You see them in the big boxing gyms. Rows and rows of hinges, pulleys and weight stacks. They stare at you and promise a solution. Each one silently says, “use me and I will fulfill all of your fitness desires.” Each one tells that lie.
Similar to a “magic pill”, or in this case a magic machine. The lie that says if you use some gadget or gizmo, you’ll be turned into the fitness God you see on the cover of magazines. I have two words for this: Bull. Shit.
As they say, the truth hurts. The truth is, you have to work for it. It’s important to remember that you can’t just use one type of machine or equipment to get into top shape. There are pieces of equipment and even a machine or two, that can be beneficial to your fitness plan. But they aren’t necessary.
So what’s the problem with machines for fitness training?
Problem #1: Forcing The Body To Move Along Unnatural Lines Of Movement
- The number one problem here is the Smith Machine. Oh how I’d love to put every Smith Machine in the world into one big pile and melt them down so their raw materials could be put to better use… like making stainless steel urinals. The Smith Machine forces movement into a perfectly vertical path, which is just not how the body works. Whether it’s a bench press or a squat, there will be some slight deviation from a perfectly vertical path as the bar moves. This deviation aids in the conditioning of stabilizing muscles and is just more akin to movements the body encounters in life outside of the gym. Stay away from the Smith Machine; love the squat cage.
Problem #2: Machines Encourage Single Joint Exercises
- The pec dec. The leg curl. The leg extension. And don’t get started on the preacher curl machine. Once again, we are forcing the body to move in ways it’s not designed to be moved. Anytime you are doing an exercise where only one joint is involved you are wasting your time. This is because the time it takes to do a leg extension where you work the quadriceps would be better spent doing a squat where you involve the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and “core” stabilization of the torso. The time it takes to use the preacher curl machine where you work only the biceps would be better spent on the pull up bar where you work the lats, rhomboids, deltoids, and biceps. Use big movements with tons of effort and steer clear of the single joint machines.
Problem #3: Inconvenience
- If your fitness training is based primarily on machines, you will be at a loss when you can’t make it to the gym. Having a set of dumbbells tucked in your closet or being familiar with body weight exercises gives you a freedom from the gym that will treat you well when your schedule gets packed and gym time slides. Or when you’re traveling and the hotel is not equipped with your favorite workout machine toys. Relying on machines limits your options and makes it easy to miss workouts.
Ok so I’ve ripped the machines pretty hard so far. While I disdain the majority of machines in a gym, there are two machines that I like to use and that I think are a good addition to a workout. Each of these machines provides a great workout.
The Concept 2 Rower and the AirDyne exercise bike both get my approval. Each machine uses both lower and upper body movements to create metabolic stress. Many workouts really neglect the pulling aspect which a rowing machine is perfect for. Rowing is a great natural movement that works the whole body and provides functional training for everyday movements.
Overall, limit your use of machines to a minimum and keep your training “organic”. Go sprint up a hill while dragging a tire. Do pushups and pullups as a superset. Grab a barbell or heavy dumbbells. Real training doesn’t take place on a machine.
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