Last week, I was approached by a new gym member who wanted to know how to use the ‘glute machine’.
He appeared surprised when I told him that despite having walked by the machine in question almost daily for the past six years, I had no idea how it worked. Do you?
[Now that's not entirely true; I've seen people using it and there are instructions printed on the front of the machine that I'm entirely capable of reading and interpreting, but I've never actually climbed into it myself, nor instructed any of my clients in its use.]
I suggested that he either wait for the weight room attendant to return from lunch and ask her (in my gym, weight room attendants are required to know how all of the equipment works; personal trainers are not ) or follow me over to the free weights section of the gym where I’d teach him to how to become his own, personal ‘glute machine’ (i.e., to squat, lunge and dead lift).
Alas, he declined my offer, preferring to remain near the weight machines he was so obviously comfortable with. Our conversation, however, got me thinking about why so many gym goers are hesitant to step away from the weight machine circuit and pick up a barbell or a set of dumbbells.
Perhaps it’s because they’re new to strength training and believe that machines are easier to use (although I’ve seen enough people using them incorrectly to no longer believe this myself…)
Or they’re self-conscious when they exercise and don’t want anyone to watch them work out (it’s much harder to ‘blend in’ on the weight training floor…)
It may be that they think the machine circuit is the best way to get a whole body workout (it can be, if you don’t miss a machine and are happy to work one muscle group at a time…)
In my opinion, though, the most likely explanation is simply lack of information.
Sure, there are times when a weight machine should be used; rehabbing an injury, breaking through a plateau, addressing left-right muscle imbalances, or bringing up a ‘lagging’ body part when training for a figure, physique or body building competition, for example.
However, the majority of the people I see regularly using the weight machine circuit aren’t using them for any of those reasons. They’re using them because nobody’s ever told them that they’d move towards their weight loss and muscle gain goals faster if they’d just get off their butt
3 reasons why I prefer free weights over weight machines
- Increased muscular involvement with each exercise. Most weight machine exercises are performed seated. When you sit you relax the muscles of your core, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. My preference is always to move as many muscles as possible during an exercise. By trading the seated shoulder press machine for a standing overhead press, I’m challenging my core, legs and back at the same time.
- More natural movement patterns. Weight machines move joints through a fixed plane of motion. If the machine’s plane of motion isn’t the same as your body’s natural plane of motion, injury is a very real possibility. While free weights require more attention to form, they also allow for smaller stabilizer muscles to participate in the exercise, leading to increased strength and improved function over time.
- Improved workout efficiency. Free weights are portable. You can easily move them to a corner of the gym and complete your entire workout without being interrupted by another patron who wants to ‘work in’ with you on a machine. Less waiting time between exercises means a shorter, more intense workout.
Does this mean that I never use weight machines?
Not at all. There are a few that I quite like and regularly include in my own training and when training clients. But always interspersed with lots of body weight and free weight exercises.
Still wanna know how the ‘glute machine’ works?
Do you use weight machines?
Which one is your favourite? Which one do you just not ‘get’?