UPDATE: The Bowflex TreadClimber series is no longer available. But, check out the Bowflex Max Trainers for their latest and greatest calorie-burning options.
The Bowflex Treadclimber TC20 was the top-of-the-line model in a collection that has also featured the TC10, TC5, TC3000, and TC5000.
If you haven’t seen a TreadClimber before, it’s essentially a combination of features from three other cardio machines: a treadmill, stairclimber, and elliptical trainer.
So what is it that sets the TC20 apart from the earlier models?
Not only is it the only design to offer heart rate monitoring, but it also includes the widest range of target setting workout programs and longer Treadles than the TC10, making it a better choice for taller users.
In our TC20 review, we’ll be taking a closer look at everything from the assembly process to upgraded features like these, to help you decide if this TreadClimber is the best way to support your future fitness goals.
Ergonomic design features
The TreadClimber design focuses around creating a low-impact fitness routine using Treadles that move independently of one another.
Although Bowflex aren’t the only company to produce TreadClimbers (Star Trac also have a couple of models), they’re the only company we know that produce them at a price point that’s affordable for home gyms.
Around each Treadle you have a tread belt, which is similar to the belt you find on a treadmill, but doesn’t move at anywhere near the same speed. For the TC20, the maximum speed is 4.5 mph, which falls well short of the 12 mph offered by most home treadmills, as well as NordicTrack’s Incline Trainers.
For this reason we wouldn’t recommend buying one specifically for running workouts or HIIT training, as you don’t have the speed that’s needed. Instead the TC20 is much better suited to walking, with 12 levels of resistance and up to a 40% incline used to create the intensity.
We don’t want to make too many comparisons between treadmills and TreadClimbers as the two are very different machines, but it’s worth mentioning the difference in resistance.
With most modern treadmills you now have a number of quick-select buttons on the console or hand rails where you can increase the incline. With the TreadClimber, you adjust the Treadle range of motion using a dial at the top of each Hydraulic Cylinder.
This is very much a manual process, meaning you’ll need to step off the machine to make any adjustments during your workout.
In terms of the actual motion the Treadles create, it’s essentially broken down into three actions:
- Action 1: Belts move at a speed you control via the console, recreating the motion of the running belt on a treadmill.
- Action 2: The stairclimber motion, where the Treadles move up and down independently of each other.
- Action 3: The vertical Treadle motion is influenced by your stride, which follows a smooth, low-impact path that’s similar to an elliptical trainer.
When you combine these actions with the Treadles set at their highest intensity level, Bowflex claim you can burn up to 3.5 times as many calories on the TC20 TreadClimber as you can on a treadmill.
Bowflex TreadClimber TC20 – Features Summary
- Made in USA or Imported
- The G.O. Coach console is an interactive program that interacts with the user to establish goals, monitor progress and compare results
- Personalize your workout with customizable goal-oriented programming
- G.O. Coach technology delivers customized programming for two users and goal progress displays
- 3 Landmark challenges to keep you energized just like being monitored by a personal trainer
- Set, monitor, and track personal fitness goals – and improvements
Display console design
With modern cardio equipment we’ve started to see companies place a greater focus on how they design their consoles, and the technology that’s built into them.
This is particularly true of treadmills and ellipticals, where more and more machines are now able to connect to the internet and sync your workout data to an online profile.
But the fact is that not everyone wants to pay for features that they may never use. This is why the focus for Bowflex has always been on delivering the highest quality, affordable workout machine possible.
That’s why the TreadClimber TC20 doesn’t feature any of the MP3 / iPod connectivity that you might find on a traditional elliptical or treadmill.
If entertainment features like these are important to you, then we would highly recommend NordicTrack’s Elite series of ellipticals, or their Commercial line of treadmills. These are machines that offer web-enabled consoles and full color screens, with some top-of-the-line designs even offering an additional 15″ HDTV screen for watching your favorite movies, TV shows, and sports while you workout.
Back to the TC20, and the console has seen some noticeable improvements since the earlier TC10 model.
Firstly, you now have an actual G.O. Coach button, which offers quick access to one of the workouts, which are now based around landmark structures rather than simple columns (more on this later in our review).
The number of user profiles has been increased since the TC10, from 1 to 2, which you can now switch between by holding the same G.O. Coach button.
In terms of workout feedback, the TC20 still displays your time, weight, distance, speed, number of calories burned, and G.O. Coach weekly progress, but you can also now keep track of your heart rate.
You’ll notice there are no heart rate touch sensors built into the handles, so this is reliant on you wearing a telemetry chest strap to transmit your pulse reading to the console.
Although this is useful for monitoring your current heart rate level, because the resistance is manually controlled using the Hydraulic Cylinders, it’s not something that forms part of any preset workout programs.
The way in which these stats are displayed to you has also changed. Whereas the TC10 featured multiple screens with no backlight, the TC20 combines this information into a single backlit screen. This not only makes the feedback easier to read in low light conditions, but also creates room for two accessory trays where you can store your MP3 player, smartphone, water bottles, etc.
So how does this new screen layout and extra user profile affect your workouts?
Workout programs and user profiles
One of the issues we had when we reviewed the TreadClimber TC10 was how limited the workout programs were. You couldn’t define any of your own training goals and could only work towards a target of using the machine for 90 minutes each week.
With the TC20 we’re certainly seeing some upgrades, but unless Bowflex can find a way to automate the resistance, you’ll only ever have access to ‘goal setting’ workouts.
Instead of targetting a set amount of time to workout each week, you can now define a goal for the duration, distance, or number of calories burned during the current workout.
The console is pre-programmed with default values (30 minutes duration, 1.5 mile distance, 450 calories), but these can all be customized to meet your personal fitness goals.
In addition to these targets that you create on an individual workout level, you still have the option to track your progress with the G.O. Coach weekly goals.
The default values for these weekly goals are: 90 minute duration, 4.5 miles distance, and 1350 calories burned, but these are also customizable. By using the TC20 based purely on its default values, this encourages you to workout using the TreadClimber at least 3 times per week.
However, it’s important to mention that the Quick Start workouts with the default workout values we mentioned earlier don’t count towards your weekly G.O. Coach goals. You have to actually select the G.O. Coach program if you want to track your progress on a weekly level.
Added motivation for helping you achieve these goals comes in the form of Bowflex’s innovative landmark structure display. This is essentially a visual representation of how you are progressing through the current workout, where levels of the structure displayed on-screen will illuminate as you get closer to your target.
It’s not a feature we’ve seen before, but in terms of motivation we feel it works a lot better than the traditional method of a dot matrix display and flashing segment.
Bowflex have actually continued their innovative console design into their recent Max Trainer collection, using a ‘Burn Rate’ dial to show how quickly you’re burning calories. If you’re interested in shorter workouts and interval training, we’d recommend taking a look at our review of the M5.
With the TreadClimber TC20 you’re now getting two user profiles to log your weekly workout progress against, which is twice as many as the earlier TC10.
While this is an upgrade for the TreadClimber collection, you can still only store your body weight, which isn’t something that’s used in future workouts.
Compare this with something like the NordicTrack X7i Incline Trainer, which offers downloadable personalized workouts and the ability to sync workout data with an online iFit profile, and it seems Bowflex still have a way to go in providing actionable insights into your training.
However, this is something that they’ve worked towards with the Max Trainer M3 and M5 models, where you can sync workout data with an app for a historical record of your progress. It’s just not something that’s available on any of their TreadClimbers.
Ease of assembly, maintenance, and transport
If you simply want to buy the TC20 and start your workouts without worrying about carrying the boxes to your home gym and setting the machine up, Bowflex do offer a professional assembly service.
However, the quality of the instructions in the user manual is high enough that you shouldn’t have any problems putting all the parts together on your own if you prefer.
Most of the steps are quite similar to the ones you would follow for assembling a treadmill. The Treadle assembly arrives as a single unit in the same way a running deck would, with just a few extra steps for getting it mounted on the base frame.
From here most of the heavy lifting is already done, and it’s simply a case of building and attaching the console uprights and console.
We would recommend having a second person available to help, purely because of the initial heavy lifting for the Treadles and way in which the uprights and base assembly fit together.
With the Hydraulic Cylinders in place and covers all attached, you’re ready to start your first TreadClimber workout, which should be possible within 90 minutes of getting the parts unpackaged.
Professional in-home assembly service
With some of the fitness equipment we review, companies will offer an in-home assembly service at an additional cost to their standard curb-side delivery.
For NordicTrack, this means calling ahead of time to find out if a technician can actually visit your region, and to calculate a price based on the type of equipment you purchased.
This process is a bit simpler for the Bowflex TreadClimber, with a flat fee of $249 for in-home assembly, whether you choose to buy the TC10 or TC20 model.
The cost involves having one of their qualified technicians visit your home, move the boxes to your room of choice, assemble the unit, and calibrate the machine to make sure everything works as intended.
How quickly you can have the equipment setup in this way depends on the availability of their technicians, but appointments can be scheduled on any day of the week, including weekends.
Although the TC20 isn’t the heaviest piece of equipment we’ve reviewed, given the 201 lb product weight and bulkiness of the boxes and parts, it’s certainly worth considering if you don’t have someone available to assist you.
Whenever we review larger, top-end fitness equipment, we always like to take a look at the level of maintenance required.
This is partly because we want to know how easy it is to keep everything in its best working condition, as well as how easy it is to find replacement parts and locate any specialist cleaning solutions if necessary.
The TC20 follows the same maintenance routine as the TC10, which involves daily, weekly, and monthly checks, as well as following a basic schedule for belt and deck lubrication as well as essential belt alignment checks.
This may sound like a lot, but it’s a fairly standard routine for high-end treadmills that rely on similar belt movement.
Treadle belt alignment and tension checks can be performed in just a few seconds, but it’s not something you really need to worry about unless you notice an issue with the belts rubbing while you walk.
As for the belt lubrication, Bowflex recommend using a 100% pure silicone lubricant, or their own Lube-N-Walk Treadmill Lubrication Kit. How frequently you need to do this depends on the level of use, but is generally based on the following guide:
- Light (less than 3 hours per week) – Every 3 months
- Moderate (3 to 5 hours) – Every 2 months
- Heavy (5+ hours) – Every month
For the daily, weekly, and monthly equipment checks, Bowflex recommend following the maintenance routine below:
- Daily – Inspect for broken or damaged parts and wipe any perspiration from the machine after use.
- Weekly – Clean the machine to remove dirt, particularly around the rollers. Clean the top of the belts with a soapy cloth and wipe dry.
- Monthly – Make sure all bolts are tight and there are no loose parts.
With any piece of home fitness equipment we always recommend having a permanent location where it can remain setup without getting in the way of daily life.
Where this isn’t possible, most fitness companies have developed either specific models or entire product lines (NordicTrack SpaceSaver as an example), specializing in folding to a more compact footprint when not in use.
However, for some equipment this just isn’t possible, and if it can’t be folded, you may need to transport it a short distance between the location you intend to use it, and a storage location.
Bowflex have made this as simple as possible with their TreadClimbers, adding a large carry handle to the front, and mounting transport wheels to the back. But weighing around 200 lbs means transport is very much based on your own physical ability.
This is a similar story for the NordicTrack SpaceSaver models. This is where they’re marketed as the company’s most compact elliptical trainers, yet the user manual includes a warning that you must be able to lift a minimum of 100 lbs to store it in the vertical position.
So in summary, yes the TreadClimber TC20 can be moved between locations, but it’s certainly something we would avoid as much as possible. The footprint measures a compact 51″ (L) x 30.5″ (W), which is considerably smaller than most treadmills, so hopefully won’t pose too much of a problem.
- Burns a higher number of calories in a shorter amount of time compared to equipment that doesn’t offer an incline
- Custom user profiles available
- Goal tracking and performance monitoring available
- Longest warranty coverage of any TreadClimber
- Climb indicator feature is a useful source of motivation
- Entertainment options aren’t comparable to similarly priced treadmills
- Maintenance routine is slightly more involved than standard treadmills
- Short 3 year warranty
- Heavier than the earlier TC10 TreadClimber
- Top belt speed falls short of the 12 mph offered by some of the more conventional treadmills
What’s covered by the warranty?
- 3 years full coverage
It’s worth mentioning that Bowflex do offer a 6 week returns policy, but you’ll need to pay for the return shipping and handling.