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Review: The Bowflex Home Gym

By Michael Esco, PhD, HFS, CSCS*D
WebMD Expert Review

The Bowflex Home Gym: What It Is

The Bowflex Home Gym is a resistance exercise machine used for building strength and muscle.  It was first patented by an engineering student in San Francisco in 1979.  Bowflex Inc. began selling home gyms in 1986.

Traditionally, Bowflex Home Gyms have been sold via television infomercials.  These days, you can buy one on the Bowflex web site or from a sporting goods store.


Many exercises you can do on a gym machine can also be done on Bowflex Home Gyms. But the Bowflex has the advantage of being compact enough to store in almost any room of the house. Prices for Bowflex gyms range from around $650 to over $2,000, depending on the model.

The Bowflex Home Gym: How It Works

The various Bowflex Home Gym models use either the traditional Power Rod technology or the newer SpiraFlex technology. 

Power Rod technology uses a pulley/cable system, with resistance coming from long, flexible "rods" that extend up from the rear of the Bowflex machine.  As you do reps of each exercise, the move starts out easy and becomes gradually more difficult as the "bow" tension increases. For this reason, most of the exercises aren't as effective as what you can do on gym machines, which keep resistance steady throughout the move. To make these exercises harder on the Bowflex, you may need to do more reps.

Bowflex sells three home gyms with Power Rod technology: the Classic, the Xtreme, and the Ultimate. On each, you can do many different upper and lower body exercises, ranging from 30-plus exercises with the Classic, to 70-plus with the Xtreme, to more than 90 with the Ultimate.  The Bowflex Classic is the least expensive, with prices starting at about $649. The Bowflex Xtreme and Ultimate start at about $1,299 and $2,499, respectively. 

In 2006, Bowflex released its "next generation" source of resistance, SpiraFlex technology.  This system also uses a pulley/cable system, but the source of resistance is different. Resistance begins from circular "cams" that coil against the applied muscular force.  As you do your reps, the resistance remains the same from beginning to the end. It feels very similar to that offered by gym machines. 

SpiraFlex technology is offered in the Bowflex Revolution XP (starting at about $2,499) and Bowflex Revolution (starting at around $2,999).  Both allow you to do more than 90 different exercises.

Accessories are not included with most Bowflex Home Gyms, so this can add to the price tag.  Accessories range from $169 for an "ab attachment" to $199 for an accessory (storage) rack, to $99 for a 410-lb resistance upgrade.

The Bowflex Home Gym: Which Exercises Are Best?

Among the most effective upper-body exercises you can do on the Bowflex are the chest exercises, like the press and fly. When you do them, your chest muscles not only work against the resistance but also must "stabilize" against the pulley system.  Do these two exercises back-to-back with no rest for an even better workout. 

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