Strength-Training Machines: The Real Truth


Bodybuilding Equipment: Strength-Training Machines

Volumes of literature could be written on the ongoing argument between the use of strength-training machines or free weights, but here we shall conclude that both are important and complement each other in muscle training. Exercise machines aren’t just for beginners. Unlike free weights, which generally bring a lot of muscles into play, strength-training machines can be engineered to isolate just a few muscles. You can concentrate the tension right where you want. In some cases, free weights are better than machines. For other exercises, machines are more appropriate.

Keep in mind that neither of these two tools is perfect. Strength-training machines are a good choice if you aren’t quite strong enough for body-weight exercises, such as pull-ups. A lot of men use machines as an intermediate step; when one barbell or dumbbell weight has gotten too easy, but you aren’t quite ready to move up to the next size, you can often find an in-between zone on machines.

Common types of machines

  • Stack loaded machines (selectorized weight machines). They come with a complete set of weights built in.
  • Plate loaded machines. They use the same weight plates as free weight bars. Generally, plate-loaded machines allow smaller weight increments as well as heavier loads than most stack machines  but offer similar form of resistance.
  • Individual machines. They tend to work just one muscle, but with a bit of ingenuity bodybuilders have adapted them to train multiple muscles.
  • Multi-stations. They have four, six, eight or more stations connected to a central frame, or core.

Some machines use pulleys, cam systems, and various cables, while others just pivot or rotate against the load. But now, many machines offer a cabling system that allows for a free range of motion. Furthermore, some require you to stand and activate your core musculature (made by companies such as Life Fitness). Isolateral machines use independent limb systems that simulate dumbbell movements, allowing you to work one leg or one arm at a time. Fixed-line machines have the advantage of not needing a spotter, while standing pulley machines offer the independence of free range of motion.

Advantages of using exercise machines

Exercise machines: pros & cons

Exercise machines: pros & cons

  • Machines are typically safer (lower risk of an accident) and require little instruction. They eliminate the possibility of dropping barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or weight plates on yourself, and they don’t require you to stoop to lift equipment.
  • You don’t need spotter.
  • You can overload the target muscle with more weight because you tend not to use as many stabilizing muscles (that might tire out before the target muscles).
  • Cam-based machines, like cables, allow for movements in various directions with constant tension.
  • Machines are designed help with body position, technique, and stabilization as they follow a specific movement path.
  • It is usually quicker to change the weight selection on a machine, which is very useful if you are sharing an apparatus or want to change the load fast.
  • Exercises particularly well suited for weight machines are trunk rotation, trunk extension, knee flexion and extension, and hip adduction and abduction exercises. These joint actions and corresponding muscle groups can be difficult to isolate using free weights alone.
  • Machines are more useful during injury rehabilitation. A knee injury, for instance, is practically impossible to rehab using free weights. With a weight machine you can easily select small loads through a limited range of motion.

Disadvantages of using strength-training machines

  • Machines are not always designed to fit the proportions of all individuals. People who are taller or shorter than the norm, those with specific physical considerations, and obese people often cannot use machine with ease.
  • Most machines isolate a muscle or a muscle group, thus negating the need for other muscles to act as assistant movers and stabilizers.
  • Machine use a fixed range of motions. Often, these movements do not mimic functional or athletic movements.
  • The misconception of the extra safety that machines provide may lead you to not pay attention to the exercise. It is still possible to become injured when using machines.
  • The load on a machine is not usually the “actual” weight lifted by the athlete. This is due to the effects of pulleys and levers. In the case of free weights, “what you see is what you get.”
  • Using machines you will definitely decrease the risk of an accident. But the irony is that you increase the risk of an injury. Why? For example, your shoulders aren’t meant to move object in a fixed plane. Barbell and dumbbells (free weights) rarely move straight up and down during a bench press. The typical trajectory is J-shaped. That means the bar moves back toward your head slightly during the lift. That’s the natural movement pattern. Using machines there is a big chance that you’ll force your joints to do something unnatural and potentially dangerous.

Variety: An Important Element Of Your Training

Selectorized and plate loaded strength training machines

Strength training machines and free weights are simply the tools we use to develop strong muscles. Because all forms of strength training equipment offer different advantages and are limited by different disadvantages, it is best to use a variety of training equipment in your strength training program. It is a common belief in the gym that free weights are more effective than machines. This is simply not true. The most effective way to make progress is to use machines whenever they are more appropriate than free weights, and free weights whenever they are more appropriate than machines.

Many studies point out that, for beginners, strength gains occur more rapidly with machines than with free weights. This is because little motor learning is involved with machines because the movement is completely guided; this prevents errors of trajectory and balance issues.

Some exercise machines may be better that others when it comes to helping carry out a sound strength training program, but the greatest factor that will determine their effectiveness is the way we use them.

Summing Up

Strength-training machines can provide resistance by using weight stacks, weight plates, air, rubber bands, and hydraulic fluid. In general, for muscular hypertrophy, relatively equal amounts of free-weight, machine, cable, and body-weight exercises should be used because machines are able to isolate specific muscles more effectively than some compound free-weight exercises. In addition to technical benefits, machines add variety to your routine. Furthermore, strength-training machines are becoming more innovative and effective and can make up an effective program by themselves if necessary. In terms of muscle growth, both machines and free weights are complementary and useful.


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