Free Weights vs Machines

Monday, July 11, 2016 | Adam Zickerman

In this so called scientific age, the 40-year old debate still rages: is it free weights or exercise machines that deliver the best results?

Proponents in the free-weight camp often contend, ‘Machines are inefficient —targeting only one or two muscle groups at a time’ or ‘Only free weights can improve coordination by working stabilizer muscles.’

Machine advocates aren’t without their sweeping generalizations either. They contend ‘Machines allow you to focus your mind on the effort, as opposed to the mechanics of the movement.’ How about this doozy from the  internet marketer, Dr. Mercola who claims, “One advantage of machines is they allow you to lift heavier weights.” Huh? That’s like saying you like the Celsius scale better than Fahrenheit because it rarely goes over 30 degrees in the summer. What Dr. Mercola failed to point out is that the body perceives a 150-pound barbell bench press the same as a 300-pound MedX machine chest Press. Although the weights are clearly different, the resistance measured in foot-pounds is the same. But I digress.

THE USE OF FREE WEIGHTS OR MACHINES NEED NOT BE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE

Any assertions of either method’s inherent superiority are meaningless soundbites that serve only to confuse – albeit unintentionally – and their applications need not be mutually exclusive. Refusing to engage in the debate, I’d rather declare it a moot point! How the equipment is used, however, does matter.

My Dad loved to refinish and build furniture, and back in the stone age his tools were limited to a crude set of hand tools, a vice grip, and a saw horse. As a teenager, I questioned why he wouldn’t acquire some electrical tools for better, faster and easier work. “A good craftsman never blames his tools,” he said. In hindsight, I realize my father couldn’t afford fancy tools, but Dad took the opportunity to expound a key life lesson and impress me with his command of English proverbs.

I have invoked those words often throughout my life. Just the same, a good personal trainer should view free weights, machines, and even jugs of water, as tools. They are JUST tools. An InFormed instructor, for example, would know how to instruct a lateral raise with a dumbbell to safely train your deltoids (shoulder muscle) without impinging a rotator cuff muscle. If the typical personal trainer instructs this exercise wrong and hurts someone, it’s not the fault of the dumbbell.

The tools, otherwise referred to as our equipment, in all InForm Fitness facilities are custom modified to our exact specifications. Enormous efforts in thought, care and detail have resulted in the design of our equipment, from premium manufacturing to custom engineering of ergonomic and safety features.

Understandably, when most people tour our facilities and hear our pride-filled enthusiasm for our equipment, they often assume we sit squarely in the ‘machines-are-better-than-free-weights’ camp. Admittedly, we are machine snobs, but certainly not opponents of free weights.

InForm Fitness applies a studied blend of both machine and non-machine exercises, selecting a range of methods that best suit each client’s individual goals and limitations. We use dumbbells, barbells, wedding bells, exercise balls, TRX straps, chin-up bars, and body weight movements (but alas, no jugs of water). Even so, how our Instructors use these tools is what makes them most effective. Our trainers monitor, guide and position our clients for efficacy and safety. While a bicep curl using a dumbbell can be entirely sufficient, I am doubtful a free-weight exercise can effectively work the rhomboids the same way as our specially retrofitted Rowing Torso machine.

Your body’s build, earlier injuries, aches and pains, goals, shoe size, age and weight are all factors that make you unique. All of these factors are carefully considered by our instructors when crafting a strength-training regimen for you, and they continue to make constant adjustments as you progress.

I don’t have an all-or-nothing argument for free weights versus machines, but only for developing an exercise plan that works for the individual. Either way, with top-of-the-line equipment, free weights and superb instructors, we are the big guns to get the job done efficiently and safely.

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