With over 10 years of experience as a fitness professional, I have been asked by hundreds if not thousands about how to use “the machines.” I have also met a lot of individuals on a regular basis who only use the weight machines.
When I ask someone what exercises they are doing, and they tell me, “I do this one.” They then demonstrate the movements simulating the use of the machine. “Well, David, first I do this one (they raise their hands overhead), then I do this one (they push out to the front) and then I do this one (they perform an imaginary pull down from some unspecified space overhead). As they explain and demonstrate the movements, they sincerely believe they have been working out efficiently, but they cannot tell me what muscle group they have worked. Interestingly, most of the people I have worked with, one on one, set up Fitness Coaching appointments with me because they are not seeing the results they were looking for when they first joined their gym or health club.
Here’s the reality. If you’re looking to improve form and function, if you’re looking to have a body that continues to perform at its best, believing solely in “the machines” as an effective workout may be a bad decision that will lead you to nowhere.
I am not saying machine workouts overall are bad. They are not. Even though they have the benefit of potentially working the muscles, they do not ask the body to move as the body moves in the real world.
Picture a seated chest press movement where your back is supported by a pad, your legs are fixed position in place with your hips at a 90-degree angle of flexion, and you thrust the handles out in front of you until your arms are fully extended. Where in the real world does that movement take place? For most of us, it never does.
Real world movement starts at the body’s center of gravity, and is supported by contraction of the muscles of “the core.” The “core” refers to the deep lying abdominals, the pelvis and lower back muscles that work to support the midsection, to stabilize during twisting movements, and to maintain balance as you bend, lift, reach, or throw. In real world movement the back is not supported by a pad, your body should have some freedom of movement, allowing the lower back muscles and abdominal muscles to develop functionally.
The way your body moves when you walk across the room is not limited to one muscle or muscle group. Most would say they would be using the leg muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes to walk across the room. Unfortunately, if those were the only muscles you would use to try to walk you would fall flat on your face. If you were not using your abdominal muscles and the muscles around your spine to hold you uptight you would probably take a nosedive to the ground. If your not using the shoulder muscles in order for you to swing your arms, you wouldn’t be able to maintain balance. Real world movement involves all your muscles contracting in harmony. “The machines” isolate individual muscles. Machine movements can serve as a part of an effective routine, but they will never be the answer for you as a whole.
Why do I feel this information is important? I’ve seen many cases of connective tissue disorders and overuse injuries from individuals committed to years of working out on the weight machines. Most exercise machines put the force on a single joint or two joints. By performing movements using dumbbells, stability balls, medicine balls, and other forms of resistance, you spread the workload throughout your body and involve far greater muscle stimulation. You also find these exercises are more beneficial in your all daily activities that involve movement, making daily tasks less of a burden. You find getting out of your car, or bed in the morning requires less effort. Lifting a bag of groceries or a child becomes simpler. Your golf swing or tennis backhand develops a better sense of flow.
In summary, the machines have their place, and can certainly be can be used in a solid exercise program, but give me a pair of dumbbells, a stability ball, and some elastic tubing and I can teach anyone to achieve far better results anywhere.
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort in the hips, knees, shoulders, or elbows while performing specific exercises or machines, stop performing this exercise and seek a professional or medical evaluation.
Remember, a complete routine will have a balance between both resistance training and an aerobic movement.
If you are asked to perform a given movement, you should learn and understand precisely what muscles are being worked and how those muscles can be best stimulated without risk.
Each and every program that I prescribe to my clients involves real world movements. If your only doing machines you are missing out on seeing true results and you are putting yourself at greater risk for injury.
Your Fitness and Nutrition Coach,