The Benefits of Exercise Machines
Why would someone use machines if we only carry around our body weight in real life? “Machines are good.” “Machines are bad.” “Machines aren’t as effective as body weight or high intensity training.” These are statements that have been argued since the first human did the first workout. Everything has a benefit and everything has a flaw. It is dependent on what you want to get out of the tool. For example, I’m not going to hang a picture and choose my sledge hammer to do the job. I’m not going to take down a Sheetrock wall with my tack hammer. Pick the right tool for the job and you’ll have more success. Can you hang that picture with the sledge hammer? Of course you can! However, picking the right tool, for the right job, at the right time, will increase your likely hood of success and limit collateral damage, like having to repair a hug hole in the wall from the sledgehammer. This same principle also applies to exercise. Choosing the right exercise tool to accomplish a specific exercise goal will increase your chances of success and limit potential damage and injury.
There are many benefits to using machines, from a safety standpoint, to an output standpoint, to time efficiency. Here are a few benefits of using machines and some reasons why we at AIM Human Performance chose them.
One reason is safety. Machines move on a fixed path. The handle, lever, and/or plate moves from point a to point b and doesn’t deviate. That reduces the incidence of injury, because your focus or intention is on moving the weight from point a to point b, and not the management or maintaining the balance of it. When it comes to building strength, it is purely about output. The more your nervous system needs to handle, the more it has to down regulate the muscular system. This is similar to running a lot of wireless devices on a limited or slow bandwidth. Ever tried to surf the Internet at the airport on their WiFi? It’s so slow! Same principle applies in the body. The more distractions there are, the more your system has to juggle, and therefore the less output and strength is achieved. If your goal is to strengthen your muscles, machines accomplish this goal with safety.
A second benefit is the restraint or support that the machine provides. By having and utilizing the seats, belts, and restraint pads, it gives the user a more stable base as well as something to hold them down or to push against as they move the weight. By having all these tools, it allows for a greater amount of output. The more output you have, the more weight you can lift. The more weight we can lift safely and controlled, the stronger we get.
Speaking of strength and getting stronger, a majority of machines are single joint machines. By being able to focus on a single joint or area, we are able to address the weaker muscles in the body thus correcting the weak links in the chain. When strengthening the body as a whole unit, it may not allow the weak links to get stronger. This can further compound compensation patterns and may never address or correct the weak link/muscles in the body.
Machines also allow us to control range of motion. Specifically, where to start, where to end, and what range to work within. Machines allows us to control the range we are working within to target where in the range we want to train and strengthen the muscle. We all have a given range that each joint is able to work within. Having something push us beyond that range, could harm the joints and tissues like our tendons and ligaments. The goal of exercise should be to “Do no harm.” If we are pushed beyond what our body’s structural limits are, it exposes us to injury.
A well designed brand of machines, such as Nautilus and MedX (both of which are featured here at AIM Human Performance), have either a well designed cam or use a lever system to help you move the weight. This allows the machine’s resistance profile to match your body’s strength profile. This means the exercise is hard where the muscle can produce the most force (where it is strongest), and the exercise is easy where your muscle cannot produce as much force (or is the weakest). By having a matching profile, the machine allows the body to challenge itself where it can be strong, and then the machine takes over and “drops off” the weight where your muscles cannot manage it. If these profiles do not match, then we start challenging our muscles and forcing them to work when they are at their weakest, increasing the chances of injury.
Machines also allow us to set up isometrics. Whether recovering from a injury, returning from being sick, as a warm up, or even during your training, isometrics are a great way to challenge muscle and elicit a response, from slightly pushing to using everything you got, all while not moving the weight. By using isometrics, we are just holding a position and not changing the joint position. This allows us to not worry about any kind of momentum or inertia with the weight stack, and we can strengthen our muscles at very specific positions without having to account for the momentum.
Time is also a factor when working out. With only a limited amount of time to workout, with a machine, the exercise is already set up for you. With a few minor adjustments to keep you within your safe and available range, you can just get in and go. No messing with benches and finding the appropriate dumbbell, or adjusting heights of cables and handles.
Finally, after we’ve completed our exercise and brought our muscle or muscles to fatigue, machines are very safe and easy to exit, hence lowering your exposure to injury by not having to maintain equipment while you are fatigued. For example; I’m doing a heavy bench press with a bar, and at the bottom, where the bar is closest to my chest and neck, I start to fatigue. I have a few choices here, none of which may end well to try to end this exercise. I could try to muscle the weight back up and potentially injure myself. I could drop the weight on my neck and chest and definitely injure myself. Or I could try to drop the weight off to one side and not only injure myself, but potentially anyone around me. In a machine, once I hit that fatigue moment, I can just drop the weight stack and it slams down on itself and not me. When appropriate, it is important to work our muscles to the point of fatigue. By working to this level of execution, we can cause chemical and cellular adaptation of the muscle tissue therefore building strength.
Machines are not the Panacea for exercise or the silver bullet for the perfect exercise, however they have a lot to offer, when chosen correctly, to help provide the biggest impact for what you are doing! That is why, at AIM Human Performance, we have selected the best machines on the market, to match these strength profiles, keep our clients safe, and help them achieve their strengthening goals. Stay tuned for an introduction to our machines, or contact us today to see for yourself the benefits of working with highly skilled trainers on the best equipment available!