Exercise machines are much like the training side wheels on your first bike. As you’re learning, they serve an invaluable function. They supply support, and protect against injury. But when you’ve learnt the ideal position and balance, the exact wheels can be a drag.
Unlike training wheels, however, it is difficult to know when you have outgrown a workout machine. And that can really hamper your progress later on!
Weight training involves the use of equipment that enables variable resistance. This resistance can come in the form of ‘free weights’ such as barbells and dumbbells, machines that use cables or pulleys to help you raise the weight and bodyweight exercises like pull-ups or drops.
For maximum muscle gain, the focus of your workouts should consist of free weight exercises. Not machines or bodyweight exercises.
For an effective, muscle-blasting work out, you must stimulate the most muscle fibers as possible, and machines don’t do this. The principal reason for this is a lack of stabilizer and synergist muscle development. Stabilizer and synergist muscles are supporting muscles that assist the main muscle in performing a complex lift.
The more stabilizers and synergists worked, the more muscle fibers stimulated. Multi-jointed free weight exercises like the bench press, require many stabilizer and synergistic muscle assistance to complete the lift.
On the other hand doing a bench press using a machine will need almost no stabilizer assistance. Since machines are locked into a particular range of motion and help to support the weight along that path, they don’t stimulate the muscles that surround the area you’re working (stabilizers). This is a mistake. If your stabilizer muscles are weak, then the major muscle group will never grow!
Free weight exercises like the dumbbell press or squat, for example, put a huge quantity of stress on supporting muscle groups. That’s why you’ll get fatigued faster and not be able to lift as much weight as you did on the machine. However you’ll gain more muscle, become stronger very quickly and have a true gauge of your strength.
If you use machines in your program, they ought to be used to work isolated areas and only after all multi-jointed exercises are completed. Beginners should start with a limited combination of machine exercises, bodyweight exercises and mult-jointed free weight exercises. Before increasing the weight levels, they ought to focus on becoming familiar with the proper form and execution of each. Soon, bodyweight exercises will become insufficient to stimulate growth and they’ll have to focus on more free weight exercises.