A recent national health magazine article told readers that some weight resistance exercise machines are useless. This idea represents an emerging trend where the CrossFit, core, balance and functional training communities are diminishing the value of weight resistance exercise machines. Discarding machines for other training options drags the fitness industry into the dark ages and risks people's well-being. The value of machines should not be overlooked. Here's why:
Skill training is not for everybody. Practically anyone can perform a basic lift isolation, but performing a lift while balancing or utilizing the coordination of several muscle groups requires skill. If you introduce competition, it becomes a sport.
Weight resistance exercise can better prepare you for a skill or sport, but practicing a skill or sport does not better prepare you for lifting weights. Strength training is beneficial for everyone. The benefits of skill training are limited because fewer people can apply the skills. Participants also risk sustaining injuries if they are not strong before beginning a skill training routine.
Machines are safe and effective. Every muscle benefits from strengthening. The best way to strengthen a muscle is to provide resistance in overload against muscular contraction through the full range of motion. Machines provide a stable platform where isolated exercise can occur safely and effectively. Since body movement is restricted by the machine, people have a lower risk of improperly performing an exercise.
Free weights also strengthen muscles, but they provide straight, in-line resistance against gravitational force. Natural movement is usually incompatible with straight, in-line resistance since most body parts move around a rotational axis. When using free weights for resistance against force powered by muscular contraction during weight resistance exercise, the exerciser will experience areas in which there is little or no resistance.
Muscles that are not sufficiently stressed will not adapt and become stronger, resulting in deficiencies in the strength curve. Over time, the impact of lifting free weights can become destructive.
Machines can vary and equalize resistance. Many engineered machines account for and adjust to the variations in straight, in-line resistance combined with rotational movement by forcing the resistance to be transmitted to the contracting muscle through an engineered pulley or cam. This changes the resistance factors by varying angles throughout the resistance curve, which varies the amount of direct resistance applied by the weight throughout the full range of motion.
These cams and levers are specifically engineered to match the forces produced by muscular contraction throughout the full range of rotational movement. This is called variable, equalized resistance. The amount of resistance is matched to the contracting muscle throughout the variable angles in the range of motion in the strength curve. The result is that muscles are proportionately stressed, which makes them stronger.
Technology is improving machines. New multi-plane machines provide compound corresponding resistance on more than one plane simultaneously for a higher level of taxation on muscles. Multi-plane machines may increase comprehensive strength values and reduce joint sheering, and some machines now integrate and record data to qualify and quantify progress and monitor cardiac response.
Strength training machines are not useless. Innovation and knowledge have advanced strength training and fitness, and many beneficial tools and techniques are available to provide comprehensive training. The trend to abandon isolated mechanized weight resistance training as the matrix for skill, functional and balance training is misguided, especially in entry-level, deconditioned and geriatric populations.
Engineered machines provide a safe and stable isolated platform from which to effectively strengthen muscles and build a foundation for skill training. No substitute exists for weight resistance exercise.
Bill Crawford, a 2012 National Fitness Hall of Fame inductee, has been in the fitness business since 1977. As a fitness industry pioneer, Crawford developed the first Nautilus Clubs in the Los Angeles area. He was trained for musculoskeletal evaluation and rehabilitation at the Exercise Science Center, University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, and was personally trained by the late Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus and MedX. Crawford owns and operates Basic Training MedX in Scottsdale, AZ, with his wife, Debbie.