Bowflex 5.1S Adjustable Bench Reviewed and Rated
Most of us associate Bowflex with their multi-gym machines, or perhaps their selectorized dumbbells. Both products are patented, specialized equipment that you can only purchase from Bowflex. The company is so committed to its established brand that it forgoes most traditional fitness gear–you can get selectorized dumbbells in other places, but you cannot get ordinary adjustable dumbbells from Bowflex. The selectorized dumbbells from other makers, too, will not be the same and will use a different selection mechanism than what Bowflex uses.
In recent years, though, Bowflex decided to throw some of that specialization out the window by offering a weight bench. Benches are so integral to the fitness way of life that, for many of us, ours served as a starter pack. The Bowflex 5.1S bench is safe and effective for kids and adults. It has 6 incline and decline angles to target different muscle groups. The combined user and working weight max is 600 pounds. That will be more than enough for any hobbyist lifter. The rubberized, padded feet are solid and will not damage a hard floor. The bench will fold for convenient storage when you are not using it. If the small footprint appeals to you, read on to learn more.
The bench is stable and feels solid with no shakiness
The backrest is wide enough for different body types
Can hit 6 different angles for the bench press (incline and decline)
Each leg has its own leveling knob, so you can level the bench on uneven floors
The separate seat pad is adjustable--can set at an angle for more secure seat
Angle adjusts easily with a pull pin
Comes with the Bowflex standard 15-year warranty
The gap between seat and backrest is pretty wide
Comparable benches from other manufacturers do not cost as much
What about the rest of the bench? We do like the feet, which are individually adjustable with a knob on each leg. Not every floor is perfectly level, and this is especially true in older houses or low-cost apartments. The ability to dial in each leg lets you level the bench without resorting to using bricks or similar items as shims. Makeshift levelers will work for a while, but they are not safe long term and can cause problems when you need to move the bench.
Speaking of moving, Bowflex designed the 5.1S to be portable and not take up a lot of room. The bench is 61 by 28 by 49 inches (L/W/H). Folded, the length decreases to 23 inches while the other 2 dimensions stay the same. There are wheels on the back, and a handle to make the bench easier to move. The idea is that you can lean it against a wall, with the backrest portion parallel to the wall. This does save you space, but be careful if you have children or pets who use the same space where the bench sits. The 5.1S can easily fall if it is bumped or jarred. For that reason, putting it in a closed closet may be the best. Storing it under a bed is not practical since the bench does not fold all the way flat
Construction and Features
The padded foam seat and backrest will keep you comfortable and keep your back planted, where it belongs, during bench presses and dumbbell flies. We have encountered benches that were too hard, as well as those with less than firm padding. Neither one is an ideal experience, and the wrong kind of back support can lead to poor form and injury over time. The Bowflex 5.1S padding lets you steadily increase your resistance so that you get stronger and have more energy during the day, all with minimal risk of low back pain or other poor form consequences.
The pad gap, which we talked about earlier, is really only a problem when the bench is flat or at a decline. It becomes more pronounced the more you decline, of course. Bowflex probably did not want to increase the cost of the unit, which is why they did not address the gap. For most users, it will be an annoyance to overcome. It will not actually cause pain or make the bench too uncomfortable to use. But if you have used similar benches, and you know you are prone to low back pain, you may want to look for a different bench or just resign yourself to using a towel over the gap each time.
The box comes with all the hardware you need to put the 5.1S together, including bolts, nuts, washers, and a single Allen wrench. The assembly instructions are all line drawings, with exploded diagrams telling you where to install each piece. There are no photos or written steps. And the bench goes together from the ground up-- you have to attach the stabilizers, legs, leg station and rollers, pop pin, and other components to the basic frame. You may want to get s friend to help, especially if you are like us and prefer step by step directions in addition to pictures.
Besides flat, you get 5 incline and decline positions. The incline includes 30, 45, 60, and 90 degrees. The bench only declines to 20 degrees, so not much variety. But the 20-degree decline adds intensity to dumbbell and barbell lifts and also lets you do decline crunches which are quite challenging for your trunk muscles. Just having a declining capability makes the 5.1S better than many home gym benches we have seen.
Adjusting the angle is easy. You have s pop-pin on one of the frame pillars, and you unscrew a cap. That lets you pull the pin, and tightening the cap back down locks the pin and backrest in place. You do not have to deal with a sundial adjustment or a step-style back piece. Since the pin uses an oversized cap, you are less likely to lose it if you like to incline and decline a lot. The seat adjustment pin is more minimal. It lets you place the seat straight or at a slight upward angle.
Once you fold the bench, you can move it easily with the back handle and front wheels. Just looking at the pictures in the manual, we want to reiterate that the folded bench cannot fit under a bed and will create a falling hazard when you lean it against a wall. You will not have a problem as long as you keep small children or pets out of the storage area.
The Bowflex 5.1S is backed by Bowflex's warranty, covering 15 years for the frame and 1 year for the seat and backrest upholstery. Bowflex has a decent reputation for customer service, and they will respond quickly to any issues that arise.