5 Reasons why machine weights are not good for you
Machine weights might seem like a good idea to ease yourself into strength work but it's like trying to use an exercise bike learn how to ride a bike outdoors. It doesn't quite add up. Whilst the exercises may look similar to doing them with free weights they are worlds apart.
1. There is no stability involved
Free weights challenge so many more muscles than machines as you have to balance whilst you are working. You are often sitting when using machines and isolating one muscle group at a time which does not use the core to work. Therefore your abs get little to no action.
2. They only train one direction
There are very few movements we do on a daily basis that are in isolation. Machines only move in one plane which will only make you stronger in one plane. Therefore you may be able to leg press 100KG but you will be unlikely to be able to transfer that to a squat even half as close because of the extra dimensions to the movement.
3. There is no skill involved
The other part of your body that you train with exercise is your brain! By doing free weights exercise your brain has to work hard to control the movement and learn the skill. When you are doing say a seated bicep curl you don't have to think about how to move so your brain can switch off.
4. They lie to you!
I'm afraid to say you are not as strong as the machine says you are. Machines can be deceptive depending on their set up and angles. For example most leg press machines are on 45-degree angles, meaning that if you can leg press a 100KGs you are actually pushing 70KGs (a rough rule of thumb is you will be able to do 70% of the machine weight with a free weight).
5. They can lead to overuse injuries
Due to the nature of the machines being very one dimensional, if you only use machines with no variability in your routine, you are at risk of a repetitive strain injury. You will also not be building the stability muscles around the larger muscle groups, which are often lacking when people present to physio with injuries like knee or back pain.
When are they useful?
Having bashed machine weights I will admit I use them in certain circumstances with patients:
When you are recovering from an injury your muscles are often weak and need some isolating to avoid the stronger areas compensating.
Sometimes exercise can be painful in weight bearing but ok on the machines so you can start strengthening earlier.
They give you a rough guide of left vs right sided strength if you want to see how one side is progressing.
Even if you are a beginner machine weights should not form the biggest part of your gym routine. Free weights give you a lot more bang for your buck in terms of the muscles used and brain activity. The strength you build with free weights transfers to every day activities which machines do not so whilst they might make you look more buff they are not functional in making it easier to lift things.