Bowflex, free weights or other: advice for home weight system

I’m trying to decide between Bowflex, free weights (mainly dumbbells) or other system. The advantages of a Bowflex system would seem to be that it’s the same or approximately the same resistance for a whole lot less weight and “pain in the ass moving” (I may be moving in a few months), but they are expensive even used or at a wholesale club and I don’t want to invest in a thousand dollar coat rack. Has anyone bought one for home use and did you use it?

I should perhaps mention that this isn’t an impulse buy. I’ve been weight training with a trainer 2-3 times per week for the past few months and, strange as it is, I’ve actually gotten to where I miss it on days I don’t go to the gym, and recently I noticed I officially have a “one pack”. (Since I haven’t changed to a better diet I haven’t lost a lot of weight- 10 pounds or so- but my clothes are fitting better and I’m gaining strength and delineation and tone.) I’m also not interested in/expecting to look like the Bowflex model- my interest is surviving past my mid 50s (the age when most men in my father’s family die).

The alternative is a good set of one-piece freeweights (whatever those are called- I’m talking about the old fashioned “not much changed since ancient times” single dumbbells from 5 to (for now) 35 pounds. A good set of those would be cheaper, but they’re a biatch to move.

Anyway, home weight trainers: what system do you use?

I’m not an expert by any means but I’ve always felt, and been told by others, that Bowflex machines are crap. I’m told the bands weaken and stretch out and sometimes break, and that you don’t truly get the range of motion and exercise options that you get with free weights and/or the more conventional weight machines. My brother and I have both used weight machines, and, while they are very good in the main, we have both injured our backs (permanently but not severely) by doing rowing exercises on them. :stuck_out_tongue: Still, I would recommend either free weights (more of a hassle but offering maximum variable range of motion) or a more conventional weight machine with iron weights.

Just my opinion, of course. You might want to ask your trainer and see if he has an opinion.

His main opinion always comes back to “best thang you can do, though, is to keep buyin’ trainin’ sessions… only way, really…”. :slight_smile: (As an aside, DAMN! He’s hot.)

Yeah, I kind of had a suspicion that might be the case. :smiley:

The unit I had was made by Marcy and similar to these if you want to investigate them vs. Bowflex.

Johnny Carson was a real fitness buff all his life and I know that he used a sophisticated (and very beautiful) chromium-look weight machine, and I believe Arnold uses weight machines as well.

We bought a bowflex a few years ago and didn’t end up using it much; so we sold it and didn’t lose much money on it (they have great resale value.) I thought using it was kind of odd; you spend a lot more time setting up what you want to do and getting the form right than you would w/free weights. I wouldn’t buy another.

Also, a bowflex may be lighter than a set of free weights, but it’s also more awkward, so I’m not seeing a huge moving advantage.

The real question you need to ask yourself is, will you have the desire to keep training by yourself? Sometimes people use the trainer as a motivation to keep training, sort of like an appointment that you need to go to. You might find that you invest a large amount of money and eventually just give up. I have a Bowflex that I put in front of my closet, so that I always see it and I eventually use it, though not as much as I should.

If you do think you have the proper motivation, either choice would be okay. I believe you would get better results using free weights, though they are a little bit more “dangerous.” For me, I had a small set of free weights which eventually turned into paper weights and doorstops. They didn’t have a “presence” and I gradually (read: very quickly) lost interest.

The Bowflex is a large piece of machinery, I was pretty surprised by the size of the boxes I recieved. Getting them up a flight of stairs was a work out in and of itself. For me it is convenient and pretty easy to use. If the bows wear out you can always order a replacement set. The manual they give you has a wide variety of exercises you can choose from. It is pretty quick and easy to change between exercises (though it takes some getting used to and I don’t often use the leg attachment and the overhead bar)

All that said, if you are moving, you should hold off on getting a Bowflex, like I said, they are pretty big and kind of heavy, you would be better off waiting. If you want to get the most out of your work out you should probably go for free weights, though if you keep at it, you should probably eventually have the same results with a Bowflex. From what I get though, you might want to keep seeing a trainer. Since you’ve just recently started out training, it might be a lot easier than you think to get demotivated. Once you get into the groove of it, then you should make your choice.

With free weights, you also don’t have to start out with a big, elaborate setup either.

For example, instead of investing in a large machine or big rack, you could just buy a sturdy bench first, along with a few spinlock dumbbell bars and plates. Then later on, you can add in other equipment as your exercise needs expand. Like a squat rack (which lets you do things like squats or bench presses, chin ups, what have you). Freeweights are pretty modular and very durable.

If you spend some time wandering through garage sales, they can also be very, very cheap. In fact, oftentimes people will pretty much give them away just to avoid having to haul them when moving.

They also give a better workout if you use them properly. Of course, they can also mangle you more severely than an elaborate machine system if you use them improperly, but that’s why you have a trainer, right? :slight_smile:

So, yeah. Freeweights all the way, if you have space for them. And if you had space for a bowflex, then you definitely have space for freeweights.

The biggest problem with a bowflex is that they don’t have linear resistance. Let’s say you set the rods to 100lbs. The resistence starts out at about 20lbs and you don’t get 100lbs of resistance until the rods are fully flexed.

I have this Hoistand I love it. You get the benifits of freeweight motion without the danger of dropping weight on yourself.

It is pretty expensive, but it is top of the line when it comes to quality.

One big diff depends on the “seriousness” with which you are training. Sounds like you are mainly using “moderate” weights for fitness. Cause if you are using “heavy” free weights, you’ll definitely want a spotter.

We have a small pyramid rack holding pairs of dumbells up to 25#. Stands against a wall and is maybe 3-4’ tall, 3-4’ from side to side, and 1.5’ front to back.

Also have a bench and a bar with maybe 100# of plates. And a short bar to make heavier dumbells. The bench is nice just because it provides a stable surface, even if you are using dumbells for flys, upright rows, bench, military, etc. And you can use the dumbells for lunges, squats, etc.

My days of heavy lifting to increase body mass are behind me. To tell the truth, my wife and kids use the weights more often than I. Lately I’ve been happy just to stay current with my push-ups and sit-ups.

I wonder if any studies have shown the percentage of folks who actually used any piece of exercise equipment they purchased for - say - more than 6 months. I bet it is under 25%.

You can find benches and such at garage sales or even at the curb. But IME many/most of them are cheap, worn crap. If you have any disposable income, I’d recommend you buy new the one that best suits your needs.

Also, don’t even think of getting one of the old-style weight systems that need a wrench to change plates. Like I said, a lot of the stuff you can find cheap is crap.

If you’re already used to going to the gym regularly, then why not just keep doing that? That way you don’t have to have a bulky machine in your home.

That is the big question and I’ve thought about it. I can say with near hundred percent certainty I never would have worked out three times per week this long if I hadn’t paid in advance for the sessions. What I think I’ll do is still have about one session per week so that I’m accountable, more if need be, and while I have a roommate I’ll use him as spotter at home (and he has NO reservations about pointing out my flaws- it’s kind of like food to him).

At risk of sounding (for the first time in my life) like a frat boy jock, I’m actually setting everything up in my dining room. I never use it for dining and I have to walk through it whenever I go outside.

Consider the Bowflex dumbbells instead. They won’t take up a lot of room and go up to 52.5 pounds. I have a gym membership, and I use the dumbbells more than anything else they have. You can work almost every muscle.

Damn! Beaten by 8 minutes. That’s what I get for allowing my job to distract me.


I can’t help it, I HAVE to say it: Damn Sampiro, this is the shortest post I think I’ve ever read from you…


That being out of the way, I’m reading with interest, because I was thinking along the same lines, so I’m gonna hitch on here and see what sounds good to me too.

MBG - A Faithful Reader

A buddy of mine had the Bowflex (of a few years ago, the one with the “power rods”,; before they went to the “weight plate” type machine". It’s nice, and we used it a LOT. It IS a bitch to move. I won’t lie. My buddy and I had to take the bitch apart and try and keep it in some sort of order for him to drive it to the older brother in Maryland.

He’s also got a rack of the quick change dumbbells. They’re not Bowflex, but they are nice. I’d recommend either, to be perfectly honest.

Hey, Sampiro.

I own a Bowflex (the original model with the flexing rods), a set of free weights, and I also train at a gym with a trainer, so for what they’re worth, here are my quick assessments:

Bowflex: surprisingly effective machine for me. I got great results when I managed to use it regularly – muscle growth and definition – never suffered an injury despite working out fairly intensely, and never had a problem with the machine. My biggest problem: it was in my home, and therefore I stopped using it. Because, hey, there’s also a computer, a stereo, and a kitchen at home…

Free Weights: They’re still the best, IMHO, but to use them properly you need a rack to store them on, an adjustable bench for lifting, and preferably a floor surface that you can’t ruin. Basically, you need space. And after buying the weights, the bench, etc., you will have spent at least half what you would have on a Bowflex. You also can’t go to the point of muscular exhaustion (failure) on exercises like bench press, overhead press, and squats, without someone to spot you. At least not if you care about your own safety, and I hope you do.

My own conclusion: the only way I ever manage to stick with working out is by going to the gym, since once I’m there it’s the only thing to do. YRMV.

I’d say that if what you want is something to allow you to do some moderate lifting at home without taking up a lot of space, a quality machine is the way to go. But if you’re serious about lifting, you need free weights, and hopefully a buddy to lift with.


Me three…I’m about to give up my gym membership because I never go. If I had a machine at home, I think I’d use it, but there’s no way I’m getting dressed and driving across town to exercise.

I accidentally deleted the parts about the wreck of the Sultana, the artwork of George Washington Carver, and the excerpts from my undergrad thesis on bar Kokhba when I went in to edit the coding. I’ll have 'em reconstructed enough to repost in a day or so.

According to, a women’s weight training website, you’d be much better off if you got free weights. Although the site is tailored to women, it definitely does not promote weight training in a way other than to address a few specific issues with women’s weight training, and the advice is pretty sound for either gender. (There may, however, be areas that don’t pertain to you. I’m assuming you don’t menstruate, yes?) The reason why to get free weights? This article explains quite a bit as to why, but here are some highlights: builds better stability and balance, using all the working muscle groups, and being able to use natural movement. With weight machines, you’re working and isolating specific muscles while ignoring others. Some of them may never get worked to the extent that they’re balanced out. It’d be easier to work with free weights in this instance. There’s even an article about what would work for a good home gym for those who don’t want to spend lots of money but want a good workout that includes weight training.

So, yes, when I actually invest more money in home fitness equipment, it’ll be to expand the free weight set and to maybe get some mats.

I owned a Bowflex for a while and found it to be of limited value, and the prediction that I’d be inclined to work out more by having it in the house turned out not to be true (which, admittedly, was more due to my own fragile motivation than to the machine itself). It wasn’t until I began going to to the gym regularly that I began seeing results, and I didn’t begin seeing good results until I began using free weights in addition to the Nautilus-type machines.

I would rank the Bowflex’s usefulness as greater than nothing at all, but definitely less than free weights.
Epilogue.** I ended up selling the Bowflex to a relative, who’d expressed interest in it and set it up in his living room as a constant reminder of his new commitment to fitness. After a month or so it was moved to the garage, where it has remained ever since, accumulating dust. Requiescat In Pace.