You pay a visit to your local gym. On a guided tour, you are a little bewildered by the array of machines on offer but you are impressed because these are the very same machines you have seen advertised by well-paid body-builders and fitness bunnies. You sign up immediately.

But you may be somewhat disappointed to learn that these body-builders and fitness bunnies did not achieve their impressive physiques using weights machines alone. It is likely they spent many hours working out using the traditional barbells and dumbbells that are often hidden in the furthest corner of the weights room.

Why, then, do modern gyms favour shiny new weights machines over the cold, dark pieces of iron called free weights? To be blunt, weights machines sell memberships and are perceived as easier and safer to use. From the gym’s perspective, it doesn’t require a great deal of technical skill to teach someone to use a weights machine, nor does it require much supervision. This is a win-win situation for the gym — but what about you, the client?

Machines restrict freedom of movement and force the body to use one plane of motion, ie, up and down, or in and out. Travelling the same path over and over again, as dictated by the weights machine, can lead to nagging pain and repetitive injury strain. Functional training is the performance of exercises that will carry over to your everyday life. Machines do nothing to develop the postural and stabilising muscles that keep your joints in their sockets and so can make your joints weaker. This leaves you more susceptible to injury.

Machines create a false sense of strength. The weight someone lifts on a machine is entirely different to that lifted when using free weights. For example, when you perform machine-based chest presses and then try to recreate the same movement with free weights, you will find that the previously un-worked stabilisers can’t hold the shoulder joint in place. As the saying goes — you can’t fire a canon from a canoe! So why should you use free weights?

  • Free weights allow for a greater range of movement. The bigger the range of movement, the stronger you will become and the more calories you will burn.
  • Free-weights training increases the development of your motor skills, as you learn to balance and develop your co-ordination by controlling the dumbbells.
  • Free weights, specifically dumbbells, allow your body to balance out strengths and enable one arm to get as strong as the other. On machines, this weakness is rarely exposed and so will remain weak.
  • Machines are not always adjustable for every individual.
  • Cable machines are similar to free weights. These are machines that will develop the stabilising muscles.

If you are looking to change over to free weights, find an instructor who works with them and organise an appointment where he or she can show you a new programme.

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