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  • Chris Spencer

Machines vs Free weights

I’m gonna go ahead and bury the lead here and come out and tell you that both are excellent. They should both be part of your program and both have benefits and drawbacks. In this weeks edition I’ll cover some basics regarding when you should be using both and why. You’ve probably heard someone at some point say that “machines are bad because they don’t challenge one’s ability to stabilize.” Please ask that person what they mean. If you are working to an exertion level that is at or near failure, I can guarantee your stability is going to be challenged. Just because our options for weight path are limited as opposed to a barbell or dumbbells does not mean that our ability to stabilize the movement will be easier. The other thing to consider is that in order to see the results you want, regardless of what the goals are, we need to overload the muscular system. Odds are machines are going to allow us to do that to a greater degree than a barbell or dumbbells will. If you want evidence of this- ask yourself what your 1RM back squat is. Now compare that to your 1RM leg press. Probably isn’t close. Machines are a great option for any skill level. If you’re a beginner, you can learn what it feels like to control a movement in both directions. From there we can take the lessons learned on say a chest press machine and turn you supine and put dumbbells in your hand and replicate the movement. More experienced lifters can utilize machines for added hypertrophy once they’ve completed their heavier compound movements with a barbell. For example- hopping on the leg extension* machine after heavy squats to maximize quad blood volume and get some more targeted muscle breakdown. *for what it’s worth our leg extension machine is the best one I’ve ever used. The range of motion is incredible and the bottom line is that nothing in any gym will challenge the body’s ability to straighten the leg better than that machine. Full stop. Once you’ve mastered the body control that machines will teach you, take those movements into barbells. Start with your heavy compound movements- bench, squat, deadlift, OHP, barbell row- and move it to machines after your smaller intrinsic stabilizer muscles are taxed. Chances are the bigger muscles (lats, quads, pecs, etc.) still have some juice left. Bottom line- don’t discount half of the gym because you think that machines won’t challenge you enough. They will. Just work harder. Don’t listen to anyone who discount the efficacy of machines. Implement both in your programming; it’s the easiest path to long-term results.
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