Should I use machines in the gym ?
This question has been posed to me by friends quite a few times. If you are a beginner, senior citizen, injured athlete or bodybuilder i think machines are the way to go. If you are looking for raw strength, durability and a bullet proof body for combat / martial arts use them as accessory work at best and stick with free weights.
The first thing to understand about machines in the gym compared to free weights is that they usually isolate one particular muscle group. The more restraint the movement is, the more likely it is that the machine you are using is only attacking a limited amount of muscle groups and eaves out others when you are training.
This is due to the fact that a machine balances the weight for you and also sets your movement on a predetermined path whn you set it up correctly. If this is to an advantage for you or not depends on your goals and abilities.
If you are training for rehabilitation or if you are a lifter who wants to attack a particualr weakspot to improve a main lift, isolation can be of benefit. In rehab it will avoid that you will injure yourself. For bodybuilders, olympic lifters and powerlifters machines can be used to train the muscles which are stimulated the least during the big lifts.
I found that weights behave completely different in machines compared to dumbbells and barbells. The good thing about that is that you do not have to balance the weight out in a machine. Also the pulleys make it usually easier to move heavier weights.
This can lead to false belief in strength though. Pulling 100kg in a rowing machine is not the same as doing a bent over row with a barbell. Prepare to be humbled when switching.
Machines are very good in my opinion when you want to do a program with a high amount of repetitions. Your form is less likely to break down in a machine and it will also be less taxing on your hands and body to do more repetitions in a machine compared to free weights.
If your main prioritiy is to train and not to get injured, because you are of older age or you have a trak records of many injuries, i personally think machines are the way to go. Same for beginners who are not able to even handle a barbell yet as it weighs already 20kg.
This only applies if you get proper instructions. There some crazy peoepl out there who use the machines in ways that they are not supposed to be used. My personal favorites are the batman imitations which sometimes are done with pulleys. (you'll know it when you see it)
I am personally not a huge fan of machines, as I am aiming to build raw strength and explosiveness and not muscle mainly. I am also fairly healthy and past the beginner stage. However based on your needs you should not think that machines are for losers. They can be good accessory or rehab work when you have pulled out your shoulder on a big bench press attempt or when you started hitting the gym very late in your life.
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