Sometimes, great competitions spring from common objectives. That’s the case as Bowflex weight machines, featuring patented Power Rod Technology, contend with their plate-loaded and weight stack (AKA “pin stack” or “selectorized”) rivals. All three options are designed to give home gym users a versatile workout within a limited space. Each one is built to make users feel safe working out without a spotter. And they all share one over-arching goal: to match or exceed the total-body benefits offered by their common competitor – free weights. Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and the like furnish a free, multi-directional range of motion, allowing you to target certain muscles and change your overall body composition. So weight stack, plate-loaded and Power Rod machines all offer their own resistance-based alternative to achieving free-weight results.
How They Work
Weight stack machines employ a handle, cable and pulley system hooked to a stack of rectangular weight plates made of cast iron or cast steel.
Plate-loaded machines, as the name implies, task you with loading round weight plates (like you’d put on a barbell). Instead of pulleys, these machines usually rely on a lever system powered by your pushing arms, legs, or shoulders.
Bowflex also goes the pulley route, but the cable hooks on to long, flexible rods, offering different weight-based levels of resistance. You can hook onto one or more Power Rods to reach your desired resistance, while setting your desired pull direction on one or both sides. As you pull, the rods flex like an archer’s bow – hence the company’s name.
Advantages of Each
Weight stack machines are easy to adjust, their cables allow you to exercise at desired angles, and their vertically-stacked design means they’ll take up less floor space.
Plate-loaded machines generally take more weight than other types of home gyms, and you can move up in smaller weight increments than are available via the selectorized route. Both machines offer a more consistent resistance weight throughout your range of motion than you’ll get with Power Rods.
However, Bowflex upholds this exact difference is its outstanding advantage: The farther you push against the Power Rods, the more resistance you’ll encounter – a fluid increase that allows you to push yourself just a little further with every rep. This smooth transition is said to reduce muscle soreness and enhance rehabilitation. Combined with weight increments as small as five pounds, it helps every family member gain strength without hitting a wall. Additionally, most models also employ a vertical design for a smaller footprint and are much lighter without those heavy weight plates.
Disadvantages of Each
Weight stack machines have a limited maximum weight lift, and you can’t add to it. That’s a turnoff for some serious lifters, who also dislike the undefined mechanical advantage of pulley wheels because it reduces your actual resistance by an unknown amount. Plus the cable itself can wear out from frequent use.
Plate-loading machines are said to offer less angles of execution, due to their fixed range of motion (as barbells provide less angles than dumbbells).
Bowflex Power Rod machines also use the pulley-and-cable design – and face the same criticisms – along with questions about the rods wearing out. The company responds to the weight issue with upgrades that can bring your maximum pull up to 310 lbs or 410 lbs. The wear issue is addressed with continual improvements on working parts, including the Power Rods. Bowflex also offers a Power Rod Rejuvenator, which keeps the rods upright, greatly reducing the wear that occurs when they’re left hanging
This is where cable and pulley machines shine. While Plate-loading machines make the task more labour intensive and disruptive with all that getting up remove/apply plates, The Weight stack machines boil the entire process down to removing and reinserting a pin.
Bowflex has its own time-saving solution in its Quick Change Power Rod (no change cable pulley) system – available on the Bowflex Xtreme 2SE home gym and other machines. This change-on-the-fly convenience allows you to hit your next set while your heart’s still pumping, so you don’t lose your cardio side-benefit. While you gain that, you’re losing pinched fingers and the responsibility of clearing plates from the floor so no one trips over them.
Weight stack machines rely on user attention as most safety issues involve fingers pinched between stack plates and cast-iron plates braking when stacks are brought down too abruptly (cast-steel plates usually stand up better). Users should also watch for “stuck” plates hanging up momentarily before the load comes crashing down.
Along with tripping hazards and their own pinched-finger perils, Plate-loaded machines pose the danger of a dropped weight plate hitting your toes.
Bowflex’s lightweight Power Rods eliminate all that finger crunching, toe crushing and plate crashing. The potential for rod breakage is minimized by continual product improvements and anti-wear options. Should a break occur, the machine’s seat and structure provide a safety barrier. Finally, if you lose your grip adjusting your Power Rods, they’ll recoil away from you.
The goal here is targeting specific muscle groups. While cable machines have the edge with their wide variety of angles for your range of motion, Plate-loaded machines offer multiple adjustments (seat, chest pad, exercise arms, etc) – plus options like single or double-arm action and features like multi-position handles. Of course, some machines are more versatile than others.
Weight stack machines up the ante with easy-to-spot stickers or signs that employ diagrams and explanations of the muscles targeted by various exercises. You can increase the accuracy of this targeting with your body position and posture.
Bowflex Power Rod machines allow you to do circuit training on a single machine – employing multiple angles to target abs, chest, arms and legs. Some optional attachments may be required, but 70-plus possible exercises – including front lat pulldowns, seated ab crunches, leg curls, bicep curls, shoulder presses, seated rows, bench presses, leg extensions and chest flies – make these upgrades a value worth considering.
Plate-loaded machines have the advantage here, with bigger, fewer and bulkier working parts. However, bigger and bulkier can also mean more expensive, harder to find and heavier to handle during replacement or repair.
Weight stack machines have gained access to increasingly more durable parts through industries like aviation, which share a common interest in developing stronger, longer-lasting mechanical advantage components. That’s why “aircraft-grade” cables and pulleys are a common feature in higher-end cable machines.
Bowflex’s dedication to providing reliable, long-lasting Power Rod technology has been profiled above, except for one detail – a lifetime warranty on all its Power Rods.
Explore your options at Flaman Fitness.
Flaman Fitness is Canada’s largest Bowflex showroom – featuring the Power Rod-enabled Bowflex Xtreme SE and Xtreme 2SE home gyms. We invite you to drop by and experience Power Rod Technology first hand. Our expert staff will also be pleased to introduce you to top-of-the-line weight stack and plate-loaded machines like the TuffStuff CXT-225 Smith Attachment