Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: still a versatile multi-gym

For those looking for a multi-gym solution, the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE is quiet, compact and proficient but not for everyone

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review
(Image credit: Bowflex)
T3 Verdict

The Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE provides the versatility and space-saving design you’d want in a multi gym. It’s a great-looking machine and feels sturdy, however, the power rod resistance system that has served Bowflex well for many years, feels stuck in the past.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Versatile strength-training capabilities

  • +

    Operates quietly

  • +

    Compact for its category

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Feels clunky compared to modern options

  • -

    Inconsistent resistance

In this Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review, I’ll look in-depth at the pros and cons of this all-in-one workout machine. The Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE is a compact and relatively affordable device that has earned it a place as one of the best multi gym devices for many years. If you’re short on space and looking to grow your muscles, it can get the job done, but with high-tech solutions and advances in free weights, it faces increased competition.

In theory, this machine can be used to perform almost every major exercise (over 70) and hit every muscle group. You can go after the heavy lifting with compound movements (those that work more than one muscle group) like chest presses and squats. Or you can isolate muscles with exercises like bicep curls and tricep pushdowns.

Unfortunately, some exercises feel awkward on this Bowflex and seem hard to achieve proper form. Part of the issue is that there’s a learning curve to the machine, especially if you’re used to working out with free weights. But it can also be hard to get a full range of motion at times, depending on where the resistance kicks in. And all the different attachments and repositioning can get in the way of a good workout flow.

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: Price and release date

The Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE has been around since 2008, and is one of two multi-gyms currently in the range, besides the PR1000 globally or the Revolution in the US. Bowflex retails the machine on its website for $1,499 / £1349 /AU$1499 though there are some deals available on this model through third-party sites.

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE

(Image credit: Bowflex)

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: Features

The base model comes with resistance rods that allow you to max out at 210 lbs, though you can purchase additional rods to go up to either 310 or 410 lbs.

Unlike the more expensive Bowflex Revolution, the Xtreme 2 SE is still centered around its signature power rod system, which is the flexible poles that you attach pulley cords to for resistance.

From there, you can use either the high, mid or low pulleys, depending on the exercise. The machine has a back pad in a fixed position, but you can adjust the bottom of the seat for your desired height or remove it entirely to make room for more exercises.

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review

(Image credit: Bowflex)

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: Set-up and fit

The Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE arrived in several bulky boxes, like Ikea furniture. And while I’ve put together my fair share of the latter, I don’t know if I could have handled the Bowflex assembly on my own. Fortunately, installation is available for an additional $299 in the US.

Set-up took the two installers approximately one hour. The process went smoothly, except I was unaware that I needed a mat under the machine to protect the hardwood floor. I probably should have anticipated this in retrospect. Since a yoga mat is too small to fit under the full system, the installers just used part of the cardboard that the machine came in. So, word to the wise, get a mat that’s big enough ahead of time.

Once it was set up, the Bowflex looked big next to my spin bike but still a manageable size, especially for this type of machine. The machine itself measures 53 x 49 x 83.25 inches (135 x 124 x 211 cm), but you need some more room to actually perform some of the exercises. Bowflex defines the workout area dimensions as 8-foot x 6 foot 5 inches (244 x 196 cm). But then you also need somewhere to put the attachments like the leg extension or the removable seat when you’re doing exercises that require those to be out of the way.

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review

(Image credit: Jake Safane)

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: Workout performance

While you can do a wide range of exercises on the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE, it’s best for a bodybuilding type of workout.

Theoretically, you could go light and try to get into more of a circuit-style, sweat-inducing workout. But in practicality, changing the resistance, attachments and positions of different parts of the machine make it difficult to pick up the pace.

You can also build some functional strength using the machine, though the maximum resistance might not be enough for serious weightlifters. And several exercises, especially compound ones like squats and deadlifts, don’t feel very natural on the machine, compared with free weights, so there are limits in this regard.

That leaves the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE somewhere in the middle, which can be good if you’re trying to get a bit stronger while growing your muscles in the hypertrophy range of 8-12 reps.

You can get a good pump with several exercises such as chest press, lat pulldowns, and tricep pushdowns, but it’s hard to feel like you crushed it in terms of a total body workout. You may be able to technically hit every muscle group, but not everything feels like you gave it the attention it deserves.

Also, keep in mind that the resistance can be somewhat inconsistent. For one, what you can lift with free weights doesn’t necessarily translate to what you can do on the machine. The Bowflex also provides resistance gradually, so, depending on the set-up, sometimes you feel the weight at the very start of the movement, whereas with others, like deadlifts, you only feel it through a partial range of motion.

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE

(Image credit: Jake Safane)

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: Design and build quality

The Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE is aesthetically pleasing, and it feels sturdy. The system also comes with multiple types of straps and bars that you can swap in and out to get the right feel you’re looking for. And the machine is very quiet, save for the occasional clank of the pulleys, depending on the set-up for certain exercises.

However, that sound control comes at a price. Bowflex’s signature power rod system is easy enough to use, but changing weight takes more time than it would with other cable pulley systems that use weight stacks. The rods can also lose resistance over time, so it’s important to wrap them up with the provided strap at the end of every workout.

Another issue: the seat can feel uncomfortable at times. I wish there was a way to adjust the angle.

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: Verdict

As multi-gyms go, the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE gets the job done if you’re looking to perform several exercises on one machine without needing a huge space. You just have to make sure your workout goals align with what it provides.

This Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE is best geared to those who have some experience with weightlifting and want to grow their muscles but want to skip free weights. If you’re primarily looking to burn calories via resistance training or get a little more toned, you could do this with dumbbells or regular resistance bands. However, if you want to get a good pump, the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE has you covered, and there may be some opportunities to get stronger and grow your muscles.

Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE review: Also consider

If you’re looking for a good workout but don’t think the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE is right for you, there are several alternatives to consider.

For those still looking for a multi gym, but who want more of a modern, digital-oriented machine, consider options like the Nordick Fusion CST, which we have compared head-to-head with the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE.

Alternatively, the Bowflex Revolution, while a little more expensive, does offer an easier way of switching between workouts without the power rod system. Or, if you want to get a full-body workout within a small space, consider using adjustable dumbbells. Free weights have seemingly endless exercise possibilities, and ones like Bowflex Selecttech, which tops T3’s 2021 rankings of the best dumbbells, enable you to quickly adjust the weight.

The downside, however, is that you might not be able to find adjustable dumbbells that allow you to lift as heavy as you’d like for exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench presses. In that case, you might decide to invest in a power rack and free-weight barbell set.

Yet you then have to worry about re-racking the weights as you fatigue, whereas with pulley systems like the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE, it can be a bit easier to return to your starting position if you can’t complete a rep. So, there are pros and cons to every type of system that you’ll have to weigh, no pun intended.