Bowflex Ultimate 2 Review- Is It Time To Retire?

If you have a demanding job that eats your time or like to work out without the glare of the public eye a home gym is ideal. The Ultimate 2 is one of Bowflexs older gyms (1986). But does this mature workout buddy offer anything for todays gym generation?

BOWFLEX also currently have a massive sale across a massive range of products which includes free shipping. See what’s available here.

**It’s almost impossible to get this gym online now, but Bowflex are offering the original XTREME SE 1 for $1299, less than half the price people are selling refurbished SE 2’s for. See last paragraph for difference in models**

What Is So Unique About Bowflex Gyms?

They use cable resistance as opposed to weight and gravity. What does that mean and how is it possible? Unusually there are no weights attached to their cables.

The cables also creates constant progressive resistance. As soon as you activate a cable, lets say during a forwards facing pull down row for your lats, once you grab the bar handles and pull downwards the resistance comes on.

It’s a little slow to kick in, but the further you pull down the bar to your mid section the greater the tension increases. As you return the bar to the start position the resistance remains constant. Whats different though with this is that there are no weight plates on a Bowflex home gym.

Gravity is not the defining force you are working against, so technically there is no lag in the middle of the rep. You don’t need to squeeze and resist any gravity as you prepare to face the eccentric second half of your rep.

The tension is constantly there, which allows you to place your muscles in continuous overload, with the added benefit that the rep actually gets harder the further your travel into it.

There is no lag or inertia neither, which removes any awkward jerks, rattles n’ rolls which can skew your motion. This is all possible because all Bowflex gyms use Power Rods, which are flexible compounds that bend side wards at the back of the machine.

These create the tension that provides the resistance so you get a good workout.

Why is resistance technology any good or why should you even care about it?

As there is no inertia, as the cables aren’t loaded with weights pulling down on them,  you can’t cheat your way through a rep. You don’t solely have to rely on going super slow during the negative portion of the rep, to resist the weights inclination to lower with gravity.

You have to work harder, you will recruit more muscle fibers than you can with free weights and traditional weight loaded cable machines. Building muscle involves tearing down existing muscle fibers by progressively overloading them with reps/sets and poundage.

As soon as your muscles can cope with a load they will generally not develop any further.

To develop them further smart tactics are employed- increasing reps, sets, intensity, weight, adding more time under tension, reduction in rest periods between sets, eating more food…

A unique feature to Power Rod technology is that you can at least create more time under tension, and activate the fullest amount of muscle fibers during every set. It’s up to you to employ the other tactics whenever you reach a plateau- more resistance (weight or in this case rods), more sets, less rest, more food….

Training Without A Partner?

If you are training without a partner and want to push the needle into the red, Bowflex gyms are safe. You won’t need a spotter on the bench press. No heavy plates can collapse on you and crumple your spine during squats. You won’t ever drop a weight on your toe.

If you are training with full intensity and need immediate drop sets, “weight” changes are fast. This machine also lends itself to quick changes during during circuit training. It’s the equivalent of flappy panels on sports cars. Hooking and unhooking rods can be done in seconds.

Who Won’t Like This Ultimate 2 Bowflex Home Gym?

If you are obsessed with numbers, if you even are so anal you have weighed each 45 lb plate in the gym to see if it’s accurate (I have and also the smaller plates). If you want to physically increase what you can lift each workout by minuscule numbers – 0.25 lb (we have these plates in my gym). If you love the sound and feel of real weights bouncing off the rubber floor mats you won’t like this.

If you like competing against yourself and everyone else in the gym lift wars this machine will not please you. It also may actively hinder you if you like to work your 1 rep max quite regularly. Well in no uncertain terms it will.

The Ultimate 2 is really sturdy (weighing a massive 400lbs) but it will not have too many power lifting fans.

Squats will never be the same on a Bowflex gym. You can’t load a heavy bar across your back, and develop your back and posterior chain quite the same way naturally. Even with the squat accessory bar it will never match a heavy squat bar with multiple 45 lb plates each side.

You can get a good burn out on your hams and quads, but you will never develop these to the same size and strength levels than you can with a freestanding bar and power rack.

For competition level training you need to develop stability and strength with a heavy plate loaded bar. There is no substitute. The same is true with deadlifts.

That is a positive and negative for lots of people. For strength and power athletes it’s bad. Butfor those with lower back and hip issues, or who don’t have the mobility or desire to do “real” squats, it’s a bonus.

Which type of person are you? Are you a heavy squat bar nut? Or do you care more about safety, stability, or need something to take care of mobility and flexibility issues?

Make no mistake you can certainly tone your legs and build good muscle on your legs with the Ultimate 2, but the method and results do not suit hardcore trainers. Can you build descent size legs without a squat rack? Well Dorain Yates who i harp on about a lot certainly did after a hip injury, although he did need a heavy duty leg press machine. See here.

In the article Dorian noticeably talks about the macho image of squatting and also that he concentrated more on the negative portion of the rep as thats were the most damage is done. This element is already taken care for you in Bowflex gyms- as they work on the principle of creating continuous tension. You could speed up results and take it even further by actually going slower on the negative as you will be working even harder to control the rep.

Dorian also recommends cutting back on the weight and going slower and activating the muscle you are using, while eliminating the supplementary muscles involvement.

For example on bicep curls don’t sway your body and wildly swing your arms to get the weight up. This will incorporate your back, hips, legs, shoulders, and take stress off the bicep muscles which you are trying to work. Smart training.

Reasons To Invest In This Full Body Home Gym

95 exercises – have you ever done that many in a commercial gym? This is one reason for ditching your gym membership

310 lbs of Bowflex Power Rod Resistance – can upgrade to 410 if the standard amount isn’t challenging you

Has a workout instructional dvd if you are new to training or need instruction on certain exercises. Also good to help you create your own program.

Has a leg press belt that stabilizes your spine- good if you fine your back getting crushed on regular leg press machines.

How Heavy Is it?

At just over 400 lbs this thing is a beast. Once it’s up you’ll never want to move it. If you are storing it upstairs if your floor ratings are the standard 100-150 lbs per cubic foot you will be alright. You will need mats or gym paneling underneath to protect your floor.

I would not certainly like to carry this upstairs, but if you are buying from new it will come in 6-10 boxes which will make it easier. Be certain you want it upstairs as taking it down and moving it is another story. Just on the assembly- make sure you have the day free, as it can take anywhere from 1-6 hours for that.

Depending on your skill level one Amazon reviewer was about to tear his hair out and another who was a mechanic found it a cinch. I always like back up when building anything big, so be nice to some of your friends….

What Size Is It? –  Bowflex Ultimate 2 Dimensions

The Ultimate 2 measures 46″ wide x 82″ in height. It’s depth is 92″. You need a workout area of 8’4” x 6’6” (2.6m x 2 m) and a 92″ ceiling height for clearance.

The rods also flex and bend so make sure no one stands beside them when the machine is in use. The machine also folds, the bench locks in a upward position and saves you some floor space.  Folded it measures 44 by 46 in.

Even when folded you won’t move it far or relocate to another room, unless you have double doorways. There’s always a crane or a jib through a window, but who wants that hassle?

Fight Classic – Do Power Rods beat Bulkier Heavy Weights?

So how does this feel when compared to conventional weights? Well, the resistance doesn’t feel exactly like real weights. The initial concentric contraction is low but then exponentially increases through the range of motion.

The eccentric (Negative) is good but at the point of least resistance is when your arms are at near rest. It feels more like a cable machine in the gym than conventional weight stacks.

If that’s ok by you, then this machine will do fine. I do find the resistance of some exercises closer to conventional than others. For example, the leg extension and leg curls feel more like a regular machine. However, doing a bench press or a lat pull down does not.

But beware, the resistance is inconsistent. It is not the same as using a cable machine with weight plates. It starts slow, a little too slow for some people and comes on harder as the rep goes on (was the power rod bends). This is a persistent concern for many people using these machines, but persist, keep at it for a few weeks and you will be thankful.

Controlling your rep cadence and style will actually lead to you using less weight and building more muscle. Another bonus is that it is a lot easier on your joints and tendons. If you are hitting the mid 30 to 40 age bracket this is ideal.

Noise & Maintenance Are Kept To A Minimum

The machine does not make a lot of noise like a conventional machine stacked with weight. Plates roll, bounce and crash together, so if your machine is close to your kids bedrooms or you have an easily agitated neighbor they won’t be complaining about excessive iron mongering. They may complain about your grunts and B.O. though.

The power rods should be kept upright and tied together when not in use to improve their condition and make sure the resistance stays the same. Resistance can drop on the rods due to use.

It’s not much to worry about as they are covered for life. So if you feel your 50 lb rod is not as close to 50 lbs like it once was, and you are sure you haven’t developed superhuman strength using the machine, you can get free rod replacements.

Bowflex Ultimate 2 Manual

If you’ve lost your manual for your existing Ultimate 2 you can find one here.

Is This The Gym For Me?

Although Bowflex have stopped producing this gym it ain’t time for it to retire just yet. There is still a 12 year warranty on the machine and lifetime warranty on the power rods. If you had any doubts as to why this machine is still good for 2019, that shows extreme confidence.

As gyms advance the main staples of exercise does not. The main fields of technological advances in sporting equipment happens with cardio machines.

Indeed Bowflex and Nautilus (same company) are at the forefront of this. Check out their max trainer range here for example. Home Gyms stay the same for years.

The pulley machines and pulldown machines have stayed the same since the Golden era of bodybuilding in the 70’s. New accessories such as bars and handlegrips come along. Bowflex are already ahead of the curve here with the Power Rod system.

Working out on your own is a lot safer using the Ultimate 2 gym as opposed to a gym that uses weight stacks. If you fail on this you won’t get injured. If you want to train heavy at 3 am in the morning you won’t have to wake your training partner.

The only thing that would put me off buying this gym is the alternative range Bowflex offers. It will be extremely difficult to source new as it is no longer in production. You can buy refurbished here but why pay thousands for something revamped when you can get a current line gym for the same price?

Much Lauded Cheaper Original SE on Offer From Bowflex

You can also buy Bowflex’s Xtreme SE Home gym here for $1299. That’s direct from Bowflex. This gym has thousands of reviews online and not many are negative. Bowflex are selling it way cheaper than the main shopping sites.

The models are practically identical, they both offer up to 410 pounds of resistance. You have 65 exercises on the SE 1 vs 70 on the SE 2, so not much to miss out on.

If you want to know the gruelling details the SE 2 has added incline and decline flyes. Depending on your position flyes are a shoulder killer anyway, so if you don’t need them, you won’t miss this option.

Bowflex is based on the premise of safe exercises and smooth resistance, not everyone can get away with flyes like Arnold and Mike Mentzer did. See the full product details here.

The Blaze is also a very effective and cheaper gym which is currently in production. See our Blaze review here.

Here is all the Bowflex gyms Amazon has in stock.