Thursday, May 29, 2008

News and Notes

News and Notes…

First off, if you are in the Phoenix area on June 8th (that is a Sunday), I will be speaking at the USA Volleyball AZ state coaches seminar, which will be held at South Mountain Community College. I am presenting on movement preparation techniques. This is going to be broken down into two parts. The first part is a lecture and the second part will be hands on where we are going to go through some of the exercises and teach coaches how to cue them. I will also be talking about assessment and some common movement faults we see with young athletes. If you are in the area, please drop by and say hello!

Second, over the next few entries, I have some recent research on plyometrics that I will post about that I found interesting and hope you all like.

Finally, I was talking with Andrew Fitzgerald today. Andrew is a good friend and I had the pleasure of working with him back in NYC when I lived there. Andrew also happens to be the owner of E3 sports ( E3 sports is an up and coming sports performance company in the tri state area, working with athletes of all ages (youth, college, amateur and professional).

We were talking about sports performance training and about how a lot of strength coaches seems to only prioritize STRENGTH. Now, I am not saying that strength is not important; because it is. It is very important. The more strength you have, the greater potential to display power you have. Also, most kids need more strength. However, the key is to not prioritize strength and forget about the importance of other qualities. We have to remember that we are preparing athletes. Not powerlifters and not Olympic lifters. It is almost like a paradigm shift. About 20 years ago (maybe even less) coaches seemed to focus primarily on aerobic conditioning in order to prepare their athletes for the competitive season. Now, we have the total opposite, and coaches are focusing on the other end of the spectrum. I guess, as with most things in life, the true answer can be found somewhere in the middle. If you focus on strength, don’t forget about the conditioning (and vice versa).

The other thing we spoke about was the importance of really having good progressions in your training programs and making sure that you are correcting faulty movement patterns that your athletes are producing (this comes back to having a comprehensive assessment). This can be very difficult when it comes to working with teams and groups of athletes. You need to be really creative in terms of understanding what each person in the group needs and be flexible with your program in order to incorporate those needs. A lot of times, this can be accomplished by not wasting time in between sets and exercises, by having the athlete perform a mobility drill or corrective exercise to help refine the movement pattern they are working on for the day. Also, the warm up time is a great time to address these needs, as is the cool down. Being proactive about trying to correct your athletes’ movement faults will really help set you apart from other coaches.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Heavy Circuit Training vs. Traditional Strength Training

Physical Performance and Cardiovascular Responses to an Acute Bout of Heavy Resistance Circuit Training versus Traditional Strength Training.

Alcaraz PE, Sánchez-Lorente J, Blazevich AJ. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Apr 15.

Purpose: Circuit training effectively reduces the time devoted to strength training while allowing an adequate training volume to be achieved. Nonetheless, circuit training has traditionally been performed using relatively low loads for a relatively high number of repetitions, which is not conducive to maximal muscle size and strength gain. This investigation compared physical performance parameters and cardiovascular load during heavy-resistance circuit (HRC) training to the responses during a traditional, passive rest strength training set (TS).

Methods: Ten healthy subjects (age, 26 +/- 1.6 years; weight, 80.2 +/- 8.78 kg) with strength training experience volunteered for the study. Testing was performed once weekly for 3 weeks. On day 1, subjects were familiarized with the test and training exercises. On the subsequent 2 test days, subjects performed 1 of 2 strength training programs: HRC (5 sets x (bench press + leg extensions + ankle extensions); 35-second interset rest; 6 repetition maximum [6RM] loads) or TS (5 sets x bench press; 3-minute interset rest, 6RM loads).

Results: The data confirm that the maximum and average bar velocity and power and the number of repetitions performed of the bench press in the 2 conditions was the same; however, the average heart rate was significantly greater in the HRC compared to the TS condition (HRC = 129 +/- 15.6 beats.min, approximately 71% maximum heart rate (HRmax), TS = 113 +/- 13.1 beats.min, approximately 62% HRmax; P < 0.05).

Conclusion: Thus, HRC sets are quantitatively similar to traditional strength training sets, but the cardiovascular load is substantially greater. HRC may be an effective training strategy for the promotion of both strength and cardiovascular adaptations.

My Thoughts: Okay, so when the subjects performed the circuit training routine, it placed a greater amount of cardiovascular stress on them, forcing that adaptation. This is really the whole point of cardiovascular training, right? The interesting thing was that when the circuit training was performed, there was no difference in bar velocity, power and number of repetitions in the bench press. It should be noted that the exercises that they chose for the circuit training session, aside form the bench press, were single joint exercises (a knee extension and a calf raise) which would have be much less fatiguing than if the subjects performed the bench press, rested 35 seconds, performed a set of squats, rested 35 seconds and performed a set of chin ups. If this were the case, perhaps the results, with regard to bar velocity and power and the number of repetitions achieved per set would have been totally different; and, perhaps the cardiovascular system would have seen an even great adaptation.
There is something we can take away from this study. Now, I am not going to shun performing 1 heavy set, resting 3-5min. and then performing it again. If your sport is centered around a single maximum effort, than this is the way you NEED to train! However, for those in other sports and those of us who just train to be healthy, I really feel that we waste a lot of time in the gym. If we look at the results from this study, we can make a case for performing our strength exercise (say bench press) and then instead of sitting around for 2 minutes doing nothing, we could perhaps use our time efficiently and do some less fatiguing exercises, mobility exercises or stretches for things that are tight or may have been trained the day prior. This is when the super-sets, tri-sets and quad-sets can really come into play. If we properly plan, we can get the best of both worlds when it comes to strengthening ourselves and raising our work capacity.

If you are short on time, need to be more efficient, or not seeing the results you would like. Take a look at your training program and see if there may be a way that you can better plan your workouts and increase your level of fitness.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Core Training

The role of core stability in athletic function.

Kibler WB, Press J, Sciascia A. Sports Med. 2006;36(3):189-98.

Abstract: The importance of function of the central core of the body for stabilization and force generation in all sports activities is being increasingly recognized. 'Core stability' is seen as being pivotal for efficient biomechanical function to maximize force generation and minimize joint loads in all types of activities ranging from running to throwing. However, there is less clarity about what exactly constitutes 'the core', either anatomically or physiologically, and physical evaluation of core function is also variable. 'Core stability' is defined as the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities. Core muscle activity is best understood as the pre-programmed integration of local, single-joint muscles and multi-joint muscles to provide stability and produce motion. This results in proximal stability for distal mobility, a proximal to distal patterning of generation of force, and the creation of interactive moments that move and protect distal joints. Evaluation of the core should be dynamic, and include evaluation of the specific functions (trunk control over the planted leg) and directions of motions (three-planar activity). Rehabilitation should include the restoring of the core itself, but also include the core as the base for extremity function.

My thoughts: This was a great paper. If anyone is interested, as with all papers I talk about in my blog, please just shoot me an email and I will be sure to get it out to you.

One of the ideas covered in this paper is injuries, more importantly upper extremity injuries, typically can be traced back to some problem with the core muscular and/or a poor transfer of force from the lower extremity to the upper extremity, causing the upper extremity to compensate by doing more work than it needs to.

This is an important concept to grasp. Often times, we become very myopic with injuries. “If it hurts in the shoulder, it must be a shoulder problem.” This article is really teaching us to look elsewhere. Not that there isn’t a problem at the shoulder, because there very well could be, but to look for WHY there is a problem at the shoulder. What is creating this problem?

These questions should be answered in your initial assessment (IE, movement screen) and help give you information about how to attack the issue and prevent it from happening in the future. As I have stated before, the number one goal of training is injury prevention. Too many of us go in with the mentality of, “if I just get stronger the problem will go away,” or “this will work itself out.” NEWS FLASH: Problems don’t take care of themselves. We need to be proactive in our approach when it comes to addressing our movement faults and the faults of our clients.

Figure out what the problem is. Why it happens. Devise a plan to fix it. And carry out my plan.
More tomorrow,


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What are you getting from your (insert any health care provider)?

If you are working with a trainer, strength coach, doctor, physical therapist, etc., really ask yourself, “What am I getting from this person?”

The reason I bring this up is because I heard something incredible yesterday. Incredible from the standpoint that it was hilarious (to me) and sad (for his clients) that he is actually ripping people off like this.

This trainer, when his clients come in to work with him, starts the session by saying “what do you want to work on today?”


What a joke! Seriously, are you running some sort of restaurant? Is this an ala carte menu? “I will have some core work, a little bit of legs, and some biceps curls to day. Hold the stretching.”

Honestly, this guy is a total joke. If you are a trainer and you are not developing a program for your clients,’ which focuses on their needs and limitations (which you should be determining; not them) then you are wasting their time and their money. If you are a client that is accepting this sort of treatment from your trainer, then you need to stand up and let this person know that you deserve better. It is YOUR health after all.

It is really sad that there are those in the field of health and wellness, and the entire medical field really, that prey on people who (a) don’t know any better and (b) assume that because you have credentials and fancy letters after your name you must know what you are talking about (despite asking them what THEY want to work on when they come to see you). I’ve said it once and I will say it again; some of the dumbest people I know have a PhD or Doctorate. They have all the fancy certifications and they pretend like they know what they are talking about. They even believe so much in their credentials (which means they passed a test really) that they have an ego about it and speak down to others, despite the others having more experience and knowledge than they do. It is really sad.

If you are working with someone, and this can be anyone really, not just your personal trainer; this can be your doctor, physical therapist, nutritionist, chiropractor, etc, ask yourself “what is this person doing for me?” Do they have my best intentions at heart? Are THEY making an effort to get ME better? Or, are they simply taking advantage of the situation?

Think about the situation for a second. You are going to these people because you have a problem. Maybe your are sick, in pain, need to become more active and lose weight; either way, you have a problem. You are in a vulnerable state of mind. You are turning to these people for help and it is very easy to accept what they say as gold, since you really don’t have anywhere to turn. At some point, just step back and ask yourself if this is the right person for you. Look for the truth!

Till next time…..

Dishing you your daily dose of the truth,


Monday, May 12, 2008

Functional Limitations/Training Experience/Goals

Log onto any website forum that discusses exercise and weightlifting and you will see people talking about the 5x5 program.

“How do I set up a good 5x5 routine?”

“Can I do rows instead of powercleans?”

“Can I use the deadlift instead of the squat?”

While these questions are easy to answer, they are actually the wrong questions. The real question should be:

“How do I know if 5x5 is the right program for me?”

Now that is LOADED question!

First of all, that question would be virtually impossible to answer without being there to assess the person and determine what their functional limitations are and what is appropriate for them. I know there are books out there that are written on the 5x5 program and all sorts of templates based of the original, but really, you have to make sure the program is right for you. Programs in books are only as good as the paper they are written on. The templates give you a good outline to work from and after that, it is up to you to add or subtract exercises or movements in order to personalize the program to your needs. THERE IS NO PERFECT PROGRAM!

Part of taking a program and individualizing it is having a good assessment (which is really tricky if you don’t have someone to conduct the assessment) and the other part is having a clear idea of what your goals are and what you are looking to get out of the program.

Here are two examples of poor application of this program that I have seen lately:

1) I am preparing for an Olympic distance triathlon and I want to use the 5x5 program as my lifting program.

This is situation an issue of serving to many masters. On the one hand, you have this goal of completing an Olympic triathlon, an event that is totally endurance based. On the other hand, you want to train for strength using a 5x5 program. Obviously, if you try and do both you are either (a) not going to have great results for either goal or (b) end up getting injured because you are overtraining.

If you have a goal of doing an Olympic triathlon (or a marathon or a distance bike event or something along those lines), the most important part of your training is preparing for the event. You have to get into the pool or lake and swim, you have to long time in the saddle on your bike and you have to get out and do your miles running. You can’t worry about trying to hit a 5 rep maximum each week. Your body can not work in all directions at once, and choosing two goals that are on opposite ends of the spectrum is a great way to stay mediocre (at best).

Pick your goal, construct your plan, and achieve.

2) I am doing 5x5 but I don’t have great technique on the lifts and lack fundamental strength to properly execute them.

This situation is all about rushing into things, not analyzing your functional limits and thinking that you are more advanced that you really are. I know, most people think they are total experts when it comes to training. NOTE: IT IS OKAY TO BE A BEGINNER!! Being a beginner is great! You have this wonderful opportunity to do things right and to really develop a solid base of strength and fitness. It is that base that is going to allow you to keep exercising (injury free) for a long period of time.

This situation is actually a situation that I saw at the gym for the past 3 weeks (although I haven’t seen the kid after that?). This kid would come in and bench 5x5, deadlift 5x5 and perform 1-arm DB rows, 5x5. All of the exercises were done with horrendous form. He would un-rack the bar, bounce it off his chest and grind out rep after rep with his elbows and shoulders moving all over the place, absolutely no control whatsoever. Then he would pull these miserably slow deadlifts with a rounded back that made him look like a question mark (good thing he was wearing his weight belt!). Finally, he would walk over and do some 1-arm DB rows with the 100lb DBs, using all the momentum he could muster to get the DB moving and up towards his abdomen (plyometric rows?).

Obviously, he was not advanced enough to be performing these exercises and had some significant limitations. He lacked core strength (something I will talk about in the next entry) and couldn’t maintain a tall and tight posture. He lacked shoulder stability and was unable to control the weight on the bench press. He was unable to properly row the DB (something that I see all the time. A really abused exercise is the 1-arm row). He didn’t understand the technique of these exercises.

This kid would have benefited more (after a proper assessment) from doing basic things, dropping the weight and really learning the technique. He would have built a solid base and would have easily progressed over the weight he was currently using in a very short time. But, his ego got in the way (as it does with most of us) and he ended up, in my opinion at least, wasting a ton of time in the gym.

When putting together your program, really think about these things:

1) What are your limitations
2) What is your goal
3) What is your experience level
4) How big is your base

If you can answer those questions honestly and ego free, you are going to be way ahead of about 95% of all the people in the gym.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Distance Education vs. In Person Education

I know that this blog is about exercise science related things, but I felt that I would address the situation of distance education (learning primarily via online courses) vs. in person education (going to class every day, etc).

There have been a huge amount of distance programs popping up all over the country in the field of exercise science, kinesiology, nutrition, dietetics, and public health. Since I have gone through school both ways (I have been going to school for what seems like forever), I figured that this entry would help some of those that may be on the fence or looking for alternatives to their continuing education.

First, I will say that going to school (in person education) is essential for undergraduate students just out of high school. In my opinion, being there and having the experience of going to class and getting some hands on education is needed to help spring board your career in any field. There is really no substitute for being there and learning in person when you are just starting out.

Once you have completed your undergraduate work and you have been working in the field of your choice for a few years, you may find that continuing your education is critical to your professional life. While going to school has a lot of great perks, sometimes it can be extremely difficult to attend classes and work a full time job. If you have a 3 hour class on Monday, you really have to figure that the class will take up about 5 hours that day, since you can’t schedule clients or patients on either ends of that three hour class in order to allow you to travel to and from school. If you do the math that means you have 3 hours left that day to see clients/patients. I don’t know too many people that can live on 15 hours a week of work. Now, if you have a large financial backing, then this option may work very well for you, in which case you should go for it. Some of the perks of going to graduate school at an in person program are:

- potential for grad assistance work

- industry contacts through professors and fellow students

- internship opportunities

- hands on work with faculty members (especially if you are conducting research)

- potentially better placement opportunities once the program is finished

Obviously, those are great perks; however, as I said above, this option may not be for everyone. A distance option may serve you much better as it:
- allows you more flexibility

- allows you to make your own schedule

- some programs allow you to go at your own pace (faster or slower depending on how you want to do it)

- the ability to still work and make a living

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a walk in the park. You have lectures to watch, books to read, papers to write, tests to do, and forum questions to respond to, where you interact with your professor and other students. Also, you have to be a very self motivated person to make distance learning work for you. You have to set aside time each day to take care of your assignments and study and you have to be proactive about asking questions when you don’t fully understand something (since you are not face to face with the teacher or in a lecture where you can stop and ask questions, you are watching the lecture online rather, you really have to make sure that you are understanding everything fully). While the pro’s of making your own schedule are nice, there are some con’s to the distance education:

- you don’t have direct contact with the professors, so you don’t always have the opportunity to develop a real professional relationship

- you don’t have direct contact with the students so you again, don’t always have the opportunity to develop a real professional relationship

- you typically don’t have internship opportunities and since you aren’t at the campus, there are no graduate opportunities available to you

- since you are studying on your own via the internet, you may not have any placement opportunities once the program is over

You really need to weigh the options between the two if you are making a decision to go down this road. I will tell you that I really did enjoy my distance classes because of the fact that I could check in and answer the forum questions and do my homework when I had time. Now that I am in school (again) and working fulltime, I can honestly say that I am tired as heck as I work a full day and then have to get down to school for 4 hours 3 nights a week and 3 hours on Saturday. It can be really draining. Also, when I did my distance program, I did have a number of years of practical experience (7 years), so it wasn’t as if I was trying to learn something totally new. While I am a very self motivated person when it comes to my education, I did at times miss the opportunity of being in classes and having in person discussions (something that I am enjoying right now in my courses).

No matter which way you go about it, you are going to need to work hard and study hard. If you want to be good at something, you need to take the time to really learn it. Whether that learning is via a distance program or an in person program is for you to decide.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Wanted: Competent High School Strength Coach

I was out at the high school track this afternoon running some sprints (just having fun and working on technique. Not training for anything particular), when a high school coach came out with one of his female athletes to do some track work.

I understand the situation that schools are in. They have a limited budget to devote to athletics and a lot of high school teachers played sports when they were younger, and some even played on the collegiate level, so naturally it is easier to just hire from within and let the teachers coach the athletes. The problem with this is that the teachers, while they may have been good athletes, have a very little understanding of how to coach the sport and how to properly progress and teach the athletes.

What I watched made my head want to explode. This girl warmed up and then began working on her starts. Now, I am not a great track and field coach by any stretch of the imagination, I do love the sport and I am striving to get better as I would like to coach more sprinters in the future, but I can see common flaws in running technique. This girl was terribly slow off the start and some of it was do to the way she positioned herself. She had very little leg strength, as she had no push off the ground, not just at the start but, through the entire run. Her knees would buckle in with each step and she had a very slow stride rate. It was like the track was covered with flypaper and she just stuck to it with each step. Gravity was defeating this poor girl. Her arms were coming across her body and she held an incredible amount of tension in her hands. She also ran with a pretty good anterior tilt and her torso sort of swayed back behind her center of gravity.

Now, I am trying to put this girl down at all, she was working very hard and really seemed like she wanted to improve. The reason I am stating all of this is because the coach chose to fix none of it! He didn’t comment on any of the technique flaws. After each start, all he would say is “Gotta be faster off the start. Move your legs quicker.” I don’t get how that is supposed to help anyone? There are reasons that she is not able to move faster!

After working on starts for a while they moved on to a maximum effort 400m run to end the workout. The coach took out his digital camera to get the action on tape. It was unreal. She started out running like mad and by the final 100m straight, she had absolutely no kick. I honestly thought she was going to not be able to finish. And, if her form wasn’t bad at the start of the run, by that final 100m, it was horrendous! The coach seemed pleased with the video however. He just said, “good job. Just need to get faster.” Seriously, if that is the only thing that he picked up from that video, he should be shot.

After that final 400m, the girl also commented that her ankle hurt, to which the coach replied, “Well, you have tendonitis, that’s all. Just have to walk it off. That is all you can do.” That last bit put me over the edge. Seriously, and this guy is in charge of people’s kids every day? That is horrible. What bad advice.

The problem is that things like this go on all the time. I would say that most coaches at the high school level have very little understanding of what is going on as far as coaching the sport and more importantly, how to effectively develop the athletes and their strength and conditioning program. I would love to see a day when competent strength and conditioning coaches are hired by schools to handle these issues and help to develop these young athletes. Who knows, we may have a lot better athletes and a lot less injuries if that actually happened.

If you are in the Phoenix area and looking for great coaching in the sport of track and field or cross country, I support the AZtech training team 100%. The coaching staff have years of experience and Head Coach/Exercise Physiologist Bill Strachan is one of the most knowledgeable people in the sport that I have ever met.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Free Weights vs. Machines: Research Review

Strength outcomes in fixed versus free-form resistance equipment.

Spennewyn KC, J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):75-81.

The purpose of this study was to compare measures of strength and balance between subjects using fixed form or free-form resistance training equipment to determine whether there is a difference in strength or balance outcomes.

Thirty previously untrained subjects, mean age = 49 (+/-3.7 years), were randomly placed in either a free-form strength group (FF n = 10) utilizing a commercially available free-form plate loaded resistance device, a fixed form strength group (FX n = 10) utilizing a commercially available fixed range selectorized resistance device or a control group (C; n = 10) who did not exercise. All groups were assessed during a pretest (T1) and a posttest (T2). The exercise groups were asked to exercise over a 16-week period, increasing resistance based on a standardized 8-12 repetition protocol. The same muscles were targeted in both exercise groups, all groups were instructed not to change their dietary habits.

Results: A one-way ANOVA was used to detect differences among the groups using baseline and end results data. FX group increased strength 57% from baseline while the FF group increased strength 115% from baseline. A statistically significant difference (P = 0.000001) was detected for strength production in the FF over the FX group and (P = 0.0000144) over the training and control groups. Balance improved 49% in the FX versus 245% in the FF groups. Testing revealed a statistically significant difference (P < or = 0.003). The control (C) group did not show significant improvement in either strength or balance.

Conclusions: Results of this study indicate a greater improvement in FF over FX in strength (58%), and balance (196%). Additionally, the FX reported increased pain levels while the FF group reported lowered overall pain levels.

Thoughts and Ramblings:

I ran across this study in one of the recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning publications and thought that it would be a good one to post up. Obviously, for those that read this blog on a regular basis, you can probably guess that I am more of a free weight guy than a machine based guy. In fact, I currently work in a facility where we don’t have machines. The closest we have is 2 free motion cable towers, a seated row and a seated lat pulldown (both cable based machines). Other than that, we have the standard, benches, barbells, dumbbells, power rack, and bumper plates. So yea, I am not much of a machine guy.

Anyway, this study set out to test a variety of different things. The subjects were sedentary, which the study defined as not having participated in a regular exercise program in 6 months or more. Also, five subjects with in both exercise groups (the free weight and the machine group. I will throw out the control group for my comments, obviously since they did no exercise and made no changes to daily living, they made no improvements) experienced headaches 2-4 times a week (for unknown reasons).

Before I go on, the term in the abstract, Free Form (FF), refers to the subjects in the group who performed their exercises on a free motion type machine. Free Form does not mean free weights (IE barbells and dumbbells), even though I do use the term free weight from here on out. So just keep that in mind.

The group that performed the free weight exercises saw great improvements in strength and balance (however the machine group also increased their balance through the study, although it was not significantly greater than the free-weight group). The frequency of headaches in the two groups also dropped and this reason was unknown (perhaps, exercise is just good for you!).

What they didn’t tell you in the abstract above, which you do learn in the study, is that joint pain was measured on a scale of 0-10. Subjects that were in the free-weight group whom had know pre-existing, but not debilitating, joint pain prior to this study, as determined by a pre-study questionnaire, experienced a 30% DECREASE in joint pain! However, the subjects in the machine group reported having an 111% increase in joint pain, when no one in that group had reported joint pain before the study began!

So what does this all mean? Machines are bad; free weights are good….blah, blah, blah.

The last point about the joint pain I found very interesting. Part of the issue was probably in the fact that these were sedentary people who had not participated in an exercise program in a very long time (and they were all over the age of 30, so not too old, but they weren’t spring chickens). One of the problems with using machines and performing a repetition maximum test (in this case it was 8-12 repetitions to failure) is that you can load up the machine a lot more than you can with free weights (or in this case, the free motion machine) which means you put your joints under a lot more stress and, since you are on a fixed plane of movement, you are able to compensate, or overcompensate, to a greater extent with other muscles that might otherwise not come into play (although when you are working to a maximum, you start to really reach with everything you have). So, the situation of being sedentary and having the ability to load up a machine, which stabilizes the weight for you and allows you to go to town with a maximum effort, is not a god combination from a joint health perspective.

Do I think machines are bad? Not really. Do I think they have their place? Yea, at times I think they are okay. I try and not speak in absolutes and try to be more of a “middle of the road” type of guy when it comes to this stuff. Machines, although they should not make up the bulk of your training, can have their place if you goal is hypertrophy, since they do allow you to load up the weight a little more than you would under a free-weight conditioning, and allow you to be stabilized and just worry about making a strong contraction. Obviously, these conditions don’t lend themselves well to sports performance (or even real life), since our muscles don’t operate in an isolated manner, but rather function in harmony with one another. However, from a bodybuilders perspective, I could see machines having some place. As well, since the weight is stabilized for you, later in the workout, as fatigue sets in, they may be a safer option, especially if you are dieting for a contest and you need to maintain a certain level of intensity (defined as the load being lifted in relation to your 1 repetition maximum) which would be otherwise difficult with a free weight type exercise (IE a leg press vs. a squat), since there is some strength loss as you cut calories, diet down and lose body weight.

What I will say is that if you do use a machine in your training from time to time, make sure you use proper technique. Since the load is stabilized for you, it is very easy to let your ego get in the way. Just this night at the gym I saw some guy doing a hammer strength chest press. He had it loaded up way past his limit and every rep he would arch his back like crazy, his elbows would flare out to the sides and his shoulders would shrug like mad. Obviously none of this is healthy by any means. What made it even better was that he was only doing about 3 reps per set. Why the hell would you bother with a 3 rep max on a machine exercise? That seems like a great way to tear yourself up.

So, the take home message:

I don’t really use machines a whole lot (occasionally I will rep out on a hammer strength piece, I am pretty fond of the iso-lateral row) and I don’t use them for clients (especially since we don’t have access to any in our facility), although in some rehab situations, a leg press may not be a bad option. Even though I am not a big fan of machine based training, I could see if you were a bodybuilder, some machine work being of benefit to you. However as always, the basics rule in my book. So squat, bench press, row, pull up and deadlift first. If you want to do some “cute” stuff, do it after the important work is done.