Ask or answer questions, discuss and express your views

Moderators: Ironman, Jungledoc, ianjay, stuward

Kenny Croxdale
Powerlifting Ninja
Powerlifting Ninja
Posts: 1109
Joined: Sun Dec 24, 2006 10:36 am

Re: Machines

Post by Kenny Croxdale » Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:02 am

Oniw17 wrote:I've never been fond of machines. Am I neglecting anything that can't be trained by other means? Er, rather, what am I missing that gives everyone else so much faith in machines?

I mean weight machines, not that lame stuff that they sell on TV at 4 in the morning.

As Stu noted, machines take stabilizer out of the equation.

Free weight rely heavily on the stabilizer muscles to move the weight. Thus, one of the weak links in free weight movements is how strong the stabilizer muscle are.

Training Tools

Think of machines and free weight as training tools. Each tool allow you to perform a different task.

What you want to do is use the right tool for the right job.

That means that while you can pound a nail into wood with a crescent wrench , a hammer works better.

Upside of Free Weights

Free weights training predominately overloads the stabilizer mucles moreso that the primary movers.

The stronger you stabilizer muscles the better your technique going to be. That because the stabilizer muscles will hold you place, somewhat like a machine does.

One of the keys to a big squat (any free weight movement) is strong stabilizers.

Downsize of Free Weights

Free weights limited the work of the primary muscles. The primary movers never are completely overloaded.

Squat Example

One of the best aritcle on this was Hollie Evettte's, "When The Back Says NO and The Legs Say GO".

As Evette noted, the limiting factor in a squat is usually the abdominals and lower back.

That meaning the legs are never overloaded in a squat. The abdominals and lower back give out long before the legs.

To maximize leg strength and size, you need to take the abdominals and lower back out of the equation.

Leg Machine Overload Movements

1) Belt Squats: This is squat simulates a traditional squat. However, the abs and lower back are taken out of it. I'd rate this at the top of the Squat List.

It is a "Machine" type movement if you hold on to a Power Rack (anything) while performing it. Doing so, minimizes the stabilizer muscles.

It is a "Free Weight" movement if you exercute it without holding on to anything. This increases the stabilizer muscle invovlement.

2) Step Ups: This movement minimizes the abs and lower back.

As with Belt Squats, the determinate factor of it being a "Machine" or Free Weight movement is if you hold on to something.

3) Smith Machine Squats: This exercise minimize the ab/lower back invovement.

4) Leg Press: This pretty much eliminate abs/lower back.

Basic Rules

1) Machines allow you to overload and develop you weaker muscle groups.

As a personal example, I have a strong lower back and weak legs. Thus, I perform a lot of Belt Squats and Step Up holding on the Power Rack.

This has allowed me to strengthen my legs for the squat.

Machine training allows bodybuilders to maximize the size of the large primary muscle groups, such as quads, lats and pecs.

2) Unstable Training develops places more work on the stabilizer muscles. The stabilizer muscles are a "muscle girdle", they hold you in place.


Weak statilize muscle create what Dr Stuart McGill (PhD Kinesilogy Biomechanics) terms, "Leakage".

Your squat strength and power is compromized when you begin to bend forward coming up with a squat, that is "Leakage".

1) A loss of strength/power and energy occurs when this happens. Energy and strength are diverted from driving up with the load to stabliizing the abs/lower back and NOT allow the weight to fold you over like a card table.

2) Bending foward, place the load further away from your COG (Center of Gravity). The force of the weight on the bar is magnified beyond what is on the bar when you bend foward, an increase in torque.

800 lbs = 1600 lbs

Dr Tom McLaughlin's research examined one of John Kuc's (world recorder in the deadlift) failed deadlift attempts.

In pulling the weight, Kuc allowed the bar to drift 2 inches out in front. McLaughlin's physics calculations found the force of the weight on the bar drifting out 2 inches magnified the weight (force) on the bar to 1600 lbs.

"Stay Tight"

This is one of the thing you hear powerlifter screaming at each other. It applies to every sport.

McGill refers to this as "Superstiffness".

Staying tight means stiffening your stabilizer muscles to allow you to maximize your leg drive in a squat.

The same is true with other lifts, as well, such as: Standing Shoulder Press', Deadlifts, Olympic movements, Sprinting, etc.


Machine's (Leg Press, Smith Machine, Bench Press Machine, etc) and "Machine Like" movements (Belt Squats and Step Up while holding on to something) allow you to overload weaker muscle groups that may be the weak point in your my leg drive in the squat.

Machines allow bodybuilder to overload primary muscle groups, increase muscle mass/size.

Writing The Free Weight/Machine Program

In writing a strength training program, you always work backwards. In other word, your objective dictates how you train.

Training For Sports

The foundation of Strength, Power and Speed is reliant on the Stabilizer Muscles. The strength of the Stabilizer Muscles is major determinate factor in getting up with a big squat, making a cut and chaning from one direction to another on the playing field, etc.

Stabilizer Muscles are developed with "The Real Functional Training" movements: Squats, Deadlifts, Power Cleans/Snatches, Military "Standing" Shoulder Press, Dumbell and Kettlebell Training, etc.

Again, Machines allow you to work on the weak link in your muscle chain. Thus, machine training is secondary.


As Charles Poliquin stated, "Bodybuilding is a Beauty Contest". Bodybuilders are more concerned about "Show than Go".

There programs can and should involve more Machine training. This allows them to maximize the primary large muscle groups.

Kenny Croxdale
Thanks TimD.

User avatar
Stephen Johnson
Exalted Seer
Exalted Seer
Posts: 2097
Joined: Sun Mar 12, 2006 11:20 pm
Location: New York City

Re: Machines

Post by Stephen Johnson » Sun Dec 30, 2012 11:35 am

ephs wrote:i don't know which one they have in the gym where i train, but i think machines like this are dangerous. with a good instruction and a spotting gym owner it's maybe no problem. but, this machines are also senseless. why not performing a safer 45 degrees hyperextension instead?
What proof do you have that the 45-degree hyperextension is safer? Consider this:
Before moving on, I want to show a proper versus improper top position. Despite the exercise often being called a ‘hyperextension’, it’s incorrect and dangerous to actually take the spine into hyperextension. You should only extend up until the spine is in a neutral position. Going higher than this provides no further training effect for the muscles but puts rather enormous strain on the spine itself. Normal spinal extension and spinal hyperextension are shown below (normal on the left, hyperextension on the right). Don’t do what’s on the right.
Image Image

Back extension machines rank with leg extension machines as having little real world value. But as Kenny Croxdale noted, not all lifters train for the real world.
Thanks TimD

User avatar
Posts: 649
Joined: Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:17 pm
Location: Germany

Re: Machines

Post by ephs » Sun Dec 30, 2012 3:53 pm

the critics are correct, but the point hyperextensions are a bodyweight exercise for most people make them a lot safer than this back machine.
"his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see" - muhammad ali

User avatar
Deific Wizard of Sagacity
Deific Wizard of Sagacity
Posts: 5252
Joined: Mon May 28, 2007 8:43 am
Location: New Jersey

Re: Machines

Post by pdellorto » Tue Jan 08, 2013 10:10 am

I'd say you aren't missing anything by not using them, but they can be useful.

They're handy for rehab, for one, when you specifically don't want to make someone stabilize the weight they're moving and do want to force them into a specific path of movement.

They're useful for situations when you're doing very high reps and don't want to risk losing control of a free weight in motion. Going too hard too long and dumping a shoulder press machine is safer than dumping a barbell that's overhead (at least to the people around you).

They're useful for specific assistance work that might be otherwise hard to do (say, hamstring exercises on someone with a back problem - hard to do RDLs and kettlebell swings but leg curls are fine).

Certain machines - like weight-assisted pullup stations or adjustable cable stations - let you do exercises you might not be able to do otherwise. Our gym used to have a weight-assisted pullup station. That meant I could have everyone do pullups for any given rep count I wanted. The owner moved out and took it with him - now I'm back to trying to find just the right band for assistance and it's not the same exercise.

And some big guys swear by them - Dave Tate used to post videos of his workouts (he still might) and he uses a fair amount of machines.

But it's generally the case you can get by without them. They are nice to have but you generally don't need them.
Peter V. Dell'Orto

Post Reply