It's probably a personal choice, and may depend on your current level of fitness and your goals, and even how much space you have. Consumer Reports reviewed both of them in January, 2004, along with several other infomercial type products. If you are a CR subscriber, you can access the full report on their website. I can copy a snippet of it here, though, in case it helps.
There are several models of each, and CR only tested one model of each machine - usually the larger and more expensive versions. For example. the Total Gym has models that are as cheap as $200, but they chose one that cost $1598 to review. Since the moves are basically the same, the review should still be helpful.
BOWFLEX POWER PRO XTLU, $1,750
The product: Strength training for upper and lower body; rowing-machine function can provide aerobic exercise. For resistance, uses composite rods of varying thickness. Includes training video. Six-week money-back guarantee, but you pay to return, and there’s no refund on original shipping. Warranty: 5 years on components, lifetime on resistance rods.
The claims: Nothing could be easier. Circuit training on the Bowflex 20 minutes a day, three days a week--that’s all it takes.
The reality: Behold the loose language. True, doing “nothing” could be easier. And “all it takes” for what to happen? Bowflex provides a wide variety of strength-training exercises. Its design allows very good range of motion. The training video is excellent. But the rods may take getting used to. Resistance is very easy at first, very tough at the end. You must bend rods almost fully to get the marked weight. Cables attached to rods can be pulled at various angles: Take care to use proper form. It took our engineer two hours to assemble the machine.
The bottom line: Effective but pricey. More compact and easier to move than a home gym with metal weights.
TOTAL GYM XL, $1,598 • 800-220-6481
Total Gym XL.
The product: You adjust the incline of a sliding bench to change resistance, which ranges from about 10 to 50 percent of your body weight. Use a cable-and-pulley system to hoist yourself up the incline. Four videos and diet included, plus a helpful flip chart showing exercises. Sixty-day free trial. Warranty: Lifetime on frame, 2 years on other parts.
The claims: Replace a gym’s worth of equipment with just one piece of equipment that does it all.
The reality: You get various exercises, but it doesn’t duplicate all other devices, especially weight-bearing aerobic ones. Very good body position and range of motion. Very fit people may need to add more resistance; an optional weight bar costs $20 plus the cost of weights. Folds compactly for storage.
The bottom line: Easy to use, versatile. A viable strength-training alternative, especially for users with low to moderate fitness. But pricey.