A Case For Machine Weights: Personal Training Chichester
Entertainment Comes First
The online world of social media fitness & personal training is dominated by incredible feats of athleticism, shows of strength and brutal barbell workouts. I’m sure you’ve seen the 60″ box jumps, 900lbs deadlifts and handstand walks the last time you logged onto Facebook or Instagram; and for good reason, it’s impressive. Looking for complex rehabilitation exercises with bands and fancy blood flow restriction cuffs for your personal training? The internet has that in truckloads too! Just pop your local town or city into your search bar (Chichester most likely if you are reading this); and there’s no shortage!
But one element of training you’ll rarely see making the cut online, and similarly appearing less and less in training plans across the world, is the use of machine weights. Decades previously (or so I’m told – I can’t personally attest to it), the world of sports training and muscle growth was heavily entrenched in the use of machine based weight training. Gym floors would be flooded with Nautilus and Hammer Strength equipment dedicated to one movement and one muscle group. With the rise of the barbell sports, Strongman and Crossfit (to name a few), these training tools have been phased out to make room for more “functional” fitness training.
As always the global fitness industry moves from one end of the spectrum to the other, avoiding the balance in the middle, and Chichester is no exception to that. And whilst nobody is questioning the benefits of “free weights” and other movements; is there a case still for using that old dusty leg extension in the dark corner of your gym?
The “Functional” Training Fitness Conundrum
I’m sure I will step on a few toes when I make the bold statement there is no such thing as “functional training”. Everything has a purpose, and a function; you just have to pick the right options to suit your needs/goals.
I’ve heard claims that the bench press is not functional, but if you compete in powerlifting it’s more than functional – it’s essential! Excluding it from your program would be more than just ill-advised, it would be stupid.
And as for claims that the back squat is not “functional” or “sport specific”; well of course to some extent. But nothing is sport specific apart from playing the sport itself. But if you want to improve your general conditioning, strength and power; then the back squat would serve that function.
I’ll climb down from my soapbox now (sorry about that).
A Case For Machine Weights
So is there a case for using machine based weights in your training? Should you avoid that lat pulldown like the plague? And what about the seated leg curl that has moss growing on it from lack of use?
In the gym I work out of in Chichester we are fortunate enough to have some of the most solid pieces of equipment available, ranging from Watson leg curl/extension machines to chest supported rows and cable pulleys. Do I program plenty of barbell and bodyweight work into my client’s and personal training? You bet I do. Do I make the most of the machine weights up here? You bet I do (gasp!).
So at what point does a machine based exercise become functional, and when/why should you include them in your personal training?
For many novices new to the world of fitness/training, big barbell lifts are just not going to be accessible and safe. Deadlifts are brilliant, but they take a degree of skill to execute properly and with reduced risk of injury. Anyone can pick up a barbell, but not everyone can perform the exercise to a level that reduces the inherent risk of these impressive lifts. So, what to do while you learn the basics? Easy… machine based weights.
A combination I frequently recommend to new gym-goers is to pair a light “learning” exercise (squats with an empty barbell for example), with a challenging machine exercise (leg press for example). The leg press will challenge the muscles of the legs, whilst you take the time to improve your squatting technique. When you are ready to, you can switch to fully loaded barbell squats! Below we have a Chichester based client performing bench press with an empty bar. Pairing this with sets of push-ups and DB press to challenge the muscles of the upper body!
You can apply a similar method for most exercises:
- Barbell Bench Press paired with Seated Chest Press machine
- Barbell Row paired with Seated Cable Row
- Barbell Romanian Deadlift paired with Leg Curl machine
The last thing many of us want to do is spend countless hours learning how to exercise. But if it’s necessary, sprinkling in some machine based exercise will make it less tiresome.
If body composition is your goal (fat loss or muscular gain), then higher repetition work is essential for your personal training. However, it is these higher rep sets where the risk of injury lies. At the end of a gruelling set of squats, as your legs are feeling weak and your core feels like jelly; these are the moments where things are going to give. The safe solution? High repetition machine based work.
20 rep squats are incredible for building strength and size, but they are also only for the highly-proficient lifter. Keeping a few reps “in the tank” is a much better option for the majority of gym-goers. So if you want to get those quads burning, don’t be afraid to jump on the seated leg extension. Despite what many would have you believe, the leg extension is NOT going to destroy your knees. Slow, controlled repetitions with a moderate – light weight; focusing on squeezing the muscles of the thigh, provides the legs with a great training stimulus.
High rep deadlifts are also a recipe for disaster (for most at least); so swap in some lying leg curls to hit that posterior chain! The same applies for muscles of the upper body. Not much risk of a bar rolling out your hands when you are pushing paddles on a machine. Use a little common sense, leave your ego at the door, and make the most of the selection of kit available to you!
The third and final reason for including machine work into your training – rehabilitation.
Sh*t happens (I promise it does, check out a previous blog post https://daviestraining.com/2017/03/22/sh1t-happens/ shameless plug); and we sometimes have to negotiate around these issues.
If your lower back is giving you pain, then deadlifting with a barbell may not be the most sensible option for a few weeks. That does not mean however that you cannot train! Making the most of low impact exercises that remove the load from your spine will give your back a much needed break, while still working out the areas of the body which can be.
This is not just for your back, if you are suffering with a lower body injury; using a seated machine exercise will take a lot of the pressure off. For many of our Chichester based rugby players; in season machine based work is essential for continued progress.
So there you have it. Don’t forego those dusty machines in the corner of the gym just because it won’t make your Instagram feed. Use the tools available to you intelligently, and reap the rewards. Leave your ego at the door, apply a little common sense, and success is there to be had!
Thank you to Pete for modelling for the post!
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