Bowflex Ultimate

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The Ultimate Review of Bowflex

Oct 13, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lots of exercises, adequate bench; rower

Cons:Much too expensive

The Bottom Line: I can't recommend this very expensive piece of equipment. Other than the rower you can do better with other machines or free weights.


If you are just passing by you may not have read my review of Weider CrossBow Home Gym. I am going to attempt to review as many Bowflex machines with which I am familiar. It seems they keep coming out with yet another model. The Ultimate perhaps was the first Bowflex I used and worked with. I’m a Certified Personal Trainer with my own business so I have the advantage of understanding these machines and look at many of them with a cynical eye. Although I will compare, when appropriate, the Bowflex Ultimate with the CrossBow realize that in the case of the Ultimate, we are talking a machine that is 4 times more expensive. I guess my bottom line will be: is it 4 times better?

Details about the Bowflex Ultimate and how it is used:

Some of the material in this review is a repeat of the information I’ve given in many of my reviews. If I think it necessary to the review and to you, the consumer who is buying the machine, I will include it.

There are many different types of machines. The ones you may be most used to use stacks. That means the weights are stacked one on top of the other. A pin goes into the amount of weight you want whether it is 20 pounds or 200. You may also have experience with machines that use resistance digitally or benches where you put on plates to give you the amount of weight you want.

The Bowflex uses what they call Power Rods. It comes standard with 310 pounds. You can add more resistance and upgrade to 410 pounds for $99.00. The way the rods work is that they are hooked to a cable pulley system. You can hook one, two, three, four or all of the Power Rods to the cable pulley system and go from as little as 5 pounds all the way up to either 301 or the upgraded resistance.

When I wrote my review of the Cross Bow I mentioned that you had to twist a bit which for people with shoulder problems or who are large may not be a comfortable way of changing resistance. Bowflex Ultimate works a bit differently. You have to stand up to change resistances. You don’t just reach around. This has its pros and cons. One the one hand I think it is a safer to use machine for anyone over 40 years old who may be more prone to injury; on the other hand it takes longer than any machine I’ve seen to change resistance weights.

What you get:

You will get a standard bench that is attached to the bows. The bows stand up rather than go across as you may have seen in other machines. This is the reason you have to stand up to change resistances. Note: The picture shown is with all the attachments. It is not the "basic" Bowflex Ultimate.

The bows are quite flexible. It has an adjustable pulley system, which is designed to change the angle of resistance. This means that you can do a chest press fairly easily with the bows in a bent shape. In my opinion though, I’d much prefer to do a chest press with dumbbells or a bar with plates on it. I don’t feel the same kind of workout with many of the exercises on the Bowflex that I do using a more traditional piece of equipment.

Unlike the CrossBow it does not have a lat tower. The lat tower has an attachment called a lat bar, which is primarily used for the back. These are accessories, which will run you $200. Before the attachments you will see the bows standing up like peacock feathers. The machine looks very different once this lat tower is on. I personally cannot imagine a workout without a lat attachment and I cannot imagine what Bowflex is thinking to charge an additional $200 for this!

In order to work your legs you will need the leg attachment. I have never seen the machine without one. Again I have no idea what Bowflex was thinking because again, in my opinion, a machine is not even close to fully equipped without leg attachments. Once assembled the leg attachment will work all areas of your legs – your quadriceps with leg extension exercises, your hamstrings with hamstring curls- just to name two popular exercises. This is another $200 additional accessory! The attachment is a nice one. The areas that will hit your ankles for example are comfortable, as is the bench. I have no problem with the comfort of the machine.

The only accessories it comes with are workout handles, which act in a similar fashion as the Cap Handle but are made of material. I don’t like these handles but if you have young children around they are safer than metal. They won’t hurt if one decides to throw a handle at you! These handles are used for many exercises such as bicep curls and flyes for your chest area.

It also comes with a straight bar which is used for the low pulley/squat station that Bowflex advertises it has. Basically the station is the bar. This does work but if you are used to traditional squats to work your legs this feels very different. For someone just starting out it is a fairly safe way to do squats.

You get a quick-reference workout poster, a training manual and instructional video. This is not all that unique anymore either. A lot of equipment comes with videos however I’m not putting the Bowflex down for including this, just not jumping up and down. If you don’t have a trainer, using any type of machine without learning how can be hazardous to your health!

Bowflex claims that you can do over 80 exercises. With all the attachments this is true. You will be able to do abdominal exercises on the bench; various shoulder exercises with both the lat tower and handles; tricep and bicep exercises using the handles and bar; various back exercises using the lat tower and leg exercises using the leg attachment. I want to note though what I noted on my CrossBow review. Looking at the exercises listed most require the lat bar (accessory) and some that are almost duplicates of others listed. For example listed are a lat pulldown, reverse grip lat pulldown and wide grip lat pulldown. Sure those are three different exercises but they are all lat pulldowns with your hands in different positions.

Like the CrossBow the Bowflex has a built-in rowing machine. This is one really unique feature of these machines. I work with many older (my age – 52) clients and I am really careful using the rowing machine. It can be really hard on shoulders and until you’ve had a rotator cuff injury you don’t know how bad they can be. So in spite of this unique feature, if you love to row and are young, this is really nice. If not it may be a waste of money.

This comes unassembled. I have heard the CrossBow is a nightmare to assemble and I have heard the Bowflex is not that difficult. You may want to give yourself a few hours. (rather than a few days!)

The Bowflex measures 6ָ” high; 5㤒” in length and 2ַ” wide. It is a bit smaller than the CrossBow. It needs a workout area of 7’ by 7’.

It folds and rolls just as the CrossBow does. I have not seen it do either and in my opinion from looking at it I certainly wouldn't call it a portable piece of equipment.

There is a 10-year limited warranty on the machine. The rods have a lifetime warranty, which is good, because they are so flexible I would think that with enough use you’ll break one though I haven’t seen one broken as of yet.

Jo's Final Thoughts:

I’ve never liked the bow machines and I really cannot imagine spending $1600 plus the upgrades bringing it to $2000 for this machine. Although it does give you a lot of exercises you can hire a personal trainer to come to your house for that kind of money or join a gym. In principal one reason I don’t like it is because of the tack on of accessories but even if I weren’t principled I think you will do better with the $500 CrossBow, a different machine, free weights and your imagination. (Or me – feel free to pick my brain- I’m free.)

By the way Bowflex has the same 6-week guarantee as CrossBow. If you haven’t lost weight, inches and miraculously changed your personality you can return the machine. As I said in my other review it is the nature of the beast that as soon as you start working our more than likely your diet will change. In addition if you haven’t exercised (and if over 50 for women and 40 for men or have a medical condition please talk with your doctor) then any exercise will get the pounds off. There is a really good chance you will loose weight and inches after 6 weeks no matter what machine or gym you decide on. If you want to spend the money and be prepared to return it then it is a nice guarantee to have.

I hope you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

I am rating the Bowflex 3 stars. I am not recommending it.

Please feel free to leave me a question, comment or e-mail me privately.

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