Five Machines Worth Using!
A great way to assess trends in the fitness industry is to look at how gym layouts are changing and what types of equipment are taking up the budget.
Today, free space in gyms is a hot commodity and box-style, open-warehouse gyms are all the rage. Facilities boast about having green turf, and functional training, kettlebells, medicine balls, Crossfit, and even powerlifting are some of the hottest buzzwords in fitness right now.
Weighted exercise machines (those that are plate-loaded or have a weight stack and pin) have somewhat taken a back seat, and may even be looked down upon, by the more functional folk.
In our opinion, weighted exercise machines should still have a place in your strength training routine. The more tools in your toolbox the better.
Here are just some of the benefits of using weighted exercise machines:
Great for burn-out sets. It can be safer to go to complete fatigue on a machine than with a barbells or dumbbells.
Easiest way to do drop sets, which help recruit more muscle fibers.
Safe for beginners who need to gain a baseline strength level before progressing to more complex movements.
Great way to isolate muscle groups—necessary for rehabilitation, correct muscle imbalances, and aesthetics.
Saves time. It can be a quick alternative compared to loading and unloading plates.
Great for accessory work—hit machines after your heavy barbell lifts for muscle growth.
Train unilaterally. Most machines allow you to isolate one side, arm, or leg at a time.
Here are our top 5 favorite machines!
Lat Pulldown Machine
The Lat Pulldown Machine is a staple in the majority of our programs because it uses the same muscles and muscle actions as doing a pull-up, which is one of the best exercises for upper body strength. When done correctly, this machine helps train proper engagement of the latissimus dorsi muscle and shoulder retraction. The many different attachments and grip varieties, including single arm pulldown option, make this machine versatile, hitting all of the major back muscles.
Hamstring Curl Machine (Lying or Seated)
With many clients (particularly females), there is a discrepancy between the strength of the quadriceps muscle (front of the leg) and the strength of the hamstring (back of the leg)—the quads being stronger and more dominant. When the more dominant quads are overactive in leg exercises, like squats, there can be extra strain on the knee (patella tendon), and even an increased risk in ACL injury for young athletes. The Hamstring Curl Machine is one of the ways we can isolate the hamstrings and glutes to make them stronger and more likely to activate during other exercises.
Leg Press Machine
The Leg Press Machine gets a bad rap because it is so often used incorrectly. When overloaded with weight by individuals with big egos, it can be dangerous. However, when done correctly, it can help shape and strengthen the legs. It is a similar movement to squats and is great for loading your legs with limited core or back involvement. One great thing about the leg press is that you can train unilaterally (each leg individually) to help discover and eliminate imbalances between the right and left leg.
Unfortunately, many commercial gyms no longer have neck-specific machines; however, more and more research has shown that neck strengthening helps reduce the risk of concussions and whiplash, increases neck mobility, and can help relieve neck pain. As we have become a more sedentary society, neck pain has become more and more common. Similar to how weak core muscles can cause low back pain, weak neck muscles can cause neck pain.
Pulleys allow you to feel constant resistance through the full range of motion, which is different than using dumbbells. For example, while performing a dumbbell bicep curl, at the bottom and the top of the movement the resistance is virtually none due to gravity. More time under tension means that you are recruiting more muscle fibers, which helps stimulate muscle growth. The cable tower is probably the most versatile machine in the gym because you can train push-and-pull movements and do a variety of lower body exercises as well. The adjustable arms allow you to hit virtually every angle of the muscles. A great example of that would be Five Angle Flye from well-known Strength Coach, Kurt Weber.
The point of this article is not to argue in favor of only using machines, but simply to reinforce that if you have access to weighted exercise machines, they can be beneficial to include in your fitness routine.