My wife gave birth to our son via c-section. Because of the surgery, she was not able to nurse and breastfeed our son as much as she wanted. We had no choice but to give our baby boy top feed (some sugary branded powered milk).
We were adamant that Vince should drink at least 50 percent of her mom’s milk and so I ordered a Philip Avent Breast Pump. It was really convenient for Gia to pump her milk and store it for future use.
Anyways my point being that the hospital we were in had mothers who were fully capable of feeding their new borns with their milk (they had natural births) but still chose to give the top feed as the hospitals were promoting the powered milk brand like crazy! Sad but true:(
The same thing happens in any commercial gym! Machines are promoted (including cardio machines) the same way powdered milk are promoted in the hospitals!
When a guy joins a gym to gain some weight and build muscle he is spoilt for choices. With a wide array of machines for literally every body part what are the chances he will start his program with pull-ups and free squats?
Machines are promoted as being safe. Ironically thats not true.
Lets understand why this is the case
Using Free weights (barbells and dumbbells) improves joint stability, reduces risk of injury and build real-life functional strength:
Weight lifters are guilty of performing isolated exercises mainly using machines that emphasize only one plane of motion—the sagittal plane. This causes muscle imbalances, and your muscles become prone to injury.
For example: When using smith machines (or any other machine) there is a set trajectory and no freedom of movement. Working out this way upsets your muscle ability to work in a natural setting and this puts unnecessary stress on your ligaments and joints.
In real life, our muscles are used to working in all three planes of motion: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. Yes, there are three planes of motions.
Sagittal plane is forward or backward. Most gym movements, like lat pulldown, bench press, and biceps curl are in this plane of motion.
Frontal plane is side to side. Movements like lateral raise, side lunges, and side shuffling are in this plane.
Transverse plane is rotational. Swinging a golf club is an example of moving in the transverse plane.
It therefore becomes imperative to include movements in the frontal and transverse planes as well.
Ideally, this can be achieved by using functional whole-body exercises involving multiple planes of motion and multiple joints, which mimics real-life activities. Think squat, deadlift, wood chop, and medicine ball side throw (rotational exercises) to name a few using only barbells and dumbbells.
So if you want a physique that is not just for show, but also has athletic and real-life functional strength choose free weights over machines.
Free weights burn more calories:
When you do a squat or a deadlift, dozens of stabilisers are working along with your prime movers i.e. quadriceps to keep your body stabilized. More musculature used equates more calorie burn.
Free weights are inexpensive and take less space:
I recently build a home gym comprising purely free weights and barbells. Including the power rack, it cost me less than $1000 (INR 65,000), which is equivalent to cost of a single strength station!
With so many benefits of using free weights, are there any cons?
Many experts suggest to start beginners off on machines. “Once they get used to strength training then slowly shift them to free weights,” they say. In theory, it may seem like a sensible approach.
Well, I disagree!
My son started enjoying the sugary powdered milk so much that he didn’t seem eager when we gave him breast milk! The same thing happens when a trainee gets used to machines.
Its fun to use machines isn’t it? One can simply load up the stack and focus on the effort right? You body doesn’t need to balance the weight and focus on the movement.
Whereas when it comes to compound lifts like Squats, Military press, they seem intimidating! A lot of questions comes to your mind.
What if I injure myself?
What if I screw up my back?
First, let me start by saying that weight training is one of the safest activity one can indulge in. You get injured only because of two reasons: insufficient warm-up and incorrect technique.
With weight training, you require much less skill than playing a sport say golf. You just don’t enter the greens with your golf kit and start hitting!
You spend few months in the practice range. You probably hire a coach to help you with the fundamentals. Your coach video shoots your swing and gives you tips on how to improve on it. That’s what I did at least!
Weight training is also a skill and requires you to learn certain key techniques before you can load up the weight. So my recommendation would be to hire a coach/trainer or enrol in my weight training technique course to perfect each movement pattern.
Progress slowly, ask your trainer or training partner to videotape your technique and keep improving. Train yourself to learn proper technique and I can promise you that you will almost never injure yourself.
Can one use machines when you have a pre-condition or when it is necessary?
Yes, you can.
Gia (my wife) had an acute lower abdomen pain and couldn’t get in the proper position to feed Vince. Vince was a healthy child and had a solid appetite and breast milk was not enough to fill his tummy and hence the supplementation.
The same way machines can be used to supplement your workouts given the following pre-conditions or when it is necessary:
You are a beginner and you are shit scared (or have reservations about doing squats/deadlifts) that you may end up screwing you back no matter how many studies I quote that they are safest! In that case, at least get started with whatever is available. But do make sure that at least 75% of the time you are using only barbells and dumbbells.
Let me further break it down for you:
Shoulders: Instead of machine shoulder press always go for seated dumbbell press. Once you have few months of training behind your back opt for standing military press. Lateral raise, posterior raise should always be performed using dumbbells.
Chest: Start with pushups and graduate to flat and incline bench press. Alternate using barbells and dumbbells.
Back: Most guys cannot pull their bodyweight. Until you gain enough strength to perform a pull-up opt for lat pulldown. Few fancy gyms have assisted chin-up and dip machine. They can be ideal for beginners to start with.
Arms: Barbell Curls and tricep extension are great mass builders for your arms. Do note your arms are indirectly involved when you perform compound lifts like pull-ups, dips etc. So limit the total volume when training your arms.
Legs: Barbell Squats: As I mentioned before, not many gyms have a squat stand (especially gyms in India), you can start with dumbbells lunges and leg press. But make it a point to get access to a squat rack or better a power rack, if you are looking to build yourself up. Free squats are exceptional, find out why.
Parallel Grip Deadlifts: If you have long limbs in relation to your torso parallel grip deadlift should be your number one priority. Unfortunately, the shrug/trap bar is very uncommon and in most cases, you will need to purchase your own. I highly recommend doing so as I can promise you it will be the best health investment you would ever make. You can start with the conventional/sumo deadlift in the meantime.
Weight training is tough work! You need to get your hands dirty. You need to go through the pain of doing a free squat (instead of using the smith machine).
Beautiful bodies are forged out of hard work, and free weights (both barbell and dumbbells) is hard work. Machines not so much.
There is a huge difference in running on the treadmill and sprinting out in the open (with of course the added benefits of fresh air).
Sooner you get used to the fact that free weights are superior to machines and appreciate it from Day One (or whatever day you are at) sooner you will start getting fabulous results.
What your free weights and machine mix? Have any questions you like to ask me. Let me know in the comments below!