The Bowflex Max Trainer M3 is the entry level version of the M5, which includes the same high intensity MAX Interval program, despite costing $600 less.
But with such a noticeable price difference, which features get upgraded for the M5, and can you still experience the same calorie torching workout on the M3?
In this review we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about Bowflex’s innovative new workout machine.
From the workout programs through to the design features and warranty, every detail will be compared between the two models to help you decide which is best for your own budget and fitness goals.
Multi-award winning ergonomic design
When Bowflex set out to create the Max Trainer their goal was simple. Create a machine that burned the most calories in the shortest time.
To do this, the entire design has been optimized around high intensity interval training, which recruits both upper and lower body muscle groups.
But in order to achieve this goal, they also wanted a machine that was accessible to a broad demographic and wide range of personal fitness levels. This means no high-impact movements that could be detrimental to joint health and your lower back.
This is why the Max Trainer closely emulates the action of an elliptical trainer, with the smooth oval stride path guided by glide rails on either side of the frame. Because your feet are in constant contact with the pedals, you’re minimizing the strain placed on joints and tendons while still enjoying a wide range of motion.
But to maximize the number of calories burned, the Max Trainer takes this low impact stride motion and combines it with the challenging incline of a stairclimber.
This is widely regarded as one of the best ways to burn the most calories in a short amount of time, with companies such as NordicTrack developing equipment specifically tailored to steeper inclines (Incline Trainers).
Yowza Fitness too have recognized the benefit of training at steeper gradients, with their CardioCore machines offering some of the steepest inclines in the industry (up to 60%).
What the Max Trainer manages to do is provide this steeper incline on a machine with a much more compact footprint and lower product weight, making it easier to move between locations if needed.
Burn more calories with a full body workout
If we move away from the lower body motion and focus more on the upper body, it’s clear that the moveable grips have been ergonomically designed to support interval training.
Their extended length and V-shaped design offer a wide range of grip positions, and because the heart rate monitoring works via a chest strap, you don’t have to worry about which one you choose.
During the high intensity ‘ACTIVE’ segments of the MAX Interval program your grip can shift towards the top of the handles, which encourages a wider range of motion and increases the Burn Rate (how quickly you’re burning calories).
When you then switch back to the ‘REST’ segment, the section of handle closest to you provides a shorter range of motion that allows you to properly recover before the next round.
This handle shape also gives you complete control over the level of upper body muscle engagement. By using the shorter grips closer to you, you’re going to be doing more work with your lower body, but still getting a light workout in for your biceps and back.
If you then adjust your grip so your hands are closer to the top of the handles, you’ll activate more of your back, shoulders, and core, as well as your biceps and forearms.
Depending on your current level of fitness, you can choose from one of 8 resistance levels via the Shifter that’s built into the static handles.
Bowflex Max Trainer M3 – Features Summary
- 8 resistance levels
- Manual and MAX Interval workout programs
- Cooling workout fan
- In-home assembly service available
- Compact 46″ (L) x 25″ (W) footprint
- Motivational Burn Rate display
- Heart rate monitoring via a telemetry chest strap (included)
How does the Max Trainer work?
The main goal of the Max Trainer is to help you burn the most calories in the shortest time through high intensity interval training (HIIT).
So how do Bowflex keep you motivated towards your training without including entertainment features such as a HDTV, web-enabled color console, or touch screen virtual route planner?
The answer lies in the Burn Rate dial on the console.
Workout variation is much more limited on the M3 compared to the M5, but you still have the 14-minute MAX Interval program which automatically adjusts the Burn Rate dial to target levels based on the current workout segment.
Despite being simplistic in its design, the Burn Rate dial is incredibly powerful as a source of motivation, combining a speedometer style appearance with LEDs that support a wide range of personal fitness levels.
Because this isn’t the SMART MAX Interval workout, the resistance doesn’t adjust automatically, meaning you have to push yourself to an RPM and resistance level that results in you reaching the target Burn Rate.
The large foot pedals and smooth gliding motion do an excellent job of minimizing the stress on your joints and lower back. The use of guide rails and a wide base frame also help improve stability at higher intensity levels.
With the elliptical/stairclimber motion working your quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings, the upper body grips recruit more of your core, biceps, back, and shoulders to boost calorie burn and provide an effective total body workout.
When combined with a balanced nutrition plan, this can result in improved muscle definition, increased endurance, and a slimmer waistline, as highlighted in the numerous success stories.
Display console design
With most of our elliptical trainer reviews, the design of the console is often one of the most noticeable differences between two machines.
It’s often the case that the stride length, incline gradient, and number of resistance levels is the same, so we often look to the entertainment features and display console settings to identify the best model.
Although the Max Trainer M3 isn’t a traditional elliptical, the console feedback shares many similarities, with feedback for the workout duration, current workout profile, RPM, heart rate, and resistance level.
But in terms of the actual console design, you’re looking at something completely unique.
The most noticeable difference is the Burn Rate display, which uses a dial to represent the level of calories burned per minute. This is based on a calculation that factors in your current RPM and resistance level, which then spins the needle to a level between 0 and 40.
You’ll also notice a series of LEDs towards the upper end of the scale, which become lit after you start your workout. The settings of your current user profile determine how many of the 5 LEDs light up, which are meant as an indication of the intensity level.
If this is a new personal fitness routine then you might only see one or two LEDs active, while more advanced fitness profiles will see the full set. This is why it’s important to enter accurate information when setting up your user profiles.
The screen itself is easy to read in daylight, but there’s no backlight like there is on the M5. This makes it more difficult to monitor feedback in low light conditions or when there’s glare on the screen.
As for the resistance levels, although you’re getting just half as many as on the M5, switching between them uses an innovative Shifter built into one of the static handlebars. This resembles the gear change on some road bikes, and is a unique feature we’ve never seen during any other review.
Rotating the Shifter towards the ‘8’ setting will make your workouts more challenging, while rotating towards ‘1’ will reduce the resistance and make it easier to maintain a higher RPM.
Heart rate monitoring
This is one of the big differences between the M3 and M5 Max Trainers, where the M3 doesn’t include touch sensors built into the handles.
Instead you’ll need to wear a telemetry chest strap to transmit your heart rate signal to a receiver in the console, which will then display an accurate pulse reading on the screen.
Bowflex have a number of recommendations over which chest strap to choose, including the Polar Electro. Essentially it needs to operate in the 4.5kHz – 5.5kHz range and be uncoded.
We’ll talk about the differences between the M3 and M5 models later in the review, but in our opinion it’s not a big deal to lose the heart rate monitoring via touch sensors.
If you want to make changes to the resistance level mid-workout or change your grip position it’s difficult to maintain a stable signal, which isn’t a problem when the sensors are in constant contact with your body via the strap.
This section of the review will be fairly short due to the fact that, well, there aren’t any.
If you’ve read our reviews of the NordicTrack Elite ellipticals you’ll remember how entertainment and technology played a significant role in the design of their consoles.
The screens featured an extra wide viewing angle, and were often full color and web-enabled, allowing you to browse the internet or watch movies while you workout. On a couple of their top models there was even the ability to connect up a Blu-Ray player to a 15″ HDTV and watch sports or movies at the same time.
But if you have a very limited amount of time each day, you might not always want a 45+ minute workout, or to spend time navigating touch screen menus or changing the speaker volume.
That’s why Bowflex have designed the console in keeping with the goal of the Max Trainer, which is to deliver a short, effective, calorie burning workout, while still remaining affordable.
This has also helped keep the design as streamlined and compact as possible, minimizing the footprint and helping it to win multiple top design awards.
Unfortunately this also means there is no MP3 or iPod connectivity, so listening to your favorite workout music has to be done via external speakers or headphones.
When you’re starting a new fitness program, it’s important to include a certain level of exercise variation, especially if it’s going to be part of a long term lifestyle change.
If you continue with just one program then it increases the likelihood of muscle adaptation. But finding workout programs that are challenging, as well as varied and interesting isn’t always easy.
MAX Interval Workout
The Max Trainer concept is focussed around a high intensity interval program called ‘MAX Interval’, where you alternate between so-called ‘ACTIVE’ and ‘REST’ periods.
During the ‘ACTIVE’ stages your energy output should spike, as the resistance level and/or RPM increases. When this segment ends, the ‘REST’ periods are designed to let you recover your energy ready for the next ACTIVE phase.
It’s a technique that’s proven incredibly effective for burning a high number of calories in a short amount of time. When you combine this with the steep incline and movement of the upper body grips, what you get is a truly unique workout experience.
Although there’s no warmup or cool down phase to the MAX Interval workout, there is an audible countdown that begins 3 seconds before the end of each ‘REST segment. This gives you a short amount of time to prepare for the upcoming ‘ACTIVE’ segment.
The only downside is that this is the only preset program available on the M3, with no option to create and save your own custom workout. This is compared to the upgraded M5 model, where you have 8 workout programs to choose from, with a mix of interval training and steady state cardio.
Also, it’s important to mention the difference between the ‘MAX Interval’ and ‘SMART MAX Interval’ programs.
SMART MAX Interval is a workout that’s only available on the Max Trainer M5, where the resistance adjusts automatically based on your current RPM to keep you at the target Burn Rate. The standard MAX Interval program prompts you to reach a target Burn Rate for each segment, but doesn’t automatically adjust the resistance to make sure you achieve it.
Both interval workouts follow the same high intensity profile, but if you want minimal interaction at the console, you might want to take a look at the M5.
The MAX Interval program on the M3 does allow a certain level of customization, where you can adjust the interval times and burn rate levels, which will then be used as default settings for future sessions.
This acts as a kind of ‘Quick Start’ program, where you can step on the machine and start your workout with complete freedom over when the resistance level changes.
With the M3 this is the only way to achieve a low intensity, or steady state cardio program, and is the only alternative you have to MAX Interval.
Any cardio machine that doesn’t prompt you to enter at least your age and body weight isn’t going to be giving you accurate feedback for the number of calories burned.
It’s the metric many people are most interested in, and the basis for the design of the Max Trainer, so it’s reassuring to see Bowflex included this option on the M3 and M5 models.
Each of the two user profiles allows you to enter your gender, age, and weight, which will then be used in the calculation for the number of calories burned. This will then be translated into the feedback you see on the Burn Rate dial on the console.
Benefits of interval training
The Max Trainer represents an exciting progression for Bowflex, who have previously been focussed on the Treadclimber and their collection of strength training equipment.
Although the Treadclimber was a revolutionary piece of cardio equipment, it didn’t offer quite the same level of upper body workout as the M3, and wasn’t setup to support HIIT training.
So what is it about HIIT that makes it such an effective training technique for calorie burning, weight loss, and improving your overall fitness?
There have been thousands of articles already written about the benefits of intervals in cardio workouts, not to mention numerous studies by Universities and researchers into its effects on the human body.
Although this is far from being an exhaustive explanation of the health and fitness benefits, the list below details results from some of the more prominent studies in recent years. We’ve also included a number of health benefits based on feedback from leading professionals in the health industry.
It’s important to mention that improvements in endurance aren’t just noticed in those who are new to fitness, but also highly trained professional athletes.
- Training Techniques to Improve Endurance Exercise Performances
Carried out by the University of Cape Town Research Unit on Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, this study sought to determine the benefits of HIT on professional cyclists prior to a competition.
Researchers discovered that as few as 6 HIT sessions was enough to increase peak work rate by 4 to 5%, and yield 3.0 to 3.5% improvements in 40 km time trials. After 2 weeks the same study reported improvements of 6% in simulated 100 km time trials.
- Influence of HIT training on adaptations in well-trained cyclists
Another study to focus on the benefits of HIT on professional cyclists, this time published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Similar to the study above, this already recognised the benefits of interval training, but wanted to determine the performance of different techniques.
Researchers gathered 38 well-trained cyclists and divided them into four groups. Groups 1-3 were assigned 3 different HIT regimens, while the fourth group acted as a control, with no exposure to interval cycling.
The results of the study highlighted significant performance improvements in groups 1, 2, and 3 in terms of increasing their anaerobic capacity and reducing the time taken to complete a 40 km time-trial.
- High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss
A review published in the International Journal of Obesity by Dr. Stephen Boutcher summarised the results of several recent studies, which highlighted the benefits of high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE).
One of those included was entitled the ‘Effect of 2 weeks of sprint interval training on health-related outcomes in sedentary overweight/obese men’, by Whyte et al.
After completing a 2-week course of HIIE, previously untrained males were found to increase anaerobic capacity by 8%. This involved six sessions, each comprised of 4-6 rounds of 30-second Wingate aerobic sprints on a cycle ergometer, with 4.5 minutes rest between each sprint. Researchers also observed a significant decrease in waist and hip circumferences compared to the control group.
Comparison with the Max Trainer M5
As the entry level model in the Max Trainer collection, the M3 has the obvious attraction of being available for under $1000 – a $600 saving compared to the top-of-the-line M5. But what does this mean for your workouts?
With standard elliptical trainers, we would usually expect to see a difference in stride length and incline when upgrading between two models in the same collection. But for the Max Trainer the physical design remains very much the same, with an identical stride path, footprint, and handle motion.
There is a minor upgrade between the consoles (M5 screen is backlit, whereas the M3 features a standard LCD), but where you really notice the difference is in the technology and workout programs.
The Max Trainer M3 essentially provides you with everything you need to experience the benefits of the MAX Interval workout. This means the 14-minute high intensity program that burns a large number of calories in a very short space of time.
The downside is that there’s a lot more manual work involved during and after the workout, compared to if you were using the M5.
Because the M3 doesn’t support a workout data sync to the Max Trainer app, any workout results you want to record will need to be written or typed up yourself. This is something that’s easy to forget after a workout, and introduces the possibility of incorrect data.
Although this gives you a basic way to monitor a history of your progress, you’re not getting any of the same charts and comparisons that you can with the Max Trainer app or MyFitnessPal (data can be synced to a MyFitnessPal profile with the M5).
It’s this added convenience that accounts for part of the price difference between the two Max Trainers. The remaining differences are between the warranty coverage, number of resistance levels, heart rate monitoring, and workout variation.
With the M3, you’re getting 8 resistance levels instead of 16, 2 workout programs instead of 8, and a 1 year warranty period compared to the 2 years coverage that comes as standard with the M5.
In terms of heart rate monitoring, you’re also slightly more limited with the M3, which supports telemetry chest straps but doesn’t have touch sensors built into the static handles.
For us this isn’t a big deal, particularly if you’re taking advantage of the MAX Interval program and high intensity training. When you consider how much of your workout will be spent switching grip positions, using the upper body handles and adjusting the resistance level, the chest strap will provide a much more reliable reading, due to its ability to transmit continuous feedback to the console.
Is there an in-home assembly service?
When it comes to user manuals, the quality really does vary depending on the manufacturer. While some offer comprehensive step-by-step instructions, others include nothing more than an exploded parts diagram.
Fortunately Bowflex equipment is usually accompanied by a high quality owner’s manual that includes everything you need to get started, and the Max Trainer M3 is no exception.
Not only is there step-by-step guide of how everything fits together, but there’s also a complete walkthrough of the best exercises to choose during the warm up and cool down phases.
In addition to the workout guide and training log, the M3 user manual includes the Bowflex Body Weight Loss Guide, which is designed to help you lose weight and improve your health when used together with the M3.
We would always recommend consulting a registered dietician before making any significant changes to your diet, but this acts as a useful reference guide to a number of healthy eating guidelines.
In terms of the actual equipment setup, Bowflex recommend having a second person available to assist with any heavy lifting. This is really just for lifting the pre-assembled frame to your workout location. Once you mount the frame assembly onto the base stabilizer the remaining steps can be completed by just one person.
The process is virtually identical to that of the M5, with clear written instructions and diagrams accompanying each step in the manual.
The handlebar and grip assembly isn’t exactly complicated, but due to the bulkiness of some parts and the connecting wire between the static handles and frame upright it could take some time.
Overall, we would recommend setting aside between 90 minutes and 2 hours if you want to be sure of completing the assembly in a single session. But if you would rather avoid the assembly process altogether, there is another option.
In-home assembly service
If you don’t want to worry about following instructions, and would rather someone else did all the heavy lifting, you might want to think about Bowflex’s in-home assembly service.
This covers moving the boxes to your room of choice, having the M3 assembled by a qualified technician, and calibrating the machine to make sure the console is working and stride motion is correct.
With everything setup, this even guarantees removal of the packing materials from the workout room to your refuse area, but there is a cost involved.
The service itself is available 7 days a week, between 8am and 10pm Monday to Saturday, and 9am to 6pm on Sunday, at a cost of $159.
If this is an option you’re interested in, it might be worth giving Bowflex a call before you order to check if they have someone available on the date you need the M3 assembled.
Appointments are within a 4 hour window, and someone 18 years or older will need to be available while the equipment is being setup.
Folding and transport options
Traditionally, elliptical trainers and stairclimbers have the largest footprint of any home fitness machine. This has led to companies like NordicTrack developing collections specifically for folding designs, such as their SpaceSaver ellipticals.
Unfortunately due to their weight, this isn’t always practical. If you have to lift and move a machine weighing several hundred pounds, even with transport wheels it’s not going to be easy.
The Max Trainer avoids this by being built around a compact footprint to begin with, meaning you don’t have to worry about folding the frame when not in use.
Unfortunately there’s no carry handle, but due to the center of gravity being quite high up the frame, you can tip the machine onto the front-mounted transport wheels and move it by holding the frame below the static handles.
The purpose of our review is to provide you with the information you need to make an educated buying decision. In short, helping you decide if the Max Trainer M3 is the best choice of equipment for your budget and fitness goals.
But while we pride ourselves on providing the most comprehensive review online, you can also gain great insight into the overall quality of a product by looking at aggregated reviews from other customers.
On the Bowflex website itself you can currently find feedback from well over 1000 people who have already bought and used the M3, with 98% claiming they would recommend it to a friend.
But finding the time to read through so many reviews isn’t exactly practical, which is why we’ve summarised many of the pros and cons into the lists below, to act as a quick reference guide.
- Provides a full body, low impact workout in a very short space of time
- Claims to burn calories at a much faster rate than stairclimbers, treadmills, and traditional elliptical trainers
- Compact footprint requires a fraction of the space compared to standard ellipticals or treadmills
- Unique ‘Burn Rate’ display motivates you to achieve new fitness goals
- Sturdy frame design helps improve stability, even with the higher center of gravity and more challenging elliptical path
- The warranty on the M5 was already shorter than what we’re used to, so the fact that the M3 is only covered for half of that is a little surprising.
- No iPod connection or entertainment features
- Only two workout programs to choose from, making it less suitable for steady state cardio or medium intensity workouts compared to the M5
- Unable to verify the data to come out of their independent University study, which would be useful for backing up the claims made by the infomercials and website
- Workout program doesn’t include a warm up or cool down section.
Bowflex® is one of the brands that makes up the Nautilus® family of exercise equipment, joining Nautilus®, Schwinn®, and Universal® in offering home workout solutions for every level of physical fitness.
With over 40 years experience in designing innovative new fitness products, Nautilus® has become a world leader in the industry, recognized by the IDA and Red Dot design awards for the Bowflex Max Trainer.
Bowflex itself is a company that has revolutionised the world of home fitness, with iconic bestsellers such as their range of SelectTech dumbbells, treadclimbers, and home gym systems.
Over the last 25 years Bowflex have received numerous mentions in top media publications for their unique range of fitness equipment and line of nutritional products. This includes features in the LA Times, TechCrunch, USA Today, and Men’s Fitness.
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Frame and parts: 1 year
- Labor: 90 days