Resistance machines are the rather severe-looking contraptions in your gym that look like torture devices. As sights go, they’re pretty ominous but don’t judge a book by its cover because they are also actually highly effective as a way to workout under the right circumstances, and actually, they are, in fact, safer than lifting weights without the machines to help. Here we will look in more detail at what makes resistance machines useful, how to use them and when you’d be better off sticking to the weights – and then you may just find they quickly become less terrifying.
The Idea Behind Resistance Machines
The general concept behind resistance machines is that you are training using a system that will hold the weights in position while you are sitting or lying down. In other words, this trains your muscles through a pre-defined range of motion that you are unable to alter – so that a bicep curl becomes a perfect and identical arc with no option to swing your back into the move to generate momentum. When you move the handle or the pad through this range of motion, it will pull against a cable that is in turn connected to the weights, and by inserting a pin into the loads at different heights, you can select how much of the weight you want to move each time.
The benefits of using this system are multiple. The first is the fact that they prevent any cheating and ensure you have to use perfect technique. This then means that you will ‘isolate’ the muscles you are intended to be training and use those muscles solely without involving others at all. This is very useful if you want to develop a specific muscle group and make them work harder than they would otherwise.
At the same time, this also prevents injury because it prevents you from using poor form. Likewise, because the weights are attached to the system, this means you can’t drop them on yourself while you’re working out, which makes them ideal for beginners and people who don’t have spotters.
Finally using resistance machines merely is convenient and practical, and the fact that you can alter the weight by simply changing the height of a pin makes them perfect for doing ‘drop sets’ (where you lower the amount of weight you’re lifting gradually), ‘pyramid sets’ and various other types of exercise.
There are downsides to resistance machines as well, though, and these generally revolve around them being limited. For instance, you can change the heights but often only by jumping between set increments. Sometimes things like the bicep curl will not be adjustable to the precise height you need it, and this will mean that you end up using an awkward technique that’s uncomfortable and makes it harder to work.
Likewise, you might find that using a resistance machine means you can’t do compound exercises. Compound movements use muscle groups in unison – the way you move them in real life – to trigger more profound changes in the body and to allow you to lift heavier. This is why the professional bodybuilders tend to use free weights. The other limitation is, of course, merely the range of exercises – and while one dumbbell can be used for limitless purposes, one resistance machine can only really be used in one way.