Basic free weight movements should always make up the majority of your lifting sessions. In fact, these types of exercises should always be the basis for which everything else follows in successive training order. You will never build the type of monstrous physique that makes people look the other way when they really just want to stand there and stare if you don't use barbells and dumbbells on a regular basis. As much as bending barbells and asking your local gym owner to buy heavier dumbbells is a must, there are plenty of benefits to incorporating machines into your program and for the purposes of this article, I encourage you to humour me in looking at three really great benefits to performing 'machine only' workouts as you make your way through the training calendar.
I have mentioned it before and I'll say it here again. One of the greatest bodybuilders of all time once told me that your only limiting factor in the gym is the intensity you employ. Now, having said that, intensity is relative and it looks different for all of us. Many believe that intensity is best suited for your heavy compound lifts where much more energy is needed. I say you can be intense whenever you feel like it and for whatever exercise you're doing. Apply that to using machines and you might actually be a little safer with respect to experiencing injury. Sometimes within your intensity your mind is telling you one thing but your form is breaking down during your set and that driving force you have inside you causes you to continue even when physically you shouldn't. That's when injury occurs. In a machine however, you're pretty much fixed into a position, moving through the plane that the machine offers and breaking form never really becomes an issue. So in that respect, using machines while applying greater levels of intensity might just be the safest option especially if you train by yourself.
You can only push so hard and for so long before the return on effort begins to dwindle. Sure you can keep pushing through it and fighting tooth and nail to make positive gains happen for you in the gym but eventually you're going to wear things out and burn out. When you get to this stage of training, you have two options: take time away from the gym altogether or carry on with an active rest or de-conditioning schedule. What this means is you still train but you give the big lifts a break and back off on the intensity, training volume and or frequency. When this occurs, many opt for using machines as a way of still getting good pumps but at a lesser cost to the wear and tear of their joints and central nervous system. Due to the machines available today being so biomechanically close to free movements, you can still really feel the muscle working without relying so heavily on those stabilizer muscles to keep you nice and sturdy and you can really just focus on that mind to muscle connection that is ever so important in bodybuilding. So if your lifts in free weight exercises have been going down and strength levels aren't where they once were or should be, back off, hit the machines and let your body actively heal.
It's a Brand New Stimulus
I was just recently training with a friend of mine and he told me to lead the way. Of course we utilized many free weight movements but I also incorporated a fair share of machine exercises as well. To my disbelief, I was told that many of the machine exercises we did he had never used before and really liked the pump it provided for him. Why did this happen? Well it was a brand new stimulus that the muscles had never felt before which in turn will equate to new muscular growth. Overloading and stimulating the muscles to grow is the name of the game here and if you've always worked on free weight movements and snubbed the machines that are around you, you're missing out. These machines can and will give you something different from what you're used to so why not use them. The more tools you have in your weight belt the better your chances are of growing so step out of your comfort zone and into the machine zone at your gym for a brand new training stimulus.
I know you might be thinking that there's a possibility that you'll lose your 'hardcore' status if you veer away from the free weight section for your workouts. If that's something that really bothers you it shouldn't. Listen, wearing those Tactical Trainers that you love to wear is going to make you look hardcore anyway so a few machine exercises isn't going to diminish your status; you'll be just fine. Simply look at a machine only workout as a new adventure, a break from the norm and an opportunity to learn some more about your body and training needs. That's all and if you don't like the outcome or how you felt during the workout, the free weights will still be there. So just give it a try and you never know, you might just like it!
Author: Dana Bushell
AST Sports Science sponsored athlete/writer, sponsored by Schiek Sports Inc.