When you first walk into a gym, there’s a sea of contraptions sitting everywhere on the gym floor. Then, you see the dumbbells, benches, and barbells… You’re unsure of where to start with your workout, so you walk over to the nearest machine, look at the label to see how it works and what muscles it works, adjust the pins, and start moving some weight. This can be a great option if you’re unfamiliar with the gym, but is using these machines the best option for you to reach your goals?
Now, I’m not going to say that using machines is bad, there definitely are situations where the use of machines can be beneficial to your workout, but there are limitations and some negatives to their use. What are some of those limitations? Here are the big ones for me:
1) Machines are built to be one size fits all. As we all know, there are many many different body types out there, and, one size does not fit all. This can lead to someone being in an awkward position during the lift.
2) If you’re new (or even practiced) with resistance training, it may be easy to shift force more through one side of your body than the other. Some machines have the handles working dependently with each other, so if you push more with one side than the other, it’s more difficult to see (and feel) the imbalances.
3) You’re sitting down on most machines….we’re already sitting all day long. Why not throw in some exercises that force us to stand, kneel, twist, etc.?
Here are the benefits to adding more free weights (kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells) into your strength training routine:
- Greater, more natural ranges of motion. Using free weights allows for your body to move more naturally.
- Greater movement variations. When you use free weights you can adjust variables such as grip and angles at which you perform the movement. You can also adjust your stance, which may affect your core and balance depending on the movement.
- They’re more fun. You can do moves such as renegade rows, turkish get-ups, kettlebell swings, and deadlifts.
- You can ensure your training left and right sides of your body more evenly. If you’re left chest is weak, and you’re using dumbbells to chest press, that weakness is going to become very noticeable.
- Your muscles have to stabilize the weight. When you don’t have a machine guiding the weight up and down, your muscles are going to recruit differently and become better at stabilizing.
Even though I highly recommend working with free weights, there is naturally some risk involved. Make sure you know what you’re doing. Watch tutorials online. Hire a fitness coach for a few sessions to educate yourself on proper lifting techniques. When in doubt, go lighter…like way lighter. Be aware of your surroundings. Most of all, have fun. Try new things. See what happens!