A Case for Strength Machines

By Eric Feigl, MS

It’s a debate I’ve been involved in for nearly a decade; which is better: barbells/dumbbells or machines? The fact is, all options are tools that if used properly will increase strength, flexibility, and overall muscularity. It has been my observation though that the majority of the private sector (personal training specifically) has made it a point not to use machines. The frequent arguments against machines are typically that “humans aren’t made to sit in machines”, “machines reduce a person’s full and natural range of motion” and “it’s an old way of training”. Before I go on, let’s recognize that barbells, dumbbells and machines are all great tools in their own right and I use all of them when training clients.

“Human’s aren’t made to sit in machines”

I agree that humans aren’t made to sit in machines. Just as we aren’t made to sit at desks, on couches, and other relaxing devices or modes of transportations (I wouldn’t give any of them up either). Whether or not we are made to sit in a machine isn’t the point. Machines are simply devices that place direct exercise and resistance on a specific muscle making it an efficient way to overload that muscle without as much recruitment from supporting muscle groups. It so happens that we need to sometimes sit to directly train those muscle groups.

“Machines reduce a person’s full and natural range of motion”

The fact is very little about exercise is natural. The entire reason for exercise and strength training is simply because we don’t move enough in general. Not many of us are building our own shelter, hunting for food or fighting off predators and foes. We’re simply not as active as we were 100 years ago. Science gives us an understanding of how the body moves and operates based on the skeletal, muscular, and cardiovascular systems and with that information we can accurately train those systems with many different tools. Each tool allows for a certain range of motion through any given exercise like a bench press, shoulder press, etc. As long as we are moving through a pattern that is safe and allows for little or no unnecessary extra movement, range of motion will improve and increase.

“Machines are old fashioned”

Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus, Inc. strength equipment and MedX Corporation, built the first Nautilus machine in 1948 and sold his first strength training machine in 1970. Mentions of barbells and dumbbells can be dated back to the 1700’s. With that information it’s safe to say that anything other than machines are old fashioned. Personally I believe all equipment has their day to really shine before something new and flashy comes along. When the shine fades and the once new becomes the industry norm, people look to what’s coming. Basic strength training, for the most part, hasn’t changed over the past 47 years (mostly because human anatomy and physiology hasn’t changed) since Arthur Jones created and sold the pullover machine that started a revolution and the same can be said for whoever created the first dumbbell or barbell.

With all of that said, no matter what mode we choose to train with we need to keep in mind that others are making progress with something else. That doesn’t mean what you’re doing is wrong or the other is better it just means there’s not just one way to strength train. Train with intent, keep track of progress, use variety and you’ll have an appreciation for many objects that will improve your strength, flexibility, muscularity and overall well-being.



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