Bowflex has built a reputation for decades around bringing gym-quality equipment to home workouts, ranging from adjustable dumbbells, to total-body training machines, to some of the best ellipticals on the market, and all points in between. But many think that the company's cardio machines are where it really shines.
The Max Trainer line of elliptical trainers match the smooth upper and lower-body motion of ellipticals with an up-and-down verticality reminiscent of stair climbers. This creates a challenging and time-efficient way of working the muscles, heart, and lungs, while saving space in your home.
The Max Trainer line includes a number of similarly built machines, from the Max Trainer M6, which comes with Bluetooth pairing and a compatible app, to the stripped-down Max Trainer M3, which has fewer technological perks added in. The M3 is no longer available from Bowflex, but is widely available in online retailers. But spoiler alert: The simpler interface and functionality of the M3 might actually be a point in its favor for a lot of us!
By clicking on the product links in this article, we may receive a commission fee at no cost to you, the reader. Sponsorships and affiliate commissions help support our research so we can help you find the best products. Read full affiliate disclosure here.
Why Trust Us?
ACTIVE.com's editorial team relies on the knowledge and experience of fitness and wellness experts including competitive athletes, coaches, physical therapists, nutritionists, and certified trainers. This helps us ensure the products we feature are of the highest standard. Collectively, the team has spent countless hours researching equipment, gear, and recovery tools in order to create the most accurate, authentic content for our readers. Customer satisfaction is also a key part of our review process, which is why we only feature products that are highly rated.
A Quick Look at the Bowflex Max Trainer M3
- Weight: Approximately 148 lbs.
- Dimensions: 49" L x 26" W x 64.7" H
- Resistance levels: 8 levels
- Weight capacity: 300 lbs.
- Warranty: 1 year
What We Like
- Sturdy and well-built like a gym cardio machine
- Unique motion combines benefits of elliptical and stair climber
- No app pairing or technology necessary to work
- The 2 programs will be enough for the vast majority of people
- Easy to adjust the resistance on handles
What We Don't Like
- Can be a bit hard to get started from a stationary stop, especially for shorter people
- If you lose the chest strap, then you can't track heart rate on machine
- Some users may find 2 program choices limiting
- 1-year warranty less than some other companies
A Closer Look at Bowflex Max Trainer M3
At right around 148 pounds, the Bowflex Max Trainer M3 is relatively light, but feels very stable on the ground and doesn't "wiggle" while operating. Its light weight also makes it easier to assemble, and many online commenters and reviewers have noted that they had no trouble at all assembling the M3, even when just using the tools provided in the box from Bowflex.
At just over 4 feet long and 2 feet wide, the M3 is on the small side for ellipticals. Many reviewers have noted that the M3 takes up less precious space in their homes and garages than other ellipticals, and definitely less than treadmills or stationary bikes. At around 64 inches (or 5 feet, 4 inches) tall, it's also lower than similar stair climbers, which can be a big plus for people with low ceilings.
The M3 comes with just 8 levels of resistance to choose from, whereas the other models in the Max Trainer line all come with 16 or more. But whether or not this is really a "downside" is a matter of perspective. Most people don't need to "dial in" their resistance precisely in order to get a great workout. For the vast majority of us, eight choices is plenty!
The listed weight capacity of the M3 is 300 pounds, which is the same as the other models in the Max Trainer line. Many online reviewers who are on the heavier side of that range, or taller than average, have noted that the M3 felt stable and safe at all speeds, which isn't always the case with "budget" cardio machines.
However, some reviewers on the lighter and shorter side of average have noted that the machine felt a little difficult to get moving from a dead stop as if it is built with a slightly larger person in mind. For this reason, if you're shorter than 5-foot-4, consider starting it on a very light resistance level and then increasing it once you're already moving.
The M3 comes with a one-year warranty, which is less than some other machines made by competitors. But it's solidly made and few reviewers have noted that they needed any repairs done on it.
Who Should Try the Bowflex Max Trainer M3
The Bowflex Max Trainer M3 is a great fit for anyone who finds the wealth of programs, choices, and technology on most cardio machines to be either confusing or simply unnecessary. If you're in the "just give me what I need, without it costing too much or taking up too much space" camp, then the M3 might serve you just as well as more expensive models.
It may be a "budget" machine, but the M3 isn't a step down from more expensive and complicated machines in the ways that really matter.
It is easy to find an appropriate resistance level and program, and the build quality is top-notch. And the stairmaster-esque action makes for a sweaty and effective cardio session that makes your legs, lungs, buns, and heart stand up and pay attention. Plenty of machines claim that you can get a "great workout" in just 15 minutes, but that amount of time on the M3 feels like a unique challenge!
FAQs About the Bowflex Max Trainer M3
Is the Bowflex Max Trainer M3 worth it?
The Bowflex Max Trainer M3 is the lowest-priced model in the Max Trainer series, but feels similar in quality or build to the other models. The M3 simply doesn't contain some of the technological features that the higher-end models do. If it helps, think of it like you're paying for the same car, but missing a few of the dashboard gadgets that you may or may not end up using anyway.
If you want lots of different levels, programs, and app capabilities, then the M5, M6, M7, or M8 might be a better choice. If you're looking for a simple, sturdy, gym-quality elliptical or stairmaster that doesn't take up much floor space and comes in under $1,000, this definitely fits the bill.
What is the difference between the Bowflex M5 and M3?
The differences between the M5 and M3 are largely technological. The M5 has Bluetooth pairing, while the M3 doesn't. The M5 comes with the Bowflex Max Trainer App to track total time and calories and allow you to set and meet goals. The M3 comes with just two built-in programs, Manual and MAX Interval, while the M5 has nine programs. The M3 has just eight resistance levels, while the M5 has double that, at 16. And finally, the M3 comes with a chest strap for tracking heart rate, while the M5 has integrated contact strips as well as a chest strap.
Before you balk at the difference in programs, though, ask yourself: Are you someone who usually just hits "Manual" anyway, and then adjusts the resistance through the workout as needed? I certainly am. And while a chest strap is one more thing to find and remember to put on, chest straps are also known to be more accurate for heart rate tracking than contact grips.
Is a Max trainer better than a treadmill?
If your goal is to create a workout that's different and more intense than simply running or walking, the Bowflex M3 can help you create the stimulus needed to push your heart, lungs, legs, and arms as hard as you want!
Far from a treadmill, the M3 feels like a hybrid between a stair climber and an elliptical, with both upper and lower-body resistance. And if you like to do intervals, you can push the speed as high as you want, without having to worry about slipping on the treadmill and getting launched across the room.
Is the Bowflex Max Trainer M3 hard on knees?
The Bowflex Max Trainer M3 is designed to be gentle on the knees, hips, and all other delicate joints. It runs smoothly and is zero impact—even less than walking!
That said, some reviewers have noted that because it has a steeper motion than most ellipticals and is similar to a stairclimber in its motion, it places more demands on the lower body than most standard gym elliptical machines. This is especially the case if you're on the shorter side, in which case, the big vertical motion might be aggravating to some people's knees.
This doesn't mean avoiding the M3 if you have knee problems, though. Simply be conservative with your resistance while you're starting out, and you'll end up strengthening your leg muscles around the knee while you do the same for your heart and lungs.