We hear a lot of controversy, whether machines are any good for building muscles or not. Some people prefer to stick with free weights only, others focus on machines. But what really works and what doesn’t?
Basically, there are 3 types of machines:
- Smith machine (unique in machine category).
- Pushing/pressing machines and other machines without cable system (operating with levers).
- And all kind of cable machines.
If we sort these machines by effectiveness, list will look the same – starting from smith machine and ending with cable machines. Smith machine is actually really good, since it’s basically a barbell fixed on 2 standing columns, and it allows you to hit the same muscle group with a slightly different angle. That’s because there is no horizontal movement, and it’s unnatural for your muscles to use that trajectory, whether you do narrow grip bench presses or overhead shoulder presses. There are some precautions though, please read on.
Multiple studies were conducted and researchers found out that the amount of weight athletes can lift on Smith machine is always will be on ~10% less than with a real barbell. But it’s not a reason to avoid it. It’s a great machine and it should be used to complement your training routines.
Lever machines are quite nice too. They overload your muscles similarly to free weights, but the movement trajectory is of course fixed, and that hinders the growth potential a bit. Since you are using levers, you always will be able to use far bigger weights on these machines then with barbell/dumbbells. Typical lever machines are for shoulder press, chest press, leg press, etc.
Cable machines could be found in every gym. These are too popular today. Unfortunately not much of these machines are worth your time. Cable crossovers, pec flyes, lat pull downs and triceps pull downs are the notable exercises that should be included in your training routine. Biceps machines and pretty much everything else is just not good enough to spend your time and energy on it.
Popular myth about machines is not completely true – “Machines are absolutely safe, because they use the most natural line of motion”. First of all, different people use slightly different motions, due to their unique bodies. And secondly, movement trajectory in machines is not natural at all. No one really lifts in such a laser-precise way. That’s why machines are not that safe. Smith machine could be quite dangerous, if you do unsuitable exercises in it, like squats (depending on your height it can put incredible strain on your knee caps and lower back. For shorter people it’s usually okay), deadlifts and barbell rows. That’s because movement gets very unnatural and with heavy weights it’s easy to strain your muscles and tendons.
Cable and lever machines are quite safe on the other hand, because mechanisms take a lot of pressure from your joints and tendons and they spread it evenly for your muscles.
Now that you know a little bit of machines in bodybuilding, use this knowledge on your next training and choose good machines over useless ones!