Rage Against The Machines

The SAPT staff went on a field trip today.  Our owner, Sarah Walls, was speaking at a networking event help by one of our business partners, Dawn Peters from Nakedhealth.com.  It was a great event, filled with information and fantastic food.  It also turned into a pretty eye-opening experience that urged me to write this blog post.

The theme of the event was "Slim into the Summer," and Sarah took the opportunity to speak about the benefits of exercise, what motivates someone to partake in this activity (because exercise is awesome.. duh), and provided some tips about how to approach incorporating exercise into your daily routine.  What she did next was what really added to the experience...

Sarah had a slide or two focused on bringing forth some "Truths" and "Myths" regarding exercise. One of the "Truths" was that multi-joint compound movements are the way to go when it came to strength training.  She briefly mentioned that the "old-school" methods of sitting on a machine and pumping out leg extensions was incredibly outdated and extremely sub-optimal.  I didn't think twice about this statement, but when it came time for questions multiple individuals seem flabbergasted by her comment.

This got me thinking... Her message seemed incredibly obvious to me, but how many people out there actually don't realize this?  How many people go to the gym multiple times a week and hop from machine to machine before walking out the front door without ever having performed a single free-weight movement?

I really shouldn't be surprised by this revelation.  Every commercial gym I've ever been to is littered with machines, while the free weights are severely lacking.  You're lucky if there are more than 2 or 3 squat racks in a commercial gym, and good luck finding kettlebells or sturdy resistance bands.  It's really sad to see, especially as a strength and conditioning coach.

Let's quickly dispel this myth using everyone's favorite "get to the point" method, bullet points:

- Machines restrict you to a single plane of motion, typically forward and backwards.... this isn't how real life works.  Free weights require multi-planar stability and provide much more carryover.

- Machines don't allow your muscles/joints/connective tissue to function as stabilizers, but only as movers.  The multi-planar nature of free weights require you to stabilize and and help increase both muscular stability and strength.

- Free weights increase bone density to much greater extent than machines.  This is incredibly important for women who are at a much higher risk for osteoporosis.

- You're sitting all day at work/school/watching TV... stop sitting while you're exercising.  That's just laziness.

- To go with the above, resistance training should be used to help broaden and expand your movement patterns.  We all know sitting isn't ideal, but in today's society it happens to be a necessity.  Use resistance training/exercise to move in ways that you don't on a daily basis: squat, lunge, crawl, jump, push, pull, the list goes on and on.

Look at all those movement patterns!

- Free weights allow you to manipulate load placement in order to target various adaptations.  For instance, you can tweak a squat to focus more on anti-flexion or anti-rotation depending on where you place the load.

- Free weights work your core to a much greater extent.  As stated above, you can manipulate load placement to work on various functions of your core: anti-extension, anti-flexion, anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion.

- Many machines isolate your muscles, but that's not how life works.  You use your body as one unit and move in coordination.  Resistance training should do the same.  Why use a different machine to perform leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses, calf raises, hip abductions, hip adductions, when you can simply squat and deadlift?

These are really just a few of the reasons why you need to transition to a machine-free exercise program.  Compound, free-weight exercises simply give you the biggest bang-for-your-buck and allow you to do the most with the brief amount of time you have to dedicate to the gym. The results you'll see will amaze you.