Question of the Week: Does how you feel physically affect the way you serve?
Nugget of the Day: Body weight and free weight exercises are superior to exercise machines for developing functional strength.
Time to call yourselves out. Guys- How many of you walk into the gym and the first machine you go to is the “Pec Deck” machine? You know the one. 3 different settings to work your chest muscles. And… oh yeah…you use every one of them. And, funny, it is conveniently located to be the first machine you get to when you enter the strength area of the gym. Hmmm…. Ladies- How about the “Thigh Buster”? The one that is supposed to trim those legs, but really only threatens to rip your legs apart if you let go. Unless you were born with no arms and are must pick everything up with your knees, I’m not quite sure when you perform that machine’s movement in your average day. It’s time to mix things up.
In addition to boosting metabolism as we covered before, your strength training serves the purpose of making you stronger. I know, it sounds obvious considering the name. But let’s be clear about something. Strength is not just about improved muscle tone. It is also about being able to use that muscle effectively and efficiently. It is essential that we choose exercises that serve this purpose. Think about the times when you are physically active in your life, using your muscles to do work. What position are you in? Standing, right? Then why exercise on machines that have you sitting down for all of your movements? Real-life strength involves not only the ability to facilitate movement, but also the ability to stabilize the body so that the movement can be performed. These core stabilizers so essential to strength are almost completely shut down when you sit down at a machine to exercise, and the coordination between major muscles and smaller stabilizers that is so essential for safe movement is not developed.
Think again about your physical activity. How many muscles are usually involved in a given movement? More than one, right? Then why exercise on machines that completely isolate muscle groups? Real-life movement almost always involves some combination of muscle groups working together. Picking an item up off the ground involves a combination of lower body muscles, core stabilizing muscles, and upper body muscles. In the gym we call this a “deadlift”. Outside the gym, we call this “work”. Did you know that it would take over 7 isolation machines to work all the muscles involved in that one movement? Even if you wanted to waste your time in that way and do all those exercises separately, you still wouldn’t be developing the coordination between all those muscle groups working together to safely perform the movement, and your risk of injury would be dramatically increased.
Now, before I start getting “hate mail” from exercise machine manufacturers, let me be fair. Machines do have their place. One, they are effective for the beginner that is unsure of the movements and needs to be lead through the exercise for correct form. Second, machines are very stable, and when set up properly by the user according to the instructions, they can provide a means by which someone can exercise with less fear of injury and relative safety*. (I put an asterix there because if you don’t set up the machine correctly or don’t perform the movement properly, the machine can actually increase risk of injury because there is little freedom of movement and can result in improper angles of force) Third, they do build muscle mass, one of the essential components to being strong. But real life happens when you’re standing and moving, so get up off that slick padded seat that 250 people have already sweat upon before you and get free!