Stay fit using video-assisted workouts and AI training without leaving the house. The Bowflex Max Trainer blends elements of various popular fitness machines to provide a full-body, muscle-searing cardio workout in less time.
Maintaining your fitness level, especially cardiovascular endurance, is important for more active outdoor enthusiasts. Of course, the best way to keep fit and healthy doing any given activity is to just get out there and do it. That way, you’ll be optimally trained to excel at whatever you want to do outside.
But most of us don’t live close enough to our outdoor fitness fix to stay in fighting shape. And often, the change of seasons prevents us from even attempting an activity. So that leaves two options: investing in an at-home machine or schlepping to a smelly gym to hit the weights and chug through cardio.
For those who don’t love the gym environment, Bowflex has the updated Max Trainer M8. Using a blend of modern tech and hybrid cardio machine movement, it claims to offer full-body burn in less time than traditional ellipticals, stair steppers, or other options.
Bowflex Max Trainer M8: What It Is
In anticipation of ski season, I recently started sweating out some serious calories on one of the new Bowflex Max Trainers. Starting at $999, Bowflex calls this line a “trainer” instead of an elliptical. According to Bowflex, the Max Trainers use a “unique motion [that] was designed to provide an effective, full-body cardio workout in a short amount of time.”
In layperson terms, it’s a combo of a stepper and an elliptical. It provides a more compact, upright footprint akin to something like a StairMaster, but with the amped-up calorie-burning and muscle-building capabilities that an elliptical offers.
The model I tested was the top-of-the-line M8 with the Performance Pack ($2,599). This includes an arm-mounted heart rate monitor, a Samsung Galaxy 9 tablet for the new Max Intelligence AI training software, and a soft mat to set the machine on.
According to Bowflex, the artificial intelligence app — affectionately dubbed “Max” — provides tips and insights for more effective training.
“As you train, Max speaks to you, coaching and adjusting to your needs as you maximize calorie-burn in every workout!” the brand claims on its website.
In a nutshell, Bowflex built these exercise machines on the premise that people are pressed for time and want something to give them a fast, effective workout at home. And the new Max Intelligence option I tested ($149 a year) aims to even better optimize time on the trainer.
Bowflex Max Trainer: First Impressions
After you order the M8, expect two large packages — the top and bottom of the trainer — to arrive on your doorstep. Most people will be able to easily handle bringing the boxes inside. Even fully assembled, the Max Trainer M8 weighs under 150 pounds.
Setup is not difficult, especially if you’ve put together anything from IKEA lately. Clear directions and all of the required bolts, screws, and tools come with the machine and help users navigate installation. Expect to take about an hour and a half to assemble the trainer. And for those less mechanically inclined, Bowflex offers a home assembly option for $169.
The first thing to do once you step on the machine is to get acquainted with the Max Intelligence app. This is as much for you as it is for the AI. I found it fairly simple; I used the tablet to enter some info about my fitness/weight-loss goals and physical stats. Then the AI (named Max) soon began chattering about the first assessment to help it (him?) better build future workout plans.
Now, I consider myself a fitness buff. But I’m not an elliptical guy or much of a runner (treadmill or road). I prefer a rower to get my cardio, so when I first mounted the trainer, it took a bit of experimentation to find out how to make smooth movements. There’s a small but definite learning curve for those not used to these types of machines.
To help users find their unique groove, the trainer sports curvy arms that offer a few different areas to grab and pull. You can also rest your hands on the center handles, which have metal sensors to calculate heart rate. Once in position, resistance toggles mounted by the handles allow easy and quick adjustment between levels.
Bowflex Max Trainer Review
Honestly, I came in a bit skeptical of these types of exercise machines. But once Max was up and rocking — pushing me through an all-out, five-second burst of maximum effort, followed by two more lower-intensity bouts between cooldowns — I realized the potential for a great aerobic and resistance workout.
Following my initial assessment (about seven minutes), I jumped over to the pre-recorded video workouts that come as part of the subscription. I dove into a four-minute Tabata. Named after the Japanese exercise scientist who invented them, Tabatas last four minutes each and comprise high-intensity intervals of 20 seconds of max effort with 10 seconds of rest.
After that short burst of activity, my thighs burned, my shoulders tightened, and sweat poured down my body. The next day, my core and legs, along with shoulders and arms, felt tighter and more toned. And after three days a week on the Bowflex for two weeks, my regular gym sessions lifting weights — squats, deadlifts, dumbbells— became easier and I was able to push past previous plateaus.
Since then, I’ve grown to love working out on the Max Trainer and find myself, even after doing a few short workouts, wanting to do another one just to test my growing stamina and strength.
The only quibble I have for the machine itself is its size. The Max Trainer felt a little short for me (6’3”) and my wife (5’11”). Though it works OK, I suspect taller bodies will want more adjustability at the top of the machine.
Though the trainer provides a great workout with minimal fuss, I encountered a few problems — mostly with the software. The Max 8 with the Performance Pack represents Bowflex’s most feature-packed offering, but I wouldn’t necessarily go with that myself. The Samsung tablet isn’t really needed, especially since most people already own a tablet or smartphone that can utilize the Max Intelligence app (for iOS and Android). So I can see myself waiving the app service fee in the future as I get into my own routine.
And though the videos are helpful, especially for beginners — in both general exercise and using this machine — I couldn’t hear what the instructor was saying once the trainer got whirring and moving. And the on-screen graphics don’t offer the same heads-up display you see on the main part of the app, which mimics the hardware dial and display on the front of the machine. That makes it tough to know when to stop and start. Sure, headphones are an option, but not everybody likes to wear them while exercising.
What’s more, the app proved a bit buggy. I had trouble syncing my workouts and even had to reset my entire profile after my password was rejected and the confirmation code to reset it never came through. Meanwhile, my wife’s past workouts disappeared from her profile altogether.
I also experienced a few frustrating minutes standing atop the machine, ready to get a workout going and sweat some, fiddling with glitchy software. This impedes both the fun and efficiency of the Max Trainer. But it’s a new line for Bowflex, and I expect the experience will improve as the tech matures.
Max Your Fitness
Even with the tech snafus, overall this machine makes a great addition to anyone’s at-home fitness routine. It’s pretty compact, taller than it is wide, and will fit well in the corner of a home office or small home gym.
For those who already know what they’re doing, I would stick with a lower-priced (but equally capable) machine like the Bowflex M6. It also has Bluetooth and is compatible with the AI trainer system if you want to try it out.
But for those who require more instruction and motivation, the Max Trainer M8 will consistently kick your butt and help keep you in shape for outdoor adventures. And the Max Intelligence app and subscription will help get fitness rookies into a groove for as long as they need it.