Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No, Machines Are Not Good.

Regularly, I am asked about the exercise machines at the gym. "Which is best?" "What machine works my butt? Abs?" "Can you show me a few machines?" I know many people don't care so much about the biomechanics and exercise physiology of training, they just want to know what to do. Many people pick exercises out of convenience or just because they saw someone else do it. They have no idea what they are doing or want to target a specific 'problem' area. Now, I respect someone who takes time to go to the gym and is wanting to improve their fitness, but a little education goes a long way. Exercise machines, while on the surface look like they would be effective, have a lot of problems (which I will address). I always recommend free weight or body weight exercises; and yes, they can (and should) be done by everyone.

Here are the top ten reasons why I prefer free weight or body weight exercise over machines.

1. Machines tend to isolate muscles, which is just the opposite of how the body works. The body 'learns' how to move by elequently coordinating muscle patterns into body movements. Free weights allow you to move in this more functional manner, utilizing multiple joints and many muscles simultaneously.

2. Machines have a fixed path of resistance, free weights allow you to move in a way that fits your anatomy. Machines make you move in a specific path under a load, which your joints, ligaments, and cartilage may not like very much. For example, the leg extension places great strain on your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), while minimizing the stabilization of your knee by the hamstrings (not good).

3. Machines do not require joint or spinal stabilization. This is often overlooked, but is the glue that holds you together and keeps you safe. Often, it is the chink in the armor for a lot of trainees and one of the reasons that 80% of the population has back problems.

4. People base their exercise program on the machines, instead of what they should do or need to do. It is easy to go down the line using each machine just because it is there.

5. Balance is not trained. Most machines keep you locked in place, never allow you to develop your balance (which gets worse like your strength and bodyfat). Now you don't need to balance on a ball or wobble disc, just two feet solidly on the ground. You may progress to single leg exercises later, but balance is simply activating stabilizing muscles and learning to respond to changes in the relative position of your center of gravity.

6. Machines are not efficient. In a limited amount of time, you can get more out of a couple free weight exercises than the time it takes you to make you way from machine to machine.

7. Calorie burning is minimized with machines. Think about it. You sit down most of the time and the weights are conveniently sitting right next to you. You only have to lift a four-ounce metal pin to select your weight. You have to get off your butt to use free weights and may actually have to carry them somewhere. Also, you can activate more muscle mass with free weights, and therefore stimulating your metabolism over the next 48 hours after your workout.

8. Exercise variety or modification is severely limited with machines. You are kind of stuck with the machines you have.

9. Some machines are just bad exercises. Many ab machines put you in postions what many spine researchers fear; bending your spine under a load. I see many people who want to train their abs 'hard', load up the resistance on the crunch machine (which you bend your spine under the heavy load). Don't ask me to show you how to use the 'Ab Solo'. This is an example of the 'wow' factor with new machines that get people to join gyms.

10. Machines encourage muscle imbalances. Again, just because a machine is present, doesn't mean you should do it. In fact, based on your injury history and current posture you may be doing more harm than good in the long-run.


Anonymous said...

very very interesting Dan! I guess you might know what you are doing after all!

Anonymous said...

Slar say...

Machines are boring and take too long, plus everything Dan said i his post. Dan's way is much better......

Liz said...

I concur with the above comments. Dan, glad you rationalized why the machines are not as effective, helps to see why the difference. Since I started training, I have seen whole body improvement, so Dan's way works, even though sometimes it takes a little get up and go effort:) Well that and trying to remember what I am suppose to do.....