Death to the machines!

It never fails to draw my ire when I see someone point to a strength training machine and proclaim “That’s my machine! I use this all the time!” While I embrace their exuberance and enthusiasm despair in that they have been hoodwinked by the marketing efforts of equipment manufacturers and the gym owners who fill their centers with the shiny metal behemoths.

Taking a sledgehammer to these mechanical arbiters of exercise (a la Office Space) would be an act of destruction as well as a functionally sound workout, which leads me to my next point. Machines designed to artificially stabilize a joint and provide single muscle activation do no good for 90% of the population who neither bodybuilders seeking bigger muscles (hypertrophy) nor patients in a physical therapy setting needing very specific rehabilitative exercises. I recently read a great quote in an article (The Essentials of Integrated Training by Mike Clark, which stated “you can isolate muscles anatomically, but not functionally”. That is to say, muscles can be dissected apart in a laboratory, but in our day to day lives, muscles always work together.

Ever play the original Super Mario Bros games for the NES? The main characters, Mario & Luigi, live in a two dimensional world where forward, backward, up, down, and diagonal are the only directions that exist. Our world, by comparison, is three dimensional. We experience an additional plane of movement, the transverse plane. It is in the transverse plane that rotation occurs. So why is it that most exercise machines address the needs of Mario & Luigi, but not you and me? The common bicep curl, tricep extension, leg extension, leg curl, chest press, shoulder fly, lat pull down routine that millions of exercisers perform each day is entirely two dimensional.

Additionally, we are beset on all sides by work and life environments that destroy our body’s ability to support biomechanically correct posture so why in the world would we continue this trend at the gym during our workouts? Who ever thought that sitting in a stripped down EZ chair while flapping your arms around was a good idea? Unlike the external stabilization that machines provide, training on your feet requires your body to utilize internal support mechanisms. Automatically, you engage the entire neuromuscular network which helps you to stand taller and easier.

The focus needs to shift from appearance to performance and not even performance in the sense of high-level athleticism. I’m speaking to the ability to navigate our world of office buildings, cities, stairwells, homes, and back yards with confidence and ease. To do this, challenge your body with exercises that mimic your life. Handling grocery bags, purses, and other awkward items can be improved by training with implements like kettlebells and medicine balls. Core musculature (that which supports your pelvis, spine, and shoulder girdle) will also be engaged. Also, integrate rotational movements like woodchops into your routine to develop the ability to work effectively in the transverse plane.

The bottom line is that treating your body as a whole, rather than a collection of disparate parts, will inevitably deliver greater results than machine-based routines. So get off your machine and get moving!

Share on Google Plus

About Unknown

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
    Blogger Comment
    Facebook Comment


  1. A back injury prevents me from holding substantial weight from a standing position - no more dumbbells, so I rely on machines that do not compress my spine. I do plank and push-ups, but any machine-free ideas for arms/shoulders/chest that do no put pressure on the spine?