25 May Fall Of The Machines
Is there any real merit to using machines? Are you hurting yourself by using them? Are machines the best way if you’re just looking for more developed muscles? Will the girl behind the smoothie bar finally actually look you in the eye when she takes your money? All these questions answered.
Fall of the Machines
I’m tired of hearing strength coaches and fitness professionals talk bad about weight machines and I’m here to argue. In fact, I believe in the glorious weight machine so passionately that I’m going to invent my own. It’ll be an assisted bench press machine with a triple pulley system that lifts the weight for you through that unnecessary range of motion — half way down to touching your chest — thereby allowing you to focus on just flexing and extending your elbows because we all know if you canbring 315 pounds a quarter of the way down to your chest and press it back out you can tell all your friends you can bench press 3 plates. Am I right?!
There’s people who think like this, I promise, I’ve heard them.
Most of them aren’t able to articulate it like this but their reliance on machines to build their mirror muscles and kitten levels of strength speak volumes.
Nature Knows Best
I first heard of the concept of pattern overload from Paul Chek. First, you need to understand that your body is much smarter than you in terms of protecting itself. When you lift something heavy, your body uses muscles in a particular “sequence.” This protects from injury by basically “dispersing the load” over a bunch of muscles and joints. No one muscle or joint works alone when you go to press a barbell over your head. Different muscles and joints work harder at different points through a full range of motion based on length and attachment.
According to Chek, pattern overload is essentially when the joints and muscles involved in a movement breakdown and become prone to injury due to performing the same movement over and over — an example would be a golfer swinging a club.
Machines make these bad effects even worse because of how much they restrict full motion of your joints and muscles in most movements.
When performing a free weight lift, the lifter will never push the barbell or dumbbell through the same exact path no matter how experienced he may be. The agonists, stabilizers, and neutralizers vary the pattern of motion and the body will “sequence” the joints and muscles involved as stated above to protect itself.
Put that same lifter on a machine with a fixed and restricted path and you take the stabilizers among other things out of the picture and with it the body’s natural ability to slightly change the path of the bar each repetition to protect itself.
This same fixed pattern will also limit the amount of force that can be developed.
So when you’re on rep 38 of your seated bicep curl machine and your training partner starts pushing on the handle to help you screaming “it’s all you,” all those other muscles and joints that would be involved in a standing free weight lift aren’t being used and you end up using elastic energy from tendons.
Plain and simple this can lead to injuries, inflammation and pain. Ever hear the eager young lifter complain about deep throbbing pain in his elbows or forearms? Might be that he was thrown into the machine world without building a functional base and has already caused damage to his connective tissue.
So Why’d We Ever Start Using Machines?
Anytime we perform a complex free weight exercise, (basically anything where we have to support our own weight) our nervous system has to address a bunch of competing demands. If we instead try to focus our attempts on just the muscle fibers that we are trying to work by limiting the involvement of other muscles we can use a greater amount of energy for those specific muscles.
This leads to bigger more developed muscle over time and is the reason why machines are used by bodybuilders.
The Common Ground
Unless you’re a competitive bodybuilder or an advanced lifter, you’re better off building a strong base with free weights but that’s a rant for another post. If you feel the need to use machines use them sparingly and think of them as assistance work to more complex free weight lifts.
Just like anything else in your training program machine use should be cycled. This can be done by switching machines, cycling volume, or only having distinct times in your training when you use them.
Or you can keep doing the same thing and tell the hot girl behind the smoothie bar that you just quarter benched three wheels while you down a bottle of ibuprofen for your throbbing tendons. That works too.
I want to hear from you. Got an opinion? Leave it in the comments.