Ever heard this…
“Machines are for girls, bro”. “Free weights only, bro”...
or something to that effect…bro?
Of course, these are very scientific arguments against the use of machines for those of us wanting to build muscle lol 😉
On a serious note, there are disadvantages to machines, and using only machines would be a HUGE mistake.
But there are also advantages, yes good reasons why you SHOULD use machines when you are training for hypertrophy.
Apart from the observational evidence that all top bodybuilders (both natural and non-natural) use machines, what other evidence is there?
SHOULD YOU USE MACHINES TO BUILD MUSCLE?
Here’s the deal: Machines force you to move the weight up and down along a set path of motion. This totally REMOVES the issue of stabilization from the exercise because the machine is stabilizing the load for you.
Without a portion of your strength being diverted away to the issue of stabilization, that much more is left to push against heavier loads (this is why you can always use heavier weights with machines).
Let’s take an overhead shoulder press machines for example. Are the same fibers in the intended muscle (deltoids) being used? Yes indeed. With these fibers recruited, can you use more or less weight to work them intensely? More. Therefore, for hypertrophy/growth seekers, machines play a role in our development. Sean Hyson, who is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.), does a good job explaining this in his fitness myth no.4 – Machines Suck for Building Muscle.
You guys also know that I’m big on training to positive failure in each set. With machines there’s the obvious advantage of allowing you to push to failure without fear of a bar crashing on your chest or head!
Furthermore, I recommend a light “burn out” set or 2 at the end of each body part when utilizing lower rep ranges like the 6-8 rep range in my THT training. Machines are a good choice for burning out. Your strength and mental focus are not shifted away to stabilization, but are 100% focused on moving the weight and stimulating the intended muscle only.
So, the next time you have a bro tell you “never use machines, brah”, don’t just take his advice, look at him and say, “Why not?” There are only 2 possible outcomes…
He wasn’t expecting a follow-up question and will improvise on the spot and say “they suck”, or something to that effect, and run off *rolls eyes*. Or…
Some will have an answer and it will almost certainly be, “they don’t use your stabilizer muscles”. To which you reply, “Which ones? I mean specifically. Tell me which muscles?” This is when you’ll get a blank stare.
Follow this up by telling him/her that you only supplement your workouts with machines and that some stabilizers may not be recruited, but the fibers of the “intended” muscle ARE recruited, and because stabilization is taken out of the equation, more weight can be used to overload the muscle fibers of that intended muscle. Say, “You know, taking stabilization OUT of the equation is kinda the whole point, brah”.
It was for this precise reason that the concentration curl that Arnold used came top in a recent study of the best bicep exercises (not a machine, but a very isolated movement having the same effect as a machine).
But let me be clear so there’s no confusion: Free weights should form the bulk of your workouts and come earlier in your sessions. Use machines later; they’ll play a supplementary role in your muscular development. If free weights were “bombs” and “rockets”, machines are the “snipers”. And gaining or cutting makes no difference.
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