Monday, January 31, 2011

Fitness Machines AKA "Thrones of Death"

There seem to be a lot of people that believe the only way to get strong is to hangout in gyms and bang out massive amounts of repetitions on shiny machines. Cabled monstrosities that isolate muscle groups and teach the nervous system to function incorrectly, build primary movers and ignore stabilizer muscles, machines designed to simplify training and tell the world “It’s ok, you don’t need to try, it’s ok to aspire to mediocrity, come enter my simplified design and proceed to lie to yourself”. I am currently training clients in a corporate gym, I don’t mind the gym, the employees are great and the environment is very positive. What I hate are the machines, row upon row of ‘training machines’ designed to ‘simplify’ and ‘enhance’ the workout experience. Can you get a bit stronger using the machines? Yes. Are they better for you then nothing? Yes, but only marginally. Are they good for people with lots of injuries that have a hard time with real movement (the rehab crowd)? Absolutely. Are they a good substitute for actual movement and real strength building activities? Unequivocally not.

I understand why the globo gyms of the world use machines; people like them. They are pretty simple to use, you can bang out a circuit in 30 minutes and feel good about yourself. You don’t need a trainer, and hordes of people can wait in line to use them, that is what they were designed for; mass use. There is none of the complexity that is involved with real weight training. This sounds pretty great right? Simple, easy to use, quick in and out workouts, mediocre results, muscle imbalances, increased chance of injury in real world activities, never achieving your potential. Are you beginning to get the picture?

What looks like more fun?

<- This Or This ->

Good strength coaches don't use machines and won’t allow the thought of them to enter their gyms, educated trainers don't use machines, people who are strong, fast, athletic and healthy don't machines, I don't use the machines. I have a responsibility to the people I train, to those the read my words. I could spit out advice and sell mediocre programs, and I could probably have five times the client’s that I currently have. Where is the integrity in that? Where is the honor. I will never sell something I do not believe in, I will never write a program or train a client in a way that doesn’t increase their strength, athletic ability, and sense of self. I train people to get them strong, mobile, athletic and fast. Machines have no place in this, only hard work and intelligently designed programs.

So what is so wrong with these machines, so many people use them that there must be something to them, everyone is drinking the strange smelling Kool-Aid, can I have a glass? No, no you can’t.

Machines lock people in and isolate muscle groups, parts of the body that are designed to function as a unit are now reduced to their primary mover. This can add a little strength to the primary mover, but it takes a lot of strength away from the muscles that stabilize and assist the movement.

Machine Press: Look at this poor dude on the right he is sitting in some sort of “Throne of mechanical death”. His legs are not assisting, his back is flat as a European pancake, his elbows are high which is putting all the stress on the front of his shoulders, rather than his chest. The chest press machine (AKA Throne of mechanical death) has taken a full body movement and isolated the front of the shoulders as the muscle used. A true bargain at about 2000$ a machine.

Machine Press: Throne of death Proper Bench: Good Weighted Pushup: Amazing!

Bench Press: In a real honest to god bench press your feet are driving into the floor, your ass and shoulders are locked into the bench, your lower back is arched, your elbows come down the side of your body, your lats are loaded and assisting the lift, and your triceps are driving as hard as they can. Oh yeah, your chest muscles are working hard and your nervous system is working at peak efficiency. Your primary movers are working hard, and your stabilizers are doing their job, this is now a full body lift.

Take a gander at the last picture,

Weighted pushup: That dude has 40-60lbs of chains loaded up, you can add more or less if you want. He is not on a bench, or locked into a ‘Death Throne’, he is using almost every muscle in his body to stabilize the movement. His nervous system is working at peak efficiency, his muscles are cranking hard and the strength he is gaining will carry over to every other aspect of his life.

I love the chain pushups, your body has to work very hard to keep correct form and maintain explosiveness. The Bench press is a great exercise if it is done correctly. Both can build lots of strength, and explosive power. The machine (Throne of Death, remember), can’t do either of these things. There are many other ways it inhibits proper movement patterns, and leads to injury while people are engaged in real world movements, but you don’t want to read 16 pages on that. Bottom line; Machines don’t = fitness. People like to believe that the ‘=’ is in there, but it is not.

Do I worry about alienating other trainers or belittling their methods? Yes, yes I do. I might piss some people off with this post, I might alienate them. A man walks his path, and he doesn’t let convention sway him, he holds to his integrity, and what he knows to be true. I will always hold to my line and path, I will not compromise what I believe because it threatens others methods, or sense of efficacy. I do not tolerate such weak-mindedness in clients (man or woman), and I certainly won’t tolerate it in myself. I teach others the lessons I learned the hard way, in the hopes that it will better their lives. I use physical training as my classroom, and when my people walk away from training with me, I know that the lessons that I teach will help them live their lives in a healthy and forthright manner.

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