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The Advantages of Machines

The strength training machines you see in The Perfect Workout studios are descendants of machines that were created by Nautilus, Inc. in the 1970’s. Arthur Jones not only originated the fundamental principles behind brief and intense strength training, he also invented the original set of Nautilus machines. Within a few years, machines from Nautilus and sprouting rival companies were in many public gyms as well as college and professional sports training facilities.

This led to one of the most famous on-going debates in the fitness industry: free weights or machines. In other words, is it more effective to use strength training machines or free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells? If you are reading this, you are probably aware that our studios are primarily filled with strength training machines. There are reasons for that.

While both options provide results when the user trains with a high level of intensity, we generally prefer well-designed machines for a number of reasons. Machines can be safer to train on than free weights, they allow for better concentration which can facilitate a higher intensity level, many machines provide resistance throughout each repetition’s entire range of motion, and there are several additional advantages of machines which I don’t have enough space to cover in this brief article.

If you recall the days when you first learned to drive, then you’ll probably remember someone telling you, “safety first”. The same recommendation applies to training. As you know, the goal of strength training at The Perfect Workout is to reach “muscle success”, the point when the targeted muscle is so fatigued that it cannot move the resistance any further. In many free weight exercises, training to complete exhaustion leaves the possibility that the weights may fall on the trainee afterwards. As we know, training to “muscle success” leaves our muscles with less control and fatigued for a few minutes afterward. If a person lost control of the weight when training on a machine, most machines are designed so that the weight would just fall on the weight stack (instead of on top of you!), so that’s one reason why machines can be safer than free weights.

As far as getting results, a necessary factor in successful strength training is mentally pushing your muscles to that very deep level of “muscle success” fatigue. This takes focused mental concentration, and each person has a limited ability to concentrate in any given moment. A well-designed machine can eliminate sources of distraction, enabling deeper concentration and a deeper level of fatigue in the the targeted muscles, and as a result help stimulate better improvements in your body. As an example, consider the leg press vs. a free weight squat (with a barbell on top of your shoulders). Both exercises are potentially very effective for improving the muscles in your buttocks and front thighs (and to a lesser degree the muscles in your rear thighs and calves). With the leg press, as you near “muscle success” all of your concentration ability can be used to push as hard as you can, helping you stimulate the big changes in your muscles and your body. You don’t have to worry about anything else other than pushing hard. In the barbell squat, if you approach “muscle success” fatigue levels, a significant portion of your concentration needs to be used to focus on balancing and avoiding falling down, and this reduces your mental energy available to make your muscles push hard. In this respect, the leg press has the potential to allow you to stimulate greater increases in the targeted muscles.

slide2-img2Another benefit of well-designed machines is resistance throughout the entire range of motion. A machine has the potential to better harness the power of gravity when compared with free weights. For example, in a standing biceps curl with a barbell, gravity provides significant resistance to the biceps during the middle portion of each repetition. However, at the lower and upper ends, the exercise moves perpendicular to the force of gravity, basically providing rest for the muscles. Biceps exercises with machines usually feature a rotating wheel called a “cam” that varies resistance and enables constant work for the muscle throughout the repetition, and this can result in a more thorough workout for the muscles.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying dumbbells, barbells, and other free weights are not effective training tools. In fact, in 1992 when I first began using slow-motion strength training in my own workouts, I was training in a relatively primitive gym in which my initial routines involved many free weight exercises, and I still was able to make excellent improvements. If a person trains intensely, he or she will achieve great results, regardless of the equipment. However, we find that strength training machines help our clients train safely and effectively, and that’s what we’re all about.

By Matt Hedman, President of The Perfect Workout


Kelly and Richard Got Toned and Strong!

Strength training helped Kelly get toned, and Richard estimates that he got 50% stronger, improved his posture, and lost about 75% of the aches and pains that he had in his back and shoulders.

Kelly Alessandro doesn’t know how much time she has left. Not at The Perfect Workout, but in life. Two years ago she was diagnosed with sarcoma, a very rare form of cancer, and doctors initially didn’t give her a very good chance of survival. She’s gone through surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. Through it all, she has stayed mentally and physically strong. Kelly attributes making it this far in part to the fact that she’s in such good shape, thanks to The Perfect Workout. “I was able to recover so much better from all those surgeries because I had a strong core, because I was so strong,” she says.

The story begins before Kelly got cancer. About two

and a half years ago, she saw an ad for The Perfect Workout and decided to investigate slow-motion strength training. “I had no idea it was going to be as good as it was. Most people don’t get it. They think you have to spend an hour.” Kelly didn’t need to lose weight, she just wanted to “tone it up” and get stronger. Within a couple weeks she started seeing results, and she was hooked. Six months into her workouts, she got the bad news. She had surgery, then took five weeks off to recover. When she started her workouts up again, she was actually receiving chemotherapy at the same time, and feels like the workouts helped.

It was around this time that she finally got Richard to start working out with her. “Kelly kept nagging me,” he jokes. “I didn’t want to listen to her tell me I had to work out. She kind of shamed me. She just had major surgery, she was going through chemo, and she was still doing it.” Richard approached it with gusto the same way Kelly had, and made good progress.

Richard and Kelly agree that having a trainer keeps it safe and makes it fun. “The whole staff at Laguna Niguel has been great!” Richard is serious when he says, “I hate going! But the hate only lasts for 20 minutes. I just jump right in. I try to have fun with it. When I’m done, I’m done, and I go home and have my protein shake. The Perfect Workout is 1/335 of my week. For 1/335, I can do anything!” With everything they’ve been through together, Richard and Kelly have a remarkable sense of gratitude, and with some sarcoma experts they’ve just found, they also have a new sense of hope. Their trainers at the Laguna Niguel studio say, “Kelly’s spirit is always upbeat and positive. We’ve been honored to work with her and her husband, Richard, and their courage and determination has touched all of our lives.”