In the battle between the use of free weights and machine training, there is only one champion -- why this continues to be a controversial subject within the fitness industry, I am not really sure. It really seems like a no-brainer to me, and I have been writing about it for years.
Let me define free weights as dumbbells, barbells, logs, rocks, milk jugs, groceries, pots and pans, your kids, your pets, your spare tire, construction materials, tools, briefcases, purses, shoes and even your own body weight. I could keep this list going all day, but we can simplify free weights as any added weight or resistance beyond what your muscles must do normally with minimal movement. So, when you go up stairs, that's resistance. So, why the funny list? Look it over. You will notice a few things. They may resemble activities or situations that you might encounter everyday.
Machines are not ever necessary for your body, they are not safer for your body and, in many instances, they can be dangerous for your body. They are also expensive, heavy, rarely user-friendly and have limited adaptations beyond their often singular purpose.
So, why are gyms full of them? Here are a few simple reasons.
1. It's just the way gyms have always been designed. Machines were built by bodybuilders, for bodybuilders, for bodybuilding. No other reason. We began to idolize their physiques therefore machine-dominated gyms sprang up promising that if you use these machines, you could easily achieve the same physique. Strange thing -- this hasn't happened to most people I know who train on machines.
2. People (and, unfortunately, some very misguided personal trainers) think they are safer and easier to use. They are not safer. Period. And easy to use? Have you tried to adjust some of these contraptions? Really? Even if you know the proper biomechanical position for your body, it can take a while to get it set right to fit your body. Then someone comes along between sets and makes adjustments and you have reset the machine all over again. Damn it.
3. It makes gym membership and personal training sales easier. Think about it -- they get you hooked on their machines and systems. You don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy them all, you don't understand how to work them and you don't really understand why you are doing what you are doing. What are your options, then? To stay on paying your membership so you have access to what you think is your best fitness investment and keep making your personal trainer payments because without them, you would be hopelessly lost.
You shouldn't use machines because they make no sense for your body. Your body was not designed to work one muscle, then move on and work another muscle, and then on to the next, and so forth. When was last time you did that picking up groceries, going to the beach, playing with your kids, or participating in a sport?
You are designed to work as a smooth, coordinated unit. You are your own machine. You don't want some metal contraption forcing you into positions and angles that you would never encounter in real life. What sense does that make?
Are machines safer? How exactly? The knee extension machine places more strain and stress through your knee joint than most sports or walking down stairs do. How is that safer than actually playing sports or walking down stairs? And who ever thought it was a good idea to sit on a machine, put on a seatbelt and then lift a huge stack of weights using just your lower back? Don't we try and teach people never to lift huge amounts of weight using just their lower back?
Here is what you need to know.
Free weights and bodyweight exercise are not only better for you, but necessary for your health and fitness. They are not more dangerous than machines (in fact, it is most often safer), and are much more practical, effective and affordable than machine training.
Anyone that tells you otherwise, ask them why. See what they say. Then, see if this person has a vested interest in promoting machine workouts. Perhaps they own a gym that relies on machines, or there's a product they are trying to sell you?
Check to see if these machine advocates really know what they are doing. Check their background, experience, results and education. Remember, the human body is the most efficient, effective and strongest machine you could ever use when it's well maintained -- so train it and treat it with the best of care!
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