Bowflex vs. Total Gym

There are many people that want to enjoy the benefits  of health club quality exercises in the privacy of their own homes. With today's busy schedules it is often difficult to find time to visit a gym. Health clubs  often have high membership costs as well. Home gyms help to fill this gap in  personal fitness by providing quality exercise with minimal expense and time requirements.

Unless you are one of the lucky ones that have an extra room or large basement,  the limiting factor to using an exercise machine is space. Those living in small  apartments are very sensitive to using up precious space. In this article, we'll look at two of the most popular multi-exercise home gym systems: the Bowflex  and the Total Gym.

Each of these systems allows the owner to perform a variety of exercises that  would normally require a room full of machines to accomplish. By using a system of cables and pulleys, these machines let the user mimic popular exercises such as lat pull-downs, bench press, bicep curls, and kickbacks using a minimum amount of floor space.

Model: Motivator
Mfr SRP: $699.00

Everybody has seen the infomercials on television. If you haven't bought one already, you have probably wondered if this product  was worth it. Read on.

The feature that makes the Bowflex series of products unique is the use of composite rods to provide the resistance. The rods come in different "weights" and the user selects one or a group of rods to provide the resistance they desire.

The product comes shipped in two large boxes and requires assembly. The assembly instructions are excellent and with the right tools, the Motivator can be assembled  in about an hour. The Bowflex has a folding bench seat that locks into an upright  position for storage. The entire assembly has two casters at the bottom to allow the owner to roll the machine out of the way or into a closet. Everyday setup is quick and easy. One threaded knob releases the bench for use. The power rods  are connected, and that's about it.

This product is not quite as small as the Total Gym in storage requirements. I suppose it could be stored in a large walk-in closet, but most users will find it easier to put into a corner instead.

The Motivator is the least expensive model in the Bowflex line. It can several accessory packs that can be added including a leg attachment and lat pull-down attachment and bar. Unlike the more expensive models, the Motivator does not  have a sliding seat to allow for full motion rowing. The manufacturing quality  is excellent, with painting, welding, and sub-assembly details being equal to or above industry standards.

This fitness platform allows the user to do a variety of exercises. Unlike the Total Gym, changeover may require re-positioning the bench or changing power  rod resistances. There are three basic bench positions with the motivator. Back-raised  for benchpress, chest flys and ab crunches, flat for most other activities,  and removed for standing raises, curls and leg exercises. Moving the bench is  easy, requires the loosening of a locking knob, and pulling another pushpin knob out, then sliding the seat. The power rods are connected to the cables  using large hooks, and changing resistance takes just seconds.

The quality of exercise on this product is superb. The use of the power rods for resistance gives this machine a different feel from traditional weight stack  multi-gym products. Tension seems to be constant throughout the range of each rep instead of having easy and hard areas typical with other systems or free  weights. Unlike free weight systems, the user can simply let go if the exercise gets too hard. Every machine ships with an exercise manual that shows how to perform each exercise along with photographs demonstrating how the exercise  looks. Should the manual be misplaced, another can be downloaded over the internet from the Bowflex website.

The base Motivator unit includes two seperate handles to connect to the power  rod cables, making the user exercise both sides of the body equally. Although  the handles are mostly not metal, they are very comfortable and seem sturdy,  even when using most of the power rods in combination. Some accessory attachments  do combine the weight into a single bar.

Another excellent feature of the Bowflex is its leg cuff and the leg exercises that can be performed. Without adding the leg attachment, the Motivator allows the athlete to do four or five strength building exercises for the legs. The  comfort of the leg cuff is superior to any other product I've personally used.  It is heavily padded and there is nothing to dig into the leg even when pulling large weights, plus it locks in place on your ankle very well for a Velcro cuff.

The Bowflex manual and company website do not state that there are any limitations on weight and height. Most people should not experience difficulty or discomfort when performing any of the exercises due to limitations of the machine.

Total Gym
Model: 1500
Mfr SRP: $249.00

The Total Gym uses a unique concept for resistance strength training. This machine consists of a bench mounted on casters that roll along a set of inclined rails. The user's body weight provides the bulk of the resistance for each exercise. Resistance is increased or decreased by raising or lowering the incline of the rails.

  The Total Gym is both quick to setup and take down, and initial assembly time  out of the box is almost non-existent. A major advantage of this machine is the small amount of storage space it requires - it is close in size to an ironing  board when folded for storage.

Everyday setup takes about 2 minutes, and consists  of unfolding the unit, raising the incline of the rails and setting the locking  pin.

The 1500 model has several improvements over earlier models. Of greatest significance  is that the casters are larger and of better quality and that the plastic handles  are replaced by more durable metal padded handles. This model does not have all of the features of the more expensive Total Gym product line models. There is no squat stand with this model and it does not include space to add additional  weight plates to the bench.

True of both of the gyms we studied, the Total Gym allows the user to perform  a variety of health club style exercises. Changing from one exercise to the  next is very quick, usually requiring only that the user change their position or orientation on the bench. For a few exercises, a pull-up bar is used that attaches to the main unit with two locking pins that are easily and quickly  removed.

Fitness Quest provides a videotaped course that demonstrates how to do most of the exercises, and a printed booklet also helps the user along with  directions and workout recommendations.

The most important aspect of any machine is the quality of the workout you get using the machine and in this aspect, the Total Gym is in the top group. Due to the speed with which one can move from one exercise to the next, the cardiovascular system can be made to do more work than what one would receive from a typical  multi-station gym. Some of the exercises (for example a chest fly to a bench press) can be easily changed merely by changing the starting position of the  hands or angle of the motion, taking only moments to complete. This gym has a large variety of exercises and workout circuits to use, including many that  favor the upper body. The two handles are not linked together, forcing the athlete to use muscles on both sides equally.

The leg exercises with this model are accomplished by use of the chin-up bar at the bottom for a squat-like exercise and through an ankle cuff and cable  apparatus. This connection also provides the user a virtual stretching partner by allowing a full-leg stretch, a feature favored by martial arts enthusiasts.  The Total Gym is also an excellent incline bench for ab crunches, leg lifts, and sit-ups.

There are two limitations for users of this machine. One is user height. Those above 72 inches tall will find a few of the exercises difficult to perform due to the size of the sliding bench. For those near to 72 inches tall there may be times that you may feel restricted by the amount of bench available. There are still a number of exercises taller users could perform, but some will become impractical.

Another limitation of this machine is user weight. It is rated at 250 lbs, so those above this weight will not be able to get maximum use of it. Users  near this maximum weight will notice a little flexing of the inclined rails during use. Assuming the athlete is within these height and weight limits, there is little else not to like about the Total Gym.

Summary - How They Stack Up  

Bowflex Motivator

Total Gym 1500

Ease of Assembly

Printed Materials


Manufacturing Quality

Variety of Workouts


Changeover Ease

Storage Space


Floor Space

Customer Service





These are both fine machines that readily accomplish their goal of allowing the owner to perform exercises that work most major muscle  groups while using the least amount of space. Those desiring a full body workout will find either of these machines more than adequate, with the Bowflex having an advantage for those over 6 feet tall or more than 250 lbs. For users with limited space, the Total Gym will meet most of your fitness needs while storing  readily in a closet space or under most beds and couches. Like any exercise machine, the motivation of the individual often provides the bulk of the results.