A familiar theme for those who have been investigating weight training is the old free-weights versus machines argument. Free weights tend to be favoured by body builders and serious strength trainers, because lifting free weights requires the use of a lot of stabilizer muscles in order to complete the movement. Machines on the other hand, are generally designed for what is known as isolation movement, where the muscle or muscle group being worked is specifically targeted and the machine restricts movement so that only that muscle is affected.
Bowflex exercises, though machine based, are for the most part compound movements. This is because Nautilus, the makers of Bowflex, have taken their experience at making commercial gym isolation machines and combined them into a home unit. It would be impractical to have multiple machines in the home gym, unless you have a great deal of space, so the next best thing is to combine the movements as much as possible into a single unit.
The Bowflex is a unique home gym system that allows for a large number of strength training exercises using resistance by way of long plastic rods, or, with the new Bowflex Revolution, wound rubber bands contained in a disc. The resistance is provided through cables and pulleys that end in a hand grip, and as a result, wider movements are possible than a machine that uses weight plates and complex mechanicals to restrict movement.
The advantage with compound movements is that, like free weights, larger muscle groups are used to complete the movement, and not just an isolated muscle. This makes the machine ideal for general conditioning, strength training, and weight loss. Body builders may be disappointed, but most hard core body builders are likely to be free weight enthusiasts and use machines only for ‘finishing’ certain muscles.
One of the disadvantages to compound movement is that the likelihood of injury is much higher than with an isolation machine. This means that, when beginning a workout routine, it is important that the form is carefully studied and followed, or muscle strain could result. Bowflex exercises are explained in detail in the accompanying manual, and the website also has video examples to help illustrate the scope of the movement. It is very important to follow the guidelines closely, as an injury could delay your fitness goals. Not doing an exercise properly can also mean that the benefits are not as pronounced. Use a mirror in your home gym so you can observe your form, or, better yet, get a workout partner so you can help each other keep the form correct.
For weight loss, the best Bowflex exercises will be to combine compound movements with cardio, in what is known as circuit training. Circuit training, or circuits, are done simply by moving from set to set without resting in between. This keeps the heart rate up while working the muscle. Often the workout will begin with some light rowing, then a number of strength conditioning moves, followed by more rowing. The Bowflex is outstanding for this kind of workout, since changing resistance levels is very fast. Unlike free weights, where weight plates must be removed or added, and a collar threaded on to secure the weight, the Bowflex is as quick as any Nautilus machine in adjusting the level of the weight. This allows for a steady pace and increased heart rate for the duration of the workout, thereby burning more fat and increasing fitness.
The Bowflex is designed for the home gym, but the exercises that you can perform on it, particularly if you include the lat tower and leg attachment, are as varied as those at any commercial gym. If working out at home is ideal for you, and weight loss as well as general strength conditioning your primary goals, then the Bowflex may very well be the machine for you.