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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I’d just like to propose the Waterrower as an alternative to the Concept 2 especially as a home installation. They’reboth great and I’d be happy with either one but the Waterrower works well in a domestic setting: it’s all wood (rather handsome), un-intimidating for novices, and easy to pack away.
The like the rower too. When i get the money I think that will be the next thing I get. I am not into machines myself. I just opened up my own private studio and i do not have one machine in it. It is a private studio so I can do that. There is one piece of equipment that I do plan on buying, that is the FT 360 or free form machine. I think this tool is great and has lots of uses.
I agree. Machines are a great help to gym owners since their staff don’t need to teach anyone how to exercise. You just jump on the machine and away you go. It takes time to teach the squat, deadlift, etc and at the end of the day that means less profit for the gym. I am not totally anti-machine but the reason we see so many machines is to avoid lawsuits (people getting injured through lack of instruction) and make money. It is not for personal fitness and they absolutely do not represent any kind of technological advance over a barbell, chin up bar and the likes.
@Bri: Well said. You definitely have to pay a qualified trainer who can teach the big lifts a lot more than the part time college kid who is just wiping down the machines at the end of the night. It seems the big corporate gyms are often more concerned with their bottom line than they are about their clients’ results.
Wow Vic I couldn’t say it better. (And I have been saying it for decades!) I am sorry to report that most newbies still think that the smith machine is the hi-tech answer to their prayers when in fact it is a destroyer of lower backs and other major joints as it corrupts form in all but the toughest trainees!
Congratulations. You have a very nice and informative website.
I find it funny because 2-3 months ago I also published an article with the same title:
“Rage against the machines” on my blog http://www.alexandindi.blogspot.com . I did not write this to redirect readers to my blog, just because of the title.
Keep it on ,
I think that the Smith machine is brilliant for 2 things, adjustable height bar for pullups and inverted rows, and it cuts down the queue for the squat rack.
Awesome! I couldn’t agree more with both!
LOL! this is so fucking true! 😀
I’m the only one actually using the squat cage in my gym. The. Only. One. Can you believe it? And a big part of the credit is due to the smith machine!
Your articles are so informative. I am trying to tone my body even more and your articles help out alot. They are very informative. Keep it up