Machines, free weights and strength training

Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
Hey ladies and gentlemen!
I need your thoughts/opinions on something...

Today one of my friends caught me really off guard in an argument. He's one of my bodybuilding-style training friends and because of an injury he had switched to machine based training (leg press, lat pulldowns etc.) and started yoga to work on his flexibility.
When I asked him when he's going to switch back to free weights (squats, DLs etc.) he responded with "Why would I? Machines are just fine for me."
So I started using the arguments about training the body as a unit, standing up during movements and working on stabilization. That's when he went "I may be training my muscles in isolation, but all of them get bigger and stronger and then yoga ties them together and makes my body work as a unit all while not feeling so beat down like before."
"Well, you got me there" was the only response I had...

What are your thoughts on this? Can machines + "movement training" (yoga, OS, Ground Force, Ido Portal stuff etc.) get you to the same results/benefits as free weights training?

I know most of you will be biased. I know i am 😄, but I still try to be open minded about his opinion.
 

elli

Level 9 Valued Member
not feeling so beaten down - that caught my eye! If that was the case, is he now training with lighter weights? Which role does/did the CNS play? Why didn't he do yoga then? Work - rest - ratio?
Might be that just training differently has a positive effect and he did not switch up plan/prgramme/reps/sets early and regularly enough to prevent the 'burn out' before?
same things done for too long?!
 

Jake Steinmann

Level 1 Valued Member
Hey ladies and gentlemen!
I need your thoughts/opinions on something...

Today one of my friends caught me really off guard in an argument. He's one of my bodybuilding-style training friends and because of an injury he had switched to machine based training (leg press, lat pulldowns etc.) and started yoga to work on his flexibility.
When I asked him when he's going to switch back to free weights (squats, DLs etc.) he responded with "Why would I? Machines are just fine for me."
I started using the arguments about training the body as a unit, standing up during movements and working on stabilization. That's when he went "I may be training my muscles in isolation, but all of them get bigger and stronger and then yoga ties them together and makes my body work as a unit all while not feeling so beat down like before."
Your friend has found a method of training that makes him feel good and apparently meets his needs. Nothing to argue about. Different strokes for different folks.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
Personally I'd say he's far more right than wrong. Plenty of studies have shown no real difference between machine built strength and freeweight. Arguments that freeweight encourages more stability recruitment ignore the fact that it is all specific to whatever lift you're doing. On machines true you're not balancing the load, but since no machine is a perfect match for individual mechanics you're always fighting some off-angle resistance.

As long as you include a healthy dose of other work to tie it all together I'm gonna have to say his approach is fine. I predict he'll get bored with it and return to freeweights at some point, but probably not due to any major drop off in athleticism.
 

offwidth

Level 9 Valued Member
I would say (very cautiously and with some caveats) yes. In my mind it comes down to how you measure and what you are looking for in 'results'....
Plus I will echo what the other responses have been.
 

Bauer

Level 6 Valued Member
Steve Maxwell has a program for machines, so I guess in a way it is just another modality, given that you have the ability to move the body as a unit. And Andy Bolton has used machines for accessory exercises, arguing that they are easier on the CNS and complementing his compound lifts.

So I would say: Why not? Might work well, at least for a while and on top of a good movement base.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
First, it's great that he's found a way to exercise that he enjoys.

But I do think free weights are better.

From Supertraining: Injuries are just as common with machines as with free weights. Some machines are more harmful than the comparable free weight exercise. The machine needs proper technique as well. The free weights are much more efficient, as the training effect of a squat needs at least four machines and a clean + push press needs 12!

We can also talk about the balancing needs and the adaptation result etc.

Some machines are better than others. Like pulleys.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
I think he would be less likely to have an ability to produce force in a global movement like pushing a car, lifting a heavy object, or carrying something overhead. And he would also have less power - the ability to produce force quickly. Lacking both of these things makes one slightly less capable, and might make one slightly more prone to injury from everyday life. Then again, if he was correspondingly less likely to engage in challenging activities, he might be less injury-prone.

But I agree with @North Coast Miller that he's far more right than wrong. He will probably have good function, aesthetics, and health. He's better off than most of the people who don't train or who train ineffectively. Overall, I'd say he's good...
 
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Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
not feeling so beaten down - that caught my eye! If that was the case, is he now training with lighter weights? Which role does/did the CNS play? Why didn't he do yoga then? Work - rest - ratio?
Might be that just training differently has a positive effect and he did not switch up plan/prgramme/reps/sets early and regularly enough to prevent the 'burn out' before?
same things done for too long?!
I can't give you a detailed answer to this, but knowing a lot of what he was doing was alright regarding programing. Feeling "beat down" in his case is not about being burned out (lacking motivation, not getting results etc.) but often having little aches here and there (things like back pain or shoulder issues).

I think he would be less likely to have an ability to produce force in a global movement like pushing a car, lifting a heavy object, or carrying something overhead. And he would also have less power - the ability to produce force quickly. Lacking both of these things makes one slightly less capable, and might make one slightly more prone to injury from everyday life. Then again, if he was correspondingly less likely to engage in challenging activities, he might be less injury-prone.
Yes, I think the same, but what he's doing is challenging my thoughts/believes.
Why exactly do you think you'd have a harder time pushing a car or produce force quickly?
Before that I would have said "Because your body isn't used to working as a unit/as one piece, which is necessary for producing high force and power" (or something like that), but with the added "movement" (yoga in this case) this seems to not hold true anymore.
I know you won't have a definite answer, because we'd have to conduct studies on this, I'm still interested in the 'why' for your thinking.

Btw I'm not trying to collect arguments/data to throw into my friends face. I'm just seriously baffled by this, because what he's saying and doing seems logical to me despite challenging my believes.
 

Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
Arguments that freeweight encourages more stability recruitment ignore the fact that it is all specific to whatever lift you're doing.
Do you have a study on that.
I read some articles today after searching on google and one of them said that there are studies which show that when you have one group train with free weights and another with machines and then at the end have them tested in an exercise or event that neither of the groups did in their training, both groups had similar results with neither edging out the other.
I couldn't find the study though.
 

wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
It probably depends on the goal. I think some machines - some - can benefit individuals. Row comes to mind for sure. I think whole body integration can be achieved multiple different ways, and strength training is one of them. I still prefer it and have most of my clients do it. It comes down to efficiency; if I can get strength, stability, movement quality, proper sequencing etc. all in one thing, why wouldn't I? Make time for all the other important stuff.

Adaptations will be specific to the task. If you're going to be lifting heavy stuff or high powered athletic movements, it makes sense to practice it in a stable-but-challenging format. Machines probably wouldn't cut it here since they provide too much artificial stability. If an older adult is really out of shape and immobile, it may make sense to start by isolating those skills (stability and strength) and work on strength in a machine setting, possibly until capable of integrating more challenging exercises.

Anecdotally I've worked with tons of older adults and the ones that used free weights/BW > machines seem to do a lot better, and improve quicker.
 

Timmer C

Level 5 Valued Member
Btw I'm not trying to collect arguments/data to throw into my friends face. I'm just seriously baffled by this, because what he's saying and doing seems logical to me despite challenging my believes.
You had referred to your friend as a bodybuilder, Pure bodybuilding can successfully use methods that many of us with different goals would choose not to do. For example, dumbbell bicep curls can be a great tool for a bodybuilder who wants to sculpt their arms, whereas someone like myself who wants to coordinate my overall strength is better off with Turkish Get Ups. Many non-body builders can lead themselves astray when trying to copy what body builders do, but that doesn't make what body builders do to be without merit. I see gym neophytes using machines poorly and doing bicep curls mindlessly, but these tools can be used effectively if someone fully understands what these tools can and cannot do.
 

ali

Level 7 Valued Member
Could it be that discovering yoga he found a softer practice, the machine thing correlating to generally feeling better, a break from his norm with less stress etc?
Whatever. It's all about balance.
There are many stories of people finding a softer side to balance heavy strength training and appear as if they've stumbled across some magic dust. All those aches, pains and feeling worn down magically disappear.....from something as basic as walking to the mystique of kundalini yoga and reiki energy healing. Whatever it happens to be, if it comes along at the right time the stars align and the missing piece of the jigsaw appears. You could extrapolate that out to diet or to any serendipitous event that occurs. A paradigm shift. Out with the old, in with the new. The shiney new toy.
I dunno if machines are better....sure there's pros and cons. The biggest con is they tend to be indoors. And outdoors is better, whatever it is, for health. Strength train outdoors trumps every gym fitness thing in my book. Machines are impractical in that respect and thus inferior😎
It's just a phase he's going through.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
As long as you approach it with an understanding of the differences you'll do fine.
Need to generate more power? Use a weight that's a solid challenge and try to lift it quickly on the concentric.
Want to tie in more core? Use some of the two handed machines off-center with one hand.
Need to maintain strong athleticism? Include some sprints and agility footwork.
The biggest drawback to machines is also the biggest drawback to barbell - you need a fair amount of floorspace and a dedicated HQ location to accomodate all the hardware, relative to KBs or sandbags, bodyweight etc.
 

Oscar

Level 6 Valued Member
I have two arguments in favour of free weights:
  • Most of the good training systems for performance rely on them. So why would you try to reinvent the wheel?
  • I cant think of a good power exercise with a machine.
In the context of training for performance, you can get good results with 40 minutes, 3 times a week at the gym using free weights Maybe even less. Why would you spend a lifetime using machines plus 6 hours per weeks of yoga?
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
Do you have a study on that.
I read some articles today after searching on google and one of them said that there are studies which show that when you have one group train with free weights and another with machines and then at the end have them tested in an exercise or event that neither of the groups did in their training, both groups had similar results with neither edging out the other.
I couldn't find the study though.
Yes, that was my point exactly. The stability factor for freeweights is specific to the lift and really doesn't have enough carry over to make an issue.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Why exactly do you think you'd have a harder time pushing a car or produce force quickly?
Before that I would have said "Because your body isn't used to working as a unit/as one piece, which is necessary for producing high force and power" (or something like that), but with the added "movement" (yoga in this case) this seems to not hold true anymore.
I know you won't have a definite answer, because we'd have to conduct studies on this, I'm still interested in the 'why' for your thinking.
Because training compound movements trains the body to coordinate different muscle groups together towards accomplishment of the larger task. An analogy might be for a team to work together on something, they'll be a lot more effective if they have practice working together. This involves balance, coordination, responding to feedback from the joints, stiffening other muscles of the body's "chassis" against the forces trying to move them, etc. Working individual muscles or muscle groups misses a lot of this.

Yes, yoga helps tie things together, but not in fast or powerful movement, and not in externally loaded movement.
 
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william bad butt

Level 6 Valued Member
Machines are just fine. I know a lot of folks who are STRONG and in great shape who only use machines and dumbbells. I go to Planet Fitness once per week and get a good machine/dumbbell workout in that focuses on hypertrophy, recovery, and getting my heart going for an hour or so. Plus my wife likes going there and it gives me more time to hang out with her on the weekend. There are more than a few very athletic folks in there, getting a pretty good workout in for only $10/month (I'm not sponsored by PF, I promise, lol).

I train with 6 modalities (for strength, conditioning, and mobility): Barbell, kettlebell, bodyweight, dumbbell, machines, and odd objects (sandbags, etc). They all have their place and they all work. Kettlebells, for example... My favorite attribute about kettlebells is how well they work with ballistic exercises.

I've never done yoga. I've always been wary of its benefits vs a more traditional strength and conditioning training program. My mobility has always been pretty good. Ill give yoga a try one day before I prematurely judge it.

Regards,

Eric
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
To me this is a fundamental issue.

Are there exercises that are specific to themselves, whether it's balance or strength in general? Are there exercises that have more carryover? I would say definitely. What are these exercises?

The squat and the clean are the core exercises for nearly all athletic movements. Athletics is all about whole body movements and coordination, like @Anna C said. Show me a machine that you can clean well with.

Of course, we can ask whether we want athletic capabilities or general health. You get both with the other modality, with greater efficiency, so why even consider the other one?
 

Chrisdavisjr

Level 6 Valued Member
Skim-reading and jumping in with my 2 pennies (as usual), I can't help but feel that free weight training with lighter loads (kettlebells, anyone?) would provide all of the benefits of training on machines and doing yoga combined save one: the ego boost one gets from moving a substantial poundage.

I remember feeling strong as hell while working on a plate-loaded seated chest press machine because I could slam a stack of 25kg plates on each side and rep out, conveniently ignoring the fact that, due the the leverage and design of the machine, most of the force exerted by gravity on those weights was pulling downwards while I was pushing the plates mostly forwards and slightly upwards. Stick me on a bench with a barbell and I'd struggle to press 40kg.

However, if it makes you feel good and doesn't hurt anyone, might as well carry on! It seems that 90% of the people using the same commercial gym as I do couldn't care less about increasing their vertical jump, how much weight they can clean & jerk or how quickly they can reach 5km on a rower.

Most of the guys and gals who at my weightlifting gym who devote a considerable amount of time and energy to improving their snatch and clean & jerk will still make time for bodybuilding accessory work because it makes them feel good, look good and doesn't hurt their performance any.

If you're training just to better fill your shirt sleeves and feel more confident in yourself then that's arguably more 'functional' in meeting your needs to deal with social situations in your day-to-day life than a lot of so-called 'functional' training (unless, of course, you happen to be an athlete, in the military or a first responder etc.).
 
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