Many of the machines in your gym probably get a bad rap. Compared to the free weight compound movements like squat, bench press, and deadlift, the Hammer Strength and Nautilus machines in your gym often look a little soft. Bodybuilders will sometimes see them as inferior, designed for women, children, and the elderly, never to be touched by a strong man seeking to add muscle to his frame. However, this is not true. It is very possible – and often advantageous – to use the machines in your gym to keep the muscle and strength gains coming. Let’s examine some of these advantages!
Joint wear & tear
As we age, the cartilage in our muscle groups tends to wear away over time. No matter how much we stretch, how well we eat, or how healthy we eat, we’re going to be facing the prospect of surgeries in our 50s or 60s if we’re still lifting heavy. One key to keeping your joints healthy as you age (or keeping problems areas from inflammation when you are younger) is to use machines from time to time. Same pump, less wear n’ tear!
Avoid the weight
Is it nearly impossible to get into the free weight section of your gym at 6 pm on a weekday? Chances are, the place is packed with people training chest, biceps, and shoulders, leaving very little room for you to get in there. Instead of losing your pump walking in circles waiting for a turn on a bench, why not move over to the very empty, inviting machine presses or curls? You’ll get the same pump, without all the waiting!
Training around soreness
If you completed a monster back day yesterday, you’re probably limping around the gym today, aching any way you turn. Hopping on a flat bench and attempting a heavy bench press today will leave you in excruciating pain as the lats and biceps are recruited to help you to move the weight. You should try using machines in these situations. You’ll be able to isolate the muscles of the pectorals without recruiting so much assistance from support muscle groups which may be in need of rest today!
Muscle group isolation
There will always be times when you just want to focus upon a single muscle group, without bringing in many support groups. When larger muscle groups are asked to control and lift a free weight, they will often recruit support muscle groups, or secondary muscles, to help move the work. For example, your triceps and shoulders might end up doing more work then your pectorals on an incline bench press movement. Machines can help to alleviate this problem by allowing you to focus solely upon the primary group being trained.
Interestingly, if you look at some of the biggest professional bodybuilders in the sport as they train, particularly before a show, you’ll notice that many of them will use machines almost exclusively. For them, the name of the game is adding new muscle to their body through small incremental increases in weight used on movements over a period of years, along with consistent caloric surplus eating that leads to the gain of new muscle. Follow these tenets for your own growth, making machines an integral part of the progressive training process.