Stop Avoiding the Fitness Machine Section of Your Gym

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IF YOU WALK into a commercial gym these days, you’re likely to see a bustling section filled with free weights, complete with lines of guys waiting for their turn for the most sought-after denominations of dumbbells. Look over to another section of the space, and you’re just as likely to see a nearly empty area filled with fitness machines, without a single person who looks like they know what they’re doing using the equipment. Since functional training has come into vogue, using machines has become verboten in many parts of the fitness community.

Now is far past the time to move on from that workout fallacy, say Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., and Mathew Forzaglia, N.F.P.T., C.P.T., and allow for the machines to rise again.

Don’t get confused—our two experts don’t think that using barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells aren’t essential for accomplishing your muscle growth and strength goals. However, it’s time to stop overlooking the benefits of using fitness machines in your training—which, prior to emergence of the functional fitness phenomenon, once held a prominent position in plenty of training regimens, from bodybuilding to sports performance training.

“There was a point where you walked into a Gold’s Gym. You walk into your sports club, and all use all machines and plenty of people are training on [machines],” Samuel says. “Then we had this whole functional fitness revolution, and suddenly, nobody’s training on the machines. That section is untouched in your gym, and you’re missing out when you’re not getting on those machines.”

Samuel and Forzaglia have some beef with the fitness machine hate—so they’re here to explain why you shouldn’t accept the myths surrounding these training methods and how you can use machines to do more than just waste your time during your next workout.

3 Myths About Fitness Machines You Should Forget

Fitness Machines Don’t Build Total-Body Tension

One of the biggest knocks on using fitness machines is that you can’t create adequate amounts of tension to help build muscle. This is just laziness. You’re always in control of how much tension you create in your body as you’re training—some exercises using free weights just rely on that tension more when you’re performing them properly. Whether you’re banging out reps on a Hammer Strength chest press or pulling through machines rows, it’s up to you to focus on activating your core or glutes throughout each movement.

Fitness Machines Are Too Easy

Since most machines are fixed-movement devices (think lat pulldowns, leg extensions, etc.), pushing or pulling from Point A to B has been falsely labeled as not challenging enough, since you won’t be forced to use your stabilizing muscles to shore up your form. This is, again, a you problem. If you’ve ever had to force a few final free-weight reps with trembling arms or other muscles, you probably know that you may be one slip or jerk away from a risk of injury. This is where machines can actually be a great finishing moves since you can still challenge yourself with heavier weight without the risk of fatigue sabotaging your work.

Fitness Machines Aren’t Functional

Quite honestly, “functional” training has devolved into a convoluted, confusing training term. Not every lift falls under these standards to be effective, but if you’re pressing or pulling weight, no matter by machine or free weight, you’re building strength you can apply in your life, albeit using different strategies, for down the road.

3 Reasons Why You Should Use Machines

You Can Overload Your Muscles and Train Longer Using Machines

Here’s where machines become especially useful. Instead of struggling or pushing to failure, the machine’s fixed movement patterns allows you to work longer sets or reps without the risk of dropping the weight. Most times, all it takes is a quick move of the pin up the weight stack to continue working the muscle for a few additional reps. In other words, the machine becomes your spotter.

“What I love is that you’re able to load up the weight and pile of reps and push you that’s the key point love but that can you said machine actually can spot because essentially,” Samuel says. “When I’m on the burnout set on three dumbbell or barbell press and I have a spot behind me they’re functioning like my machines techniques. The machine just does that for me.”

Fitness Machines Can Challenge Different Points of Stimulus

    Take a look at your gym’s machine section. You’ll notice certain models have may be equipped to challenge different ranges of motion or angles by the shift of a pin on the machine’s arms. Some lateral raise machines allow you to isolate the muscle from either top, mid-range or full range of motion, creating a different challenge to your muscles you can’t always get effectively from free weights.

    Fitness Machines Allow You to Train Differently

      A fun way to challenge your training is by using machines in different ways. You can focus on the eccentric portion of presses, working under more load than you can press up, or focus on one limb at a time without balance entering the equation. Machines create a new and exciting challenge to mix things up a little bit in your routine while still allowing you to finish up your workout with intensity and without as great a risk of injury if you fail.

      Learn which exercises you’re better off avoiding by checking out our entire Overrated series here.

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