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The Bowflex Solution to a Better Life

Lee Wheeler-Berliner


What You Need

Popular media constantly reminds American society that it is fat and out of shape. There is a general idea of what a man should look like and if you do not fit that mold then something must be done about it immediately. Network television can provide the average viewer with a solution for those extra pounds about once every commercial break. The vast majority of advertisements focus on the abs and what the best method is for obtaining a rock solid stomach with the least amount of work. While the market for home gyms and full body solutions seems to have dissipated in recent years, the Bowflex workout system continues with the same advertising scheme it has used since its first appearance on the market. The producers of this machine do not flat out lie to the public, but comparison studies show that the claims made by Bowflex are misleading at the least and impossible at the most.

Why You Need It

The information provided in the television commercials and on is essentially the same. The Bowflex patented resistant rod system will shape your body better than any other workout device. It is labeled as a safe and effective way to change your life and enjoy the comfort of working out in your very own home. The enticing draw for the buyer is that "In as little as six weeks you can totally change your body" and there is a one hundred percent satisfaction guarantee that six weeks is all it will take. If you are not satisfied by then, you can receive your money back. Six weeks is a reasonable time to see some results with just about any workout program. Bowflex, however, advertises that you can get the results YOU want with just twenty minutes a day, three times a week.

How it Works

The philosophy behind the Bowflex is circuit training: the concept of strength training by doing a high number of repetitions in a short amount of time. This technique increases your heart rate so an aerobic as well as anaerobic workout is achieved. Ten exercises are listed as the basis of the circuit, even though the machine can provide up to sixty different exercises. In order to maintain a high heart rate, very little rest is allowed in between repetitions, making it vital that the machine can be easily changed. Details are not provided on how to make the necessary changes for the different exercises, it is only assured that it can be done in twenty minutes. Increasing your overall lean body mass is supposed to help you burn more calories and make you look like a person chiseled out of stone.


What They Tell You

Circuit training is a method of working out that builds strength, which is reported as necessary to burn fat and gain muscle, especially for older people. The claims of the effectiveness of strength training with Bowflex include, "If you want to lose fat, you need to strength train to add muscle, burn calories, and look fantastic" and "If you are over thirty years old and are not strength training, you are burning up to 700 fewer calories each month!" Along with these statements, advertising gives images of a very athletic man and woman who have been working out far longer than six weeks. The perfectly sculpted bodies shown are representative of what society puts forth as the type of body every person should have. Bowflex is giving an image of the results that you want and then stating that you can obtain them in a short amount of time. In actuality, the statement being made is that merely six hours of using the Bowflex machine will give a person the body of his or her dreams. While there is no promise of a specific amount of weight loss each day or how many inches will disappear, it is promised that you will get the results that you want guaranteed in six weeks or less.

Their Proof

To convince the potential buyer that this machine works as promised, the website contains before and after photos of real users. The numbers and dimensions are given for a few people and they provide a much more realistic image of what the machine can do for you. Bowflex reports an average weight loss in women of 16.96 pounds of fat and a loss in men of 27.95 pounds of fat. Emphasis is given to the fact that the people studied only worked out three days a week and not everyday. The two people highlighted on the website had fat loss amounts comparable to the average. It is worth noting, however, that "These ordinary people followed a six week program under the supervision of Dr. Ellington Darden, a noted fitness expert, author and researcher, using Bowflex as their only source of exercise." It is all well and good that the people pictured had supervision from a professional, but there is no mention on the site of a noted fitness expert included with your purchase of a machine.

Along with pictures and average numbers of inches lost and muscle gained, Bowflex provides testimonials from supposed real users that praise the benefits of the machine. The website allows you to actually listen to real customers tell you how they feel about Bowflex. A few clicks can lead you to a human voice with a subtle drum beat in the background that is designed to get you excited about starting your routine with Bowflex. Upon listening to a few of the people, it is heard that it took one man twelve weeks to receive the results he wanted, which is the twice the time it is supposed to take. Another person says that he works out for almost an hour each day and often works out four times a week.

Who claims What

It is important to remember that the wonders of circuit training and the amazing benefits of the Bowflex are being reported by one team only: a team of people who make a profit from the selling of the machine. Advertising and money making is the premise behind the website and TV ads so it is required that they are convincing. There is no way to prove that the people pictured are real users or not, and they were probably paid for their part in helping advertise. The reference to a noted fitness expert only reports supervision of a workout plan. There is not a place on the website where the doctor proclaims the benefits of the machine or its value compared to other methods of exercise.

The Untold Facts

The idea of circuit training is not a new one. Information was published as far back as 1959 by Adamson in the journal, Ergonomics. Conceptually, the format of doing between nine and twelve exercises for a period of six to eight weeks has been a standard of circuit training since this time. In a study by Colker et al (1999), a three day a week circuit training program was used by subjects in three different groups, each of which was receiving a different natural supplement (i.e. St. Johnís Wort, caffeine). The idea behind this study was to view the effects of the supplements on body fat loss, lipid levels and mood states in overweight but otherwise healthy adults. These subjects exercised for 45 minutes and in that time achieved a heart rate approximately 70% of their maximum. Additionally, they were restricted to an 1800 kcal/d diet. The amount of body fat loss and overall weight loss was considered significant, with variations among the groups based on which supplement they had. Aside from the supplements, the driving force behind the average weight loss of 3.1 kg of fat was the diet and exercise.

The physiological responses to circuit weight training were examined in a study by Garbutt et al (1994). In this study, ten college-aged men were used and their workout time averaged below 18 minutes. Heart rate and oxygen consumption was affected by the training but not at levels equivalent of regular aerobic exercise. The results suggest that while circuit training does employ both aerobic and anaerobic concepts, the intensity of the exercise may not be enough for aerobic training. If a suitable heart rate is not achieved then the weight loss implications of circuit training are lowered.

What You Can Expect

Benefits of the Bowflex machine do exist, but a potential user needs to be prepared to spend more time than the machine claims to take. In order to get the best sense of what training with a Bowflex will be like, you can download and read the training manual. This behemoth guide to what is billed as a simple and easy to use machine contains eighty-three pages of pictures and information on how to use the Bowflex. Included at the front are workout guides that map out what exercises to do, how many repetitions, and how often a week they should be done. The recommended three day a week plan is listed in the manual as the basic fitness plan. If your goal is to gain strength, add mass, or expect anything other than a general improvement in fitness level, then the right plan for you will require more than the simple and easy three days a week for twenty minutes.

Some results can be expected in six weeks, but do not expect to look like the person in the TV commercial or any other long-term bodybuilder.

The biggest element of a work out plan that is not mentioned anywhere on the Bowflex website is the importance of a restrictive diet. If a person does not eat a balanced diet then no amount of strength training, with the Bowflex or any other machine will make that person lose large amounts of body fat. A potential user should also be prepared to do some real work. In order to follow the regimens in the training manual, a person should do two sets of ten exercises with repetitions totaling between 10 and fifteen per set. Doing this many exercises, changing the machine to do them and finishing in twenty minutes will definitely require some sweat. This amount of intensity is needed, however, to keep your heart rate at a good level. The time limit can be sacrificed but then the odds of achieving an aerobic workout decrease.

Possible Benefits

Whether or not your body will change to the solid, sculpted form of your dreams, overall body strength will increase with regular use. This result has benefits and it may be what you are looking for. Williams and Cash (2001) conducted a study on the effects of circuit training on body image of college students. A six-week program was used consisting of 3 hours of exercise a week and weight lifters were compared to a control group of non weight lifters on areas such as appearance evaluations, body satisfaction, and social physique anxiety. At the conclusion of the program, the weight lifters were shown to have increased strength (16% upper body increase and 29% lower body increase), improved appearance evaluations and body satisfaction along with lower physique anxiety levels.


Circuit training is beneficial and can produce positive changes in a personís lifestyle and view of self. People who maintain a six-week regimen can expect overall strength increases and will see some changes in their physical appearance. However, a person who is only using a Bowflex machine without the addition of a restrictive diet should not expect miraculous changes in body shape and fat percentage. In order to obtain results like the people pictured in commercials, expect to work out a much longer time period than six weeks. While Bowflex is not claiming that the simple purchase of a machine will change your life, it should not be expected that six weeks will either. Body composition continually changes and unless exercise is continued, there is no guarantee how long your results of the first six weeks will last.


Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.

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