I was looking into the stronglifts workout routine. It kind of caught my eye after finding Brett McKay aid it's the workout he does. I was wondering if i could do those exercises with a Bowflex. I don't have the money right now to join a gym and I exercise seldom on it due to my study load. Would I get similar results?
Free weights are always going to be better than machines because using free weights forces your body to utilize range of motion. Machines restrict natural movement and they do not translate as well into building raw strength. If you can afford paying $20-$30 monthly, you will be able to find a decent gym with free weight equipment. If you are in college, your school should have a fitness center.
Why is a bowflex so unsuitable for stronglifts? I don't understand...
From what I've read, it is the unbalanced nature of free weights which is their strength, and the reason why free weights are preferred for those looking to build real muscle, since they engage the smaller stabilizer muscles when doing a motion.
I have a bowflex, and that unbalanced nature is well reproduced by this machine. If the weight limit is the concern, I have the 420 pound version, and it would provide plenty of resistance for me, at my current stage. (But I have a proper gym membership, so I don't use it right now)
But that's the point. The cabling system of a bowflex offers no balancing...it is akin to having a separate dumbell in each hand, and there's a solid bar which approximates (most effectively) a barbell.
I can see outgrowing it...but the type of resistance it provides is *quite* different than the absolutely restrictive machines usually found in a gym.
It's actually a beautiful engineering solution.
I'll see if I can make sense of this, since no explanation has been offered. But first, some vocabulary. There are different types of strength training:
Plyometric trains for explosive power, your box jumps and clapping pushups.
Isometrics strengthen your ligaments and tendons by working against immovable objects, static holds such as found in yoga and kata training, also flexing is a form of isometrics.
Isokinetics use variable resistance machines to make an exercise feel "heavier", by applying greater resistance, on the eccentric phase than on the concentric phase.
Isotonics are what are normally referred to as "weight training". There are two phases; the concentric "up" phase, and the eccentric "down" phase. It's physically possible to handle more weight while lowering than it is raising.
Bowflex uses carbon fiber poles to act as springs, there are other machines out there which actually use springs for resistance (or gravity in the case of the TotalGym), and they have the same effect as flex bands; they're OK and have their purpose, but remove the eccentric phase of the lift.
There's another aspect of strength training which needs to be understood as well, neurological. IIRC "lifting" is 60~80% muscle memory. That is, your muscles need to "remember" how to lift a weight. Again IIRC, one can take up to two months off strength training without any real loss in strength, however, your muscles will "forget" how to lift your heaviest weights.
Now, on to the answer:
Stronglifts 5x5 is a beginners powerlifting/bodybuilding program (yes, I said bodybuilding). The real genius of Mehdi's program relies on the neurological aspects of the training; drop all the way to the bar, and conduct 25-75 repetitions of an exercise per week while increasing the weight every workout, until reaching some real weight. At which point you'll have all the muscle memory you'll need, and will have to move on to a more advanced program to increase actual muscular strength.
While the weight can be replicated, sort of (remember what I said about the eccentric phase), on machines, the neurological aspects of heavy powerlifting absolutely cannot be simulated on machines. Even if, as Paul said below, you hoist it over your shoulders and squat the machine itself (that moves into the Strong Man category -- massive irregular shaped objects).
So the answer is "No, you will not be able to replicate the effects of the SL5x5 program with a Bowflex." Even if you were to move into decent weight, if you decide to stick with powerlifting, you would need to unlearn the movements and start all over again.
For a Bowflex, I would recommend creating a three day a week program centered on push/pull supersets and based around multijoint/large muscle group exercises. That will counteract some of the eccentric phase losses inherent to the Bowflex, and keep you away from "damaging" isolation routines.
@Chuck: Your post kicked off quite a fun conversation within the StrongLifts "inner circle" as several of us tried seriously to figure out how one could do effective squats using a BowFlex machine. The best example we could come up with was this video:
I'm sure your beloved BowFlex is good for other things, perhaps as a very expensive shirt hanger or something for your gal to dry her stockings on, but certainly not useful for squats. You could purchase a power rack, Olympic bar, bench and 500+ lbs of free weights for half the price of this contraption and you'd also get better results with the free weights.
If we listen to this official "Bowflex Trainer's" advice to "only go as low as is comfortable" there would be very little benefit to the squat. That shallow squat will work the quads only, and quite likely cause knee problems later due to quads becoming dis-proportionally stronger than the rest of the leg. A full range of motion is thus required in order to work the glutes, hams and quads together so that they balance one another.
Notice also how the squat (if you could call it one) is performed with the BowFlex. There is zero resistance at the bottom of the squat, providing little benefit for the glutes and hams. Compare this to a free-weight squat in which there is a constant weight (resistance) throughout the entire range of motion.
Lastly, we could all probably Squat 500lbs tomorrow if we just "go as low as we're comfortable going". :) The squat is the king of strength training because - when properly done to full range of motion - nothing works the posterior chain more completely. The BowFlex machine just doesn't make this possible.
For a more complete explanation of why weight machines can not match the benefits of free-weights, I recommend you read Mark Rippetoe's book, Starting Strength.
Get your schooling over with; that's what is important. You have the whole rest of your life to join a gym and hit weights.
Do what you can for now to stay in shape; run, push and pullups, and even that bowflex. Just don't expect you can do everything at once.
Yeah I do feel I get kind of lethargic about still being in school. I subconsciously compare the time I have with other students when other students aren't in the major I am in. I know some do sports while being an engineering major. But there is no way I can do that nor would I want the work load. Most of the people I know that can hit the gym a lot are business majors.
This is brilliant advice.
As others have said, you wouldn't be getting the full effect or results from using a Bowflex for Stronglifts 5x5. I'm sure there are plenty of decent workouts you can do with the Bowflex though.