How Functional Are Machines?

  One of the biggest things you’ll hear in the gym these days is functional training. Functional training is described at exercising to improve your movement patterns and your activities of daily living. These are often exercises with bodyweight, free weights, or those without the use of a machine. One of the biggest trends of today’s gyms is to get rid of these weight machines. Is this smart? Can these machines actually improve our functional fitness?

            What is the purpose of using a machine such as a leg press or a chest press? To strengthen our muscles. Whatever muscle you choose. Do we need muscular strength in our everyday live? Absolutely. A study done on elite cyclists showed that a combination of strength training and cycling improved performance when compared to cycling alone. This was all machine based training consisting of leg extensions, leg press, leg curl, and calf raises.

            Using machines is great for those who are just starting a training program. For example, a client comes into the gym having no weight training experience wants to squat 225lbs. Step one would be learning the squat pattern. We can’t load the body with too much weight at this point because the body is not used to it, especially the central nervous system. Using the machines to improve quad, hamstring, and glute strength is the best course of action. Of course, a squat will target all of these efficiently. Using the machines for assistance work, progress will be made.

            Finally, machines are great when someone is injured. We aren’t invincible; the most in shape people in the world still get hurt. We get injured and are afraid to train. We can efficiently train around injuries using machines. One of the most common injuries involves the back. Going back to our earlier example of the client who wants to squat 225lbs. He hurts his back playing with his kids on Saturday. He has a scheduled session on Monday. He tells his trainer on Sunday that he still wants to come in. The trainer has his back supported on machines that still promote progress. He uses recovery strategies such as getting enough sleep, using a foam roller, and eating enough. He is back in the gym on Thursday injury-free and ready to squat again.

            Utilizing functional exercises in tandem with selectorized machines can still improve functional fitness. Often gyms will just rid of their machines to save space and money. Strength should never be your weakness. Being functional means also being able to do whatever you do efficiently and with enough strength to do so. Complete functional training involves strength training and one of the easiest ways to achieve this is by using machines. Kind of like we do at Body Elite!

-Sean Willitts