Ultimate was released in 2001. Apparently, Nautilus designed the Ultimate to "perfect" the PowerPro; it was designed to address customer complaints and design quirks of the PowerPro.
Features the Ultimate has over the PowerPro:
1)Sturdiness: The PowerPro is notorious for being shakey during heavy use, especially the lat tower. Not so with the Ultimate- it's a much heavier and sturdier machine.
2)Adjustable pulley: On the PowerPro, there is an optional "chest bar" attachment that can widen the main pulleys, changing the angle of resistance for mostly chest exercises. This is a standard built-in feature on the Ultimate. I didn't think much of it untill I tried it. WOW!! It really affects the pecs much better on bench press and flyes.
3)Squat station: There is an optional (and removable) squat attachment for the PowerPro. This is also a built-in standard feature on the Ultimate. Squats are my favourite exercise and this feature, alone, sold me. Having to start squats from the bottom of the motion is awkward at first, but you get used to it after a while since the resistance is lightest at the bottom, anyway. Squats on this machine are AWESOME!
One drawback of the Ultimate is that although it folds up and has transport wheels, it's not very mobile. Don't expect to move it often; it's too big and heavy for that. I strongly suggest you dedicate a 7x9 space in your house for this machine.
Most people know that the Bowflex can do more exercises than most people will want to do. Check out the online manuals at www.bowflex.ca.
What some free weight purists say about the Bowflex:
1)"Power-rod resistance is wimpy!": I admit bending rods isn't as "manly" as lifting a bar loaded with plates on it. But if you can keep an open mind and realize that your muscles don't care what you're lifting, you'll like it.
2)"You can't build muscle on it, it's only good for toning!": That depends on how strong you are. You will gain size and strength up untill the resistance is too light for you, just like with free weights! If you can bench press and squat the full 410lbs for, say, 15 reps easily than don't buy a Bowflex. If you can't (I can't!), the Bowflex will benefit you.
3)"Free weights provide constant resistance, so it's better!": Anyone with a basic understanding of biomechanics and physics knows this is false! Free weights would provide constant resistance if you moved in a straight line at a slow speed to compensate for momentum and inertia. But the body moves in arcs and curves, which naturally creates variations in the load. When doing squats, you are weakest at the bottom of the motion (load feels heavier) and become stronger (load feels lighter) as you rise. When doing lat pulldowns, you are strongest at the start of the motion and become weaker as you bring the bar down to your chest. Basically, humans become weaker as they collapse and stronger as they expand! This is usually referred to as a "strength profile". Ideally, you want to use a resistance whose "resistance profile" matches your strength profile. Free weights don't do this and neither does a Bowflex, although some gym machines do. The Bowflex's resistance profile on ALL exercises is that the load is lightest at the start and becomes heavier at the end. A great feature about this is that it's MUCH easier on your joints than free weights. Why? Because you don't engage the load at it's heaviest when you are at your weakest, unlike some free weight exercises (squats, bench, shoulder press, etc).
4)"The Bowflex is expensive!": Agreed. But a free weight setup that can duplicate all the exercises done on my Bowflex would take at least twice the floorspace.
Despite my obvious praise, I did observe the following limitations:
1)You can't anchor yourself to the machine when doing lat pulldowns. If you can lat pull more than your weight, you'll lift off the bench.
2)If you're that strong, you should be doing chin-ups! But you can't do hanging bodyweight exercises like chin-ups and dips on this machine.
3)A 50lb rod feels heavier than a 30 and two 10s.
4)Deadlifts: 410lbs is not enough for someone in pretty good shape.
5)Leg press: Ditto, but I suggest doing one-legged presses if you're that strong.
6)Stiff-leg deadlift: The resistance profile is wrong for this exercise, which needs the load to be heaviest at the start and lighter at the end.
Comments on the infomercial:
Don't believe the hype! Getting in shape is NOT easy! It requires that you train hard, eat right, and do both consistantly. You're going to have to work just as hard on your Bowflex as you would anywhere else! You're not going to look like "Randy" the guy in the infomercial, by doing "three easy 20minute workouts a week". The results quoted in the infomercial were on mostly sedentary people who had lousy diets. ANY form of exercise and improvement to their diet would produce results! The Bowflex is just a safer (no spotter needed) and more convenient (in your house) alternative to a commercial gym and nothing more. It's not the miracle machine it's made out to be, but I still love it!