Fitness Tips for the Masses Don’t Use Machines… Become One. Part 1 of Many
Next time you’re in the gym, make a better decision and grab a dumbbell or a bar INSTEAD of hopping from machine to machine. (Read disclaimer below)
The primary reason I dislike machines is that real life happens in free space, in three dimensions. Machines, on the other hand, lock you into a set path, thus isolating a SMALL percentage of tissue that would otherwise be needed in an everyday situation.
A very simple to understand example would be a shoulder press. A shoulder press involves taking a resistance and pushing it from your shoulders straight up over your head. Super easy.
A lot of people like to use a machine or a bar locked on rails (called a Smith Machine) because it keeps the load stable and going in one direction (up or down).
I invite you to conduct an experiment (or just follow me mentally here). Use the machine twice a week for a month on your shoulder/upper body day or whatever you do. Guaranteed…you can get really strong pushing things over your head using this machine, especially if you do it seated. But now go and try to lift the same weight with a bar in free space. Can’t do it can you?
The reason is that by locking the load into one plane of motion, you are DISENGAGING a TON of other tissue that is needed to perform the same movement in a real life situation… PARTICULARLY your “CORE”. (This is a concept I’ll revisit later…because, contrary to popular belief, your core is more than just your abs.)
A real life overhead lift is VERY complicated and uses a lot of musculature to stabilize the load in all three dimensions. If you only ever use a machine, you are missing out on a great deal of potential to generate real, functional strength. But worst of all, you set yourself up for potential injury. What good are strong arms without a strong stable foundation on which to attach them?!
Like I mentioned earlier, using a machine DISENGAGES your core. Why in the world would you EVER want to do that? If your back arches or hurts lifting a free weight, you are probably using a weight too heavy for you in the first place. Who cares if you “look” like a sissy with the 10 pound dumbbells. Make a better decision. Keep your back straight, keep everything tight and build some real life, functional strength. Sitting on the sidelines, getting even huskier with a broke back is not a happy alternative.
Disclaimer: All this being said…if you don’t know how to use free weights (and even if you THINK you do…because experience has shown me that the average person doesn’t or has been taught incorrectly). PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, make a small investment and pay someone who knows what they’re doing to teach you how. Ask them what “midline stability” is and how to best keep your core tight to protect your spine. If they can’t answer that or give you a blank stare at first…go find someone else. They probably don’t know what they’re doing either!