by Mike Brown
Walk into a commercial gym. You will see exercise machines all over the place—Nautilus, Hammerstrength, and who-knows-what else.
In one area of the gym, often tucked back into a corner, will be the free weights. You will see a squat rack or two, some benches, a dumbbell and/or barbell rack, and a couple of other miscellaneous pieces of equipment.
Most of the people working out will be working out on the machines. Most of the people working out are not making progress. Do you think possibly there’s a correlation?
For some people, it’s obvious. The following is a paragraph from a letter to the editor of Milo magazine, June 2002, Volume 10, No. 1, page 2:
One other thing that is of importance is that twice a week I work on a basic power overall body routine, using the Buffalo Bar, thick-handled trap bar, chins, curls, and presses. I have also 40 “whiz bang” . . . machines. The interesting thing is if I train on machines, it seems to give no improvement to fighting and power training. On the other hand, when I use heavy free weight basics and get stronger, I can use much heavier weights on the machines and [also] fight better. Machines are good for a light workout to recuperate, but for real strength, they leave a lot to be desired. In other words, I want to be tough rather than buff.
This is called “empirical evidence.” I.e., he doesn’t know why, he just observed it.
Worse, this is normally where the “instructors” in today’s gyms start the novices who have just “signed up.” The instructors then leave the novices to their own devices. After about four months and no results, that group of novices is never seen in the gym again. Of course, they still have to pay on their gym memberships for the next two years.
Back in the 1950s, gym owners used to guarantee results—like a 2½-inch increase on your chest size and an inch on your arms in the first three months. Of course, they had a couple of advantages back then.
First, they had instructors who actually knew what they were doing. Those instructors were normally referred to as “gym owners.” No one had ever heard of a “personal trainer.”
Second, they didn’t have any “whiz bang” machines. The few machines they did have were things like calf machines, lat machines, and the like. There is a big difference between those machines and the Nautilus clones we see so much of today.
The difference is that so many of today’s machines restrict your range of movement. That is, the machine will not allow your limbs to move freely, as they do with free weights.
What happens is a restricted plane of movement in that only certain muscle fibers are worked. The ones that are not worked, atrophy. If you want to gain size and strength, you must exercise all the muscle, not just the fibres the machines allow you to exercise.
If you want to gain muscular size and strength, you have to exercise the large muscles (back, legs) of the body, all the muscle fibers, with free weights which also allow you to develop balance.
You must eat properly.
You must not “train to failure.” When you “train to failure,” you train to fail. “Train to failure” and you will hurt yourself. The idea is to stimulate the muscles, not destroy them.
Muscular growth is the natural order of things if you are training properly and eating properly. When you overtrain—either too hard or too long or both—failure is the natural order of things.