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Firsthand Review of the Bowflex MAX Trainer

Bowflex makes some bold claims in its promotion of the MAX Trainer. The whole premise of this machine is that it’s efficient like a stairclimber, but low impact like an elliptical, giving people a hardcore workout in as little as 14 minutes. For those of us who are lazy gits preferring to sit on the couch all day watching reruns of Law & Order,  a 14 minute workout sounds like something we can manage.

Basically the MAX Trainer is supposed to burn 2.5x the calories of your standard elliptical. The claim is pretty nice, but how does that translate into real life with your average joe working out on it? Well, almost accurate if the elliptical you’re comparing it with doesn’t already have an incline setting, but we’ll get to that.

The Models

The MAX Trainer comes in two different models  — the M5 and the M3. You can see in the chart below how those two compare. My workouts have all taken place on the M3 model, which is the (more) affordable option at $999. The increased number of preset workouts on the M5 were definitely appealing, but that model comes in at $1599, and that’s a significant jump in price. When we get to the review of the actual workout you can decide if the increased cost is justifiable or not.

Bowflex Max Trainer comparison chart

Assembly

The machine came almost completely unassembled in two gigantic boxes. The only part that was preassembled was the motor housing. I expected a nightmare when putting it together, but surprisingly everything came together much easier than expected, and Bowflex was considerate enough to include all the tools you need to put your machine together — except for one small-ish screwdriver at the end.

This was a time consuming process, and it might not be a bad idea to have an extra pair of hands helping you for a few steps. Really, assembly was much easier than I was expecting, even though I don’t know why it wasn’t more preassembled when it arrived. Bowflex offers in-home assembly with delivery, but chances are you won’t need it.

Workout

Cardio workouts don’t scare me. They don’t scare me one bit, and I’m used to maxing out the resistance and incline on your run-of-the-mill gym ellipticals and getting some good interval workouts in.  None of that prepared me for the Max Interval workout on the MAX Trainer.

After 2 minutes of using the Max Interval workout, which you may recall is the only preset workout on the M3 model, I was longing for other (easier) options until I could work my way up to the Max setting. What I’ve been left with in the meantime is manually creating my interval workouts, which isn’t terribly difficult, by any means, but remembering to time myself and to change the resistance is more annoying than anything.

The claim the the MAX Trainer can deliver a full workout in 14 minutes is based on the assumption that people are capable of going straight into the Max Interval workout, which I’d wager most people can’t do. So, how feasible is the claim that one need workout only 14 minutes a day? Eh, it’s dubious at best — at least for a while.

The M5 model would have been more to my liking when it comes to preset workouts, but I also didn’t quite anticipate the big jump each resistance level represented on the M3. The jump from resistance level 4 to 5 feels quite significant, and after a certain point in the workout it’s easy to feel like a half a step up is more realistic than a full step at these levels. I find myself settling for a slightly easier workout than I wanted, only because the jump between levels is more than you’d expect.

Other than those complaints, the MAX Trainer is really quite good at what it does. It has a built in calorie tracker, and this tracker feels far more honest than the machines at your standard gym. When it said I burned 200 calories, I truly believe I burned somewhere around 200 calories. Not like when the elliptical at my old gym said I burned 2000 calories after a 45 minute workout. I only wish, man. I only wish.

How does this compare to a stairclimber or elliptical in the gym? It definitely feels intense, which is a good thing. Do I buy the 2.5x calorie burn claim? Yes, but only if you’re able to do the Max Interval workout, and that’s more aspirational than attainable for most people.

Miscellaneous Opinions

  • The stand for one’s iPad or tablet is small and unstable. I don’t trust it one bit.
  • No speakers and auxiliary input for music? C’mon, man.
  • The water bottle holder is so out of the way they might as well have skipped adding it. Seriously, if you’re using a tablet to watch a movie or TV shows you won’t be able to reach any water bottle without knocking it down.
  • This machine is very, VERY loud.
  • I wish it had a fan and a place to keep a towel to wipe up the sweat.
  • Compact design makes it fit nicely into smaller spaces.
  • The power plug is on the front of the machine, and the cord is pretty short. Basically, you don’t have any options other than to stare straight at a wall when you’re working out or to add an extension cord.
  • The display console is cheap and ugly, and definitely not worthy of a $999 price tag. The same is true of the resistance dial. These look better on the M5, but there is still that pesky $600 price increase.

Final Thoughts

At $999 or $1599, the Bowflex MAX Trainer is a premium-priced machine without the premium feel. The workout is good, and you’ll definitely be forced to push yourself harder than you would on an elliptical or stairclimber alone. The small, compact design is also a very nice feature, and for those with limited space this machine probably can’t be matched. But there still seems to be a little bit of polish missing. An upgraded display, AUX input and speakers for music, plus a fan and reduction in the noise of the machine would probably make it seem like a better value, even if those features don’t improve the workout.

Is the M5 worth the extra $600? No, you can pretty easily adjust for the lack of preset workout options and overcome the big jumps in difficulty between the resistance settings. The extra year of warranty might be nice, but hopefully, neither machine breaks in that period of time.

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