In Defense of Machines

Why some machines are better than free weights.



By squatting with a machine that forces the bar to travel straight up and down (or slightly backward), you can alter the position of your feet—from beneath your hips to far out in front—and still maintain proper form. Also, because pins for racking the bar are always just a turn of the wrist away, the Smith lets you more safely squat heavy without a spotter.


Preacher curls are another exercise diminished by gravity. This time it’s the top halves of reps when stress is lessened. In fact, the weight is actually moving down at the very top of the movement, eliminating all tension from the biceps. One way to counter this is to use chains or bands, thus increasing resistance throughout reps. Another way is to do machine curls. These typically mimic a preacher curl, but once again the resistance comes from a weight stack’s rise, so the biceps are hit from stretch to contraction.


As with preacher curls, when doing the free-weight version of this exercise, the closer you get to the top position the less you’re battling gravity. Just before contractions, the weight is traveling nearly parallel to the floor, and this is true whether you’re lying, seated, or standing. However, by doing these with a cable, you’re fighting the gravitational pull of the weight stack, even at the end. Mechanical triceps exercises, including pushdowns, allow you to flex your tri’s against tension at contractions.


A body-weight crunch is a short movement with virtually all of the tension at the contraction. A good crunch machine won’t lengthen the range of motion, but it will distribute the stress equally from start to finish.


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