Is the good ol’ Bowflex still a solid home gym option? Has it ever been?

There probably is no more well-known home gym than the Bowflex by Nautilus. Bowflex is now selling lots of home fitness equipment, from ellipticals to stair climbers to adjustable dumbbells, but the company is still best known for those somewhat odd-looking home gyms that purport to allow a user to get a total body workout from one machine.

But it does it deliver on that promise?

The Bowflex Xtreme 2SE in the home office. Assembly took an hour. Usage has hit about 30

Searching the internet turns up what looks to be paid review after paid review (or simply bad ones) about a product that grew out of a patent from an Ethiopian engineering student who figured out a way to substitute rubber rods for weights and pulleys to create resistance for workouts.

The first Bowflex, called the 2000X, debuted in 1986. By 2002, powered by a home fitness wave and a successful series of infomercials, Bowflex of America, which marketed the original product, had bought the Nautilus Corporation, Schwinn Fitness and Stairmaster (Yes, THAT Stairmaster).

And while copycat products, like the Soloflex, have come and pretty much gone, you can still buy a version of the original Bowflex today. And Bowflex products still sell. In December 2017, Nautilus — headquartered in Vancouver, WA — reported total revenue was $406.2 million, a small uptick from $406 million in 2017.

In the first six months of 2018, sales have been flat, at $190.3 million.

Bowflex sells two types of home gyms, a $2,999 Bowflex Revolution, which uses what the company calls SpiraFlex resistance plates (think traditional looking weight plates without the actual weight) to help the user weight train.

The Bowflex Xtreme2SE, which we have been using, is a $1,599 product that more resembles the original Bowflex units with the “bow and arrow” look to the machine and the rubber-like rods on the back to provide resistance.

Does it work?

Yes, the Bowflex can give you a complete full body workout. The Xtreme has not been updated in some time, but you can still find workout videos online and the machine can take you through squats and bench presses and curls and deadlifts and just about any type of exercise you can do at the gym.

The first time we tried it a few weeks ago, having not worked out in some time, the Bowflex left us sore the next morning.

The beauty, of course, is that the unit is in your home and if you don’t like driving to the gym or wiping off equipment (or working on equipment that may or may not have been wiped off), or you don’t like working out around impossibly beautiful spandex-wearing people who make you feel self-conscious, this can be a good option.

Best of all, the bedroom, office or whatever room your Bowflex goes into it doesn’t have hours. You can go workout anytime.

The Xtreme is not small, however: more than four feet long, four feet wide and nearly seven foot high. It can take up the bulk of many rooms. But we have found it can provide considerable amounts of resistance, particularly when choosing to add the optional rod weight increase to 300 pounds.

Understand, though, that working with rods isn’t the same as weights. The resistance comes towards the middle of the motion and isn’t constant. So 100 pounds lifted on the Bowflex doesn’t feel like 100 pounds on a barbell or a plate machine, probably more like half that.

So while we don’t think you’ll get big muscular gains with the Bowflex, we do think — after a few weeks of use — that the Bowflex can change the way your body looks and give you the “burn” you might feel from working out at the gym. Now, for the smaller percentage of you who are heavy lifters, this isn’t the thing for you, but for the majority of folks, the Bowflex, even after all these years, can still get the job done.