The Bowflex Max Trainer combines the smooth, low impact stride of an elliptical, with the calorie burning benefits of a stairclimber’s incline to provide an effective weight loss workout in just 14 minutes.
But can Bowflex’s newest cardio line live up to the success of their bestselling TreadClimber collection?
This guide is designed to walk you through the health and fitness benefits of owning a Max Trainer, and includes comparisons between the M3 and M5 models to help you decide which is best for your own goals and budget.
We’ve also provided a brief summary of our in-depth reviews, outlining the features you can expect from each model and how this compares to traditional elliptical trainers in the same price range.
Multi-award winning design
Bowflex are a company that have already established themselves as a household name in fitness, with bestselling cardio and strength training equipment attracting thousands of highly rated customer reviews.
But the Max Trainer takes this a step further, and has been internationally recognized with two major awards for its design.
The first was at the International Design Awards in 2013, where the Bowflex Max Trainer project earned first place in the Outdoor and Exercise Equipment category.
The product line that features the M3 and M5 was released in 2014, followed by acknowledgement of the Max Trainer’s design and innovation in the 2015 Red Dot Design Awards.
Both the IDA and Red Dot awards winners are chosen by a panel of judges who base their decision on marking criteria that includes innovation, functionality, ergonomics, and durability.
Just 6 months after winning the Red Dot Design Award for the Max Trainer, Bowflex continued their innovation with the release of several upgraded versions of existing bestsellers.
This included the TreadClimber PR100 and PR200, and the new Bowflex SelectTech 560 dumbbells.
The dumbbells reportedly use a sensor to perform a similar role to the Atlas Wearables fitness tracker, where the dumbbell movement automatically keeps track of your reps, weight lifted, and rep speed.
It’s this continued focus on innovation and making your workout experience more effective and efficient that shines through in the Max Trainer, which reportedly engages the upper body 80 percent more than a traditional elliptical.
Should I choose the M3 or M5?
Which Max Trainer you choose really depends on your budget and what you’re looking to get out of your workouts.
At just under $1000, the Bowflex M3 is clearly the more affordable of the two, but this means compromising on resistance levels, workout programs, heart rate monitoring, and even workout tracking.
Which has the best workout programs?
If you’re on a strict budget and only ever want to use a Manual or Max Interval program, then the M3 could be the best option. Just be aware that once you step on the machine, even if you select the Max Interval program, it’s down to you to set the resistance level and write down your results.
This is the same program that’s available on the Max Trainer M5, but the top-of-the-line model also includes a separate workout ‘Smart Max Interval’ workout.
With the Smart version, the resistance profile is actually identical, but the resistance adjusts automatically without you remembering to change settings at the right time.
As well as the workouts being more automated, the M5 also offers greater variation, with a total of 9 programs to choose from, including a fitness test.
- Resistance Levels: 16
- User Profiles: 2
- Console Functions: 9
- Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
- Workout Programs: 9
- Backlit LCD: Yes
- HR: Touch and telemetry
- Footprint: 46″L x 25″W
- Warranty: 2 years
Is heart rate monitoring available?
If you’re looking to keep track of your pulse during a fitness routine, it’s important to check the equipment you’re buying offers either touch or telemetry (chest strap) heart rate monitoring.
Both the M3 and M5 Max Trainers offer this to some degree, with both types available on the M5, and just the chest strap version available on the M3.
Personally we don’t tend to use touch sensors during a workout anyway, whether we’re using a treadmill, elliptical, exercise bike, or any other form of cardio equipment.
It really comes down to personal preference, but if you think about how much you’re moving your hands during a workout, especially on something like the Max Trainer, you’re always going to get the most accurate reading from a chest strap.
This also allows you to focus entirely on your workout performance and not worry about maintaining a certain grip position or taking too long changing the resistance.
Are there any entertainment features?
The short answer is no, entertainment features aren’t something Bowflex like to focus on when designing their cardio equipment, as we saw with the TreadClimber.
However, the console on the M3 and M5 machines does feature a built-in media shelf which also serves as a tablet holder. Although it’s probably not the best idea during a high intensity interval program, for lower intensity cardio this allows you to catch up with your favorite movies and TV shows while you workout (as long as you already own a tablet).
Can I track my performance?
Being able to track your progress has become an incredibly important part of modern day fitness routines, as seen from the explosive growth in the sale of personal fitness trackers.
This is why Bowflex have designed the Max Trainer M5 with Bluetooth connectivity to their Max Trainer app. This syncs your results from the console to an app on your smartphone after each workout, but isn’t something that’s available on the M3 model.
The app is something we look at in more detail later in this guide, but it essentially lets you build up a history of workouts for quick reference, including stats such as calories burned, time, watts, and average heart rate.
Which has the better warranty coverage?
By traditional cardio equipment standards, neither warranty is particularly outstanding, with 2 years coverage on the M5, and 1 year for the M3.
This is compared to the lifetime warranty that’s provided as standard on many treadmill and elliptical frames, as well as 5 to 7 years on parts and a year or two of labor.
Although we would have preferred something similar for the Max Trainer, Bowflex have an excellent track record for customer service. They’ve also created several bestselling fitness equipment lines with to a high level of build quality, such as their TreadClimber and SelectTech dumbbells, which does give us more confidence.
Bowflex Max Trainer M5 review
The Max Trainer M5 is based around the same award-winning design as the M3, with a wide base frame for improved stability, oversized pedals for natural foot placement, and moveable grips for a full body workout.
But as well as having a number of important upgrades over the M3, there’s also a few important similarities.
Weight capacity remains the same at 300 lbs, with both models featuring wireless heart rate monitoring, the innovative Burn Rate display dial, and the innovative Max Interval workout program.
However, the M5 is the only Max Trainer model to offer a backlit display for greater visibility of workout feedback, premium grips, and the option to sync your workout data via Bluetooth to the Max Trainer app.
You’re also getting twice the number of resistance levels and a wide range of additional workout programs, including Smart Max Interval, Calorie Burn, Fat Burn, and Steady State.
It’s this combination of steady state and interval training that makes the M5 the better option for supporting a varied workout routine, as well as your endurance and weight loss goals.
But how does this compare to similarly priced elliptical trainers, and are there enough upgrades to justify the price difference between this and the M3?
- Resistance levels: 16
- Functions: 9
- Backlit LCD: Yes
- Weight capacity: 300 lbs
- Warranty: 2 years
- User profiles: 2
- Heart rate monitoring: Touch and wireless
- Workout programs: 9
- Dimensions: 46″ (L) x 25″ (W) x 63″ (H)
This is something we answer in our Max Trainer M5 review, where we take a closer look at everything from the workout programs and console functions, through to heart rate monitoring and assembly instructions. If you want to see the M5 in action, we’ve also included a video showcasing its features.Read the full Bowflex Max Trainer M5 reviewCheck price
Bowflex Max Trainer M3 review
The Max Trainer M3 is the most affordable model in the collection, and can usually be found for $999 on the official Bowflex website (excluding any promo codes or coupons).
One of the key selling points of the Max Trainer is the 14-minute interval workout that’s designed to burn more calories than a treadmill, elliptical, or stairclimber. But you also have unique features like the Burn Rate display and multiple grip positions of the upper body grips.
Both of these features are included on the M3, making it more than capable of supporting effective weight loss workouts, even if you have a limited amount of time each day.
The biggest difference is in the resistance control.
With the M5 you have a Smart Max Interval program, which is essentially a version of Max Interval that automatically adjusts the resistance based on the current workout segment. Unfortunately, even though the M3 Max Interval follows the same resistance profile, it’s down to you to change the resistance by the correct amount at the right time.
There’s also no way of viewing a historical record of your workout results to monitor your progress, as the M5 is the only Max Trainer offering connectivity to their app. Due to the lack of fitness program (available on the M5), you’re unable to get a fitness score for use in future comparisons either, and there’s no weekly goal setting options like you get with the Bowflex TreadClimbers.
But the $600 saving over the M5 does make the M3 a more attractive option for anyone that’s on a strict budget and doesn’t necessarily need workout tracking or too much variation. It continues to support high intensity interval training exceptionally well.
- Resistance levels: 8
- Functions: 9
- Backlit LCD: No
- Weight capacity: 300 lbs
- Warranty: 1 year
- User profiles: 1
- Heart rate monitoring: Wireless only
- Workout programs: 2
- Dimensions: 46″ (L) x 25″ (W) x 63″ (H)
To find out more about the Max Interval program, console functions, warranty coverage, and assembly process, it’s worth taking a look at our in-depth review. We also include a summary of the advantages and disadvantages based on feedback from thousands of customers who have already bought and used the Max Trainer M3.Read the full Bowflex Max Trainer M3 reviewCheck price
Bowflex Max Trainer or TreadClimber?
Together with their SelectTech dumbbells and PR home gym series, Bowflex is perhaps best known for its innovative and bestselling TreadClimber collection. But with the release of the Max Trainer, how do you know which machine is best for helping you achieve your fitness goals?
Both machines claim to be more efficient at burning calories than a treadmill, elliptical, or stair climber, so it really depends on what you’re looking to achieve from a workout.
The TreadClimber is without a doubt the best option for longer workouts with a lower peak intensity, which is mainly due to the independent movement of the Treadles.
Even if you’re looking at one of their top-of-the-line models like the TC6000, the belt speed won’t exceed 4.5 mph, which is perfectly suited to walking workouts.
If this doesn’t provide enough of a challenge, the degree of motion in the Treadles can be adjusted using a dial at the top of the Hydraulic Cylinders, which are used to control their movement.
But because this resistance adjustment is a manual process, you’re only going to have control over the belt speed from the console. With a range of 0-4.5 mph, this isn’t going to be enough variation to create effective interval training workouts.
However, combining this belt speed with the Treadle resistance and incline of up to 40% is what creates the perfect workout intensity for steady state cardio.
The TreadClimber is widely recognized as being more efficient than a treadmill at burning calories. But the study that produced these results was based on a conservative fixed belt speed of 3 mph.
If you’re looking to burn the highest number of calories in the shortest time, but still want to limit the impact on your knee joints and lower back, the Max Trainer has a clear advantage.
By utilising both upper and lower body muscle groups you’re always going to burn more calories than an exercise that isolates the lower body. But you also need an adaptive grip that supports the rapid movement required during high intensity intervals.
This is why the Max Trainer is more efficient than an elliptical across shorter workouts. You’re given a single set of moving handles with no stationary set, which ensures you’re always engaging upper body muscle groups such as your biceps, back, and shoulders.
At the same time you’re shown a ‘Burn Rate’ dial on the console, which indicates the rate at which you’re currently burning calories.
However, there are big differences between the two Max Trainer models (M3 and M5), and while they both offer the same MAX Interval 14-minute workout, only one will automatically adjust the resistance to keep you at the target intensity level (the M5).
Finding the right balance between workout variation and price isn’t always easy, but it’s important to find a cardio machine that offers enough variety to keep you motivated and help you reach your goals.
Taking the TreadClimber as an example, the TC6000 was without doubt their best model in terms of workout variation, but the price tag meant it was out of reach for most people.
With their most recent TC10 and TC20 models, you’re getting fewer workout programs, but at a price that’s much closer to that of the Max Trainer. This also puts it at a similar level to many of the mid-range elliptical trainers and treadmills.
The Max Trainer supports a combination of interval training and steady-state cardio a little better than the TreadClimber, but only if you opt for the M5 model. The M3 offers just 2 workout programs (MAX Interval and Manual), which is one of the reasons for the more affordable price tag.
So in balancing workout variation with budget, we would have to favor the Max Trainer M5 over the TreadClimber.
For one of the global leaders in home fitness equipment, it may surprise you to know that the Max Trainer M5 is the only model out of both collections to offer any degree of workout tracking.
This can be done via a Bluetooth connection between the console and the Max Trainer app on your smartphone. If the devices are connected, your performance will be synced with the app at the end of each workout.
As for the TreadClimber, there are a selection of models that support their G.O. Coach program, which allows you to allocate a weekly goal to one of the user profiles. This is usually just for workout duration, but some of their top models have also offered distance and calorie burning goals as well.
If you would like to find out more about the TreadClimber, it’s worth having a read of our in-depth buyer’s guide. In it we provide a features summary for all active and discontinued models, as well as full reviews for the two most recent designs – the TC10 and TC20.
How many calories will I burn?
This is one of the most popular questions asked of any cardio equipment, and is something that’s often used as a comparison between machines as a measure of their effectiveness.
The Max Trainer is no different, and claims to burn up to 2.5 calories per minute more than a treadmill, elliptical, or step climber during workouts at the same pace and intensity. This was based on results from the Bowflex Max Trainer® Independent University Study carried out in 2013.
Bowflex also report that users burned up to 600 calories in a 30 minute session, but we were unable to find actual details of the exact workout program or intensity settings used. We’ve reached out to Bowflex to find out more, and will update this guide if we discover any new information.
However, it’s important to remember this 600 calories isn’t necessarily something you can achieve every workout, and it’s worth quickly summarising what influences the rate of calorie burn.
A calorie is defined as the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C. This means that ‘burning’ calories is essentially the release of this energy, the rate of which is usually defined by two factors: Basal metabolic rate (BMR) and your activity level.
BMR is the amount of energy expended while at rest, which is only usually enough to cover basic bodily functions needed for survival, such as function of the vital organs and recovery of the nervous system.
Your BMR is something that will vary based on age, gender, height, and weight, with an increase in muscle mass associated with an increase in BMR.
If you don’t know what yours is, there are several useful online calculators you can use, including one on Bodybuilding.com.
With your Basal Metabolic Rate calculated, you can then combine this with the number of calories burned while exercising to get a more accurate figure.
But finding how many calories you burn during a particular exercise isn’t an exact science, and will vary based on a number of physiological factors, such as height, weight, and gender.
There are hundreds of online calculators that claim to take this into consideration, but in our experience it’s best to only use the ‘calories burned’ data in comparisons against the same machine.
So you need to be certain that the underlying calculation and assumptions (knowledge of your body weight) are the same between, for example, the treadmill at your local gym and the Max Trainer. If you can’t be sure, then at least you know the calculation Bowflex use in their console remains constant, and will provide accurate comparisons between workouts.
Max Trainer workout programs
Workouts available with the M3 and M5
- Manual (Quick Start) program
If you’re looking for a custom workout but don’t want to spend time adjusting the resistance at each segment during a preset program, ‘Manual’ is probably going to be your best option.
It’s actually very similar to the ‘Steady State’ cardio program of the M5, with an open-ended profile that tracks your total workout time and illuminated LEDs to highlight your target Burn Rate, based on the current user profile settings.
The only difference is that ‘Steady State’ is one of the SMART workout programs, meaning the resistance level is adjusted automatically to ensure you stay close to your target Burn Rate. By using the Manual program, it’s down to you to make the required changes manually, which isn’t always easy if you’re monitoring your heart rate at the same time.
- MAX Interval program
This is one of the Max Trainer’s most innovative features, combining interval training with their unique Burn Rate display to create a workout that’s both motivational and effective.
The profile is made up of 8 rounds, each of which features an equal number of ‘ACTIVE’ and ‘REST’ phases. ‘ACTIVE’ for when the target Burn Rate increases, and ‘REST’ for when it drops, allowing a certain level of recovery before the next round begins.
We find the indication provided by the Burn Rate needle more motivational than simply setting a resistance level, where the intensity level you need to achieve is tailored to your current user profile.
If you’re not quite able to achieve the full Burn Rate target, there is also a set of 5 LEDs on both the M3 and M5 consoles that acts as the upper and lower range to aim for.
Workouts exclusive to the M5
- Standard workouts
This category features a collection of 3 workout programs with varying resistance profiles, and includes the Calorie Burn, Stairs, and Fat Burn workouts.
The resistance profile is preset, and the Max Trainer will automatically adjust the level to match the current workout segment. You can also adjust the resistance level for a segment via the console if you’re not happy with the intensity.
‘Stairs’ follows a typical rolling hills style program, with more intensity peaks but using a lower maximum resistance level. This is compared to the Calorie Burn program, which features a challenging warm up followed by an endurance style profile that reaches the highest resistance level the Max Trainer has to offer.
- SMART workouts
This category consists of 3 programs and a fitness test, including a Calorie Goal, Steady State, and SMART MAX Interval workout.
Whereas the Standard workout profiles provide you with a preset resistance profile that the machine automatically matches, the SMART programs are more focussed around your current Burn Rate.
Each SMART workout profile represents changes in Burn Rate instead of resistance level. How high or low the profile settings are for each segment is dependent on settings in the currently selected user profile.
The Steady State program is one of the most important additions to the M5, as it provides you with a template to follow for lower intensity workouts, rather than focussing all of your time on HIIT.
For each program it’s simply a case of setting a target Burn Rate, then keeping up with resistance level changes which are designed to help you achieve your calorie burning goal.
Max Trainer heart rate monitoring
Whether you’re taking advantage of the MAX Trainer interval program or starting off with some steady state cardio, it’s useful to be able to keep track of your heart rate.
Contact Heart Rate (CHR) sensors are one of the most common ways to achieve this, and have been built into the static handles of the Max Trainer M5.
But there’s a major problem with touch sensors that makes them unreliable for longer workouts, which is that you need to maintain constant contact for a signal to be transmitted to the console.
There’s even warnings about this in the user manual, where Bowflex report that slight hand movements, proximity of other electronic machines, and even hand lotion can reduce signal strength and interfere with pulse detection.
Fortunately both the M3 and M5 models also support remote heart rate monitoring via a telemetry chest strap, such as the Polar Electro (must operate in the 4.5kHz – 5.5kHz range).
We’ve found this to be a much more practical solution to heart rate monitoring, particularly during high intensity interval training, where your grip frequently changes to different positions on the handles.
But although the Max Trainer does support a variety of fitness goals, including workout duration and calories burned, there’s no specific heart rate control program that automatically adjusts the resistance to keep you within a target range. However, it is used in the Fitness Test to help determine a Fitness Score, which can then be used to measure your progress over time.
Where can I find testimonials?
The official Max Trainer website is the best place to find success stories and videos showing the transformations people have achieved. You can also find over 1000 customer reviews for the M3, and over 3000 reviews for the M5 model, complete with a useful summary of the most frequently mentioned advantages and disadvantages.
If you would like to find out more information about the Max Trainer, you can also request a free information kit.
Promotional codes and coupons
- Enter promo code at checkout: FREESHIPMAX. This gives you free shipping on the Bowflex Max Trainer® M5 within the 48 contiguous states of the continental U.S.