When it comes to resistance training and generally strengthening muscle and burning fat there are two main options open to you. One of these is using the free weights which involves lifting weights off of the ground and curling/pressing them freely, while the other is to use resistance machines which involves sitting in a large contraption and then pushing/pulling/twisting handles and pads in order to lift weights that are attached by a cable.
Generally when you speak to someone about these two types of training they will tell you that they stick largely to one or the other. ‘Beginners’ who are new to building muscle and who ‘don’t want to get too big’ will stick to the resistance machines because they’re too nervous to head over to the free weights where all the hardcore people hang out.
Then at the same time you will get many heavier lifters who are actively avoid the resistance machines because they believe they’re too easy and don’t provide as good a workout when they’re trying to build muscle.
The problem with resistance machines you see is that they involve your sitting in one place and lifting/pushing the weights through a predefined range of motion. In other words there is no freedom and no flexibility for your angle to change or for you to change the way you are lifting and that means that you’ll only be able to work the muscle from a specific angle and that you won’t be involving other smaller supporting muscles to steady your arm/body.
There just aren’t enough resistance machines out there to cover the full surface area of your skeletal muscle this way, so you those who are serious avoid them.
This is why a beginner to the world of weightlifting should not boycott the resistance machines and should ensure they are at least doing some work with the free weights or their bodyweight too.
At the same time though there are also benefits to resistance machines and it’s important not to let your pride as a weightlifter blind you from this. If you are a serious weightlifter then rather than hide away from the resistance machines to avoid looking like a noob, you should be looking to involve every different kind of item in the gym so that you can get as varied and as comprehensive a workout as possible. Here’s how you should take advantage of the freeweights.
If you’re seriously into your weight lifting then you should know what isolation means. For those who don’t though, it essentially involves focusing on one muscle and one alone to give it the best possible kind of workout. This way you avoid letting momentum or other muscles help you through the movement, and that then means that you can focus all your effort on that muscle.
This is a bad idea if it’s the only way you train, but from time to time it is a good way to build specific regions. Better yet, if you want to really hit your muscle groups hard then you can combine both kinds of training – do ten curls on the resistance curls for instance then immediately stand up and start doing them with free weights.
The Tough Stuff
Meanwhile another benefit of the resistance machines is that they’re safer. You can’t drop them and you can’t get ‘trapped’ underneath them, and this means that you can really push yourself. I often use the resistance machines to do partial reps on the chest press machine (which involves doing only a portion of the repetition to focus on just a small part of the muscle). Partial reps are a great way to get a pump, but when I tried doing the same thing on the bench press without a spotter I got pinned.
Apart from these technical reasons to use the machines though, it’s also important to use the resistance machines simply to keep your training varied and interesting. This way you can keep your muscles guessing and keep yourself more interested and enthusiastic about your training.
Note that you don’t only have to use resistance machines in the way they’re designed to be used – you can also come up with a whole range of other training methods using the resistance machines if you’re willing to think outside the box. This might mean using the machine curls to do shrugs for instance, or it might mean using a bench and a bar on the cable crossovers to turn it into a bench press. Get creative and they offer a lot more than may at first meet the eye.