Don’t feel bad if the first thing you thought was, what’s wrong with machines? By machines, I mean the gym equipment with stacks of weight on a guided pull system. They’re the ones where the user articulates some kind of fixed arm. Salespeople leverage equipment as a selling point; people couldn’t get fit before “this latest piece of equipment.”
Not only that, some pretty good looking people use machines. If they’re good enough for those folks, then they must be good enough for you, right?
Sure. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using machines. At least you are burning calories, but what you may not have considered is your overall goals for the gym. If your intentions are to get stronger, but you’re using the preacher curl machine, you’re missing the mark.
There are three situations where using machines make sense for the individual.
What machines provide, that more traditional movements do not, is fixed movement.
They remove aspects of the lift where people tend to hurt themselves, things like the path of motion, rotation, range, and sometimes tempo.
With fewer variables to consider, someone who is rehabbing from an injury or surgery can focus on simple movements. Keep in mind, though, lifters can still injure themselves on machines.
In this case, we may be talking about an older client who’s just picked up the desire to lift, but it could be anyone who’s never lifted before.
My preference is to start a brand new client on fundamentals of movement like bracing, creating tension, hiding a bar, standing, and such simple aspects of the program. Even in those situations, I’ve had clients who cannot stabilize the bar for any number of reasons.
In may be appropriate to train using machines to learn movement patterns without the risk of volatility found in traditional lifts. Start with the machine version of a pressing motion, using light weights, with the intention to learn a proper benchpress from what you’ve learned.
To pump blood volume into a muscle and activate muscle fibers in a specific way, bodybuilders use machines to better focus their efforts.
This is why you see those hyper-pumped folks banging out machine sets. It doesn’t mean the machines they are using are better than others. It just means those are the parts of the body that lifter wants to develop at that time.
I don’t have a problem with folks lifting like bodybuilders. Most do. But, if your goal is more about functional movement, machines are not going to give you that, not even the complicated machines.
If you don’t fall into one of these three categories, consider changing your routine to more standing, traditional movements.
Make sure your movements inch you closer to your goal. Don’t fool yourself into believing that machines are going to do something they are not.
You’re gonna get controlled movements and muscle-specific development. Challenge yourself to get away from machines this year. Use your body in the free way nature meant you to move.