Let’s face it – gyms can be intimidating. To a “newbie”, one look at some weight machines could be enough to get their eyes bulging and pivot right back out the door.
Although I’ve been around exercise equipment for over half of my life, I can honestly say some contraptions look more like torture machines than exercise equipment!
Depending on where you are on your fitness journey, you may be comfortable with only using certain types of equipment – or you may be completely fine with using any and all exercise equipment … or using nothing except your body weight.
In my experience with using just about every type of equipment on the market, it’s my opinion that ALL types of equipment – free weights (barbells, dumbbells), machines, cables, resistance bands and straps such as TRX straps – are beneficial. All of these contraptions can help strengthen and grow your muscles.
Here are examples of some different methods for doing a basic shoulder press:
1. Bodyweight (wall-handstand, in handstand position as vertical as possible with feet against the wall, then do a push-up. Not easy!!)
2. Resistance bands
3. Machine (there are a variety of shoulder press machines)
4. Smith Machine
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Using a variety of equipment is a great way to ensure you’re getting overall strength and thorough muscle recruitment. Using different equipment, exercise methods and techniques can help you engage your muscles in different ways, recruit different muscles (fast twitch/slow twitch) and help you strengthen your muscles. It can also strengthen your bones, tendons and ligaments, which will help prevent overuse and possible long-term injuries.
Here are some different methods and exercise equipment you can incorporate in your workout program:
Although no extra equipment is used for these exercises (with the exception of needing a bar or something for pullups), bodyweight exercises are, in my book, some of the hardest exercises: pullups, push-ups, triceps pushups, triceps dips, planks (most ab exercises using just your body weight and muscle contraction), squats and lunges, to name a few.
Anyone at any level can benefit from incorporating body weight exercises in their strength-training and/or cardio program. All of these movements can be modified according to your level and limitations. Bodyweight exercises incorporate strength, stability, cardio and overall exercise endurance.
When I think of resistance bands, I immediately think of fast-twitch muscle fibers and lactic acid burn! Resistance bands recruit small, stabilizers that may get missed out on when lifting heavy with machines or free weights. My favorite way to incorporate resistance bands is either by supersetting with a similar movement (for example, heavy barbell curls followed by 30 seconds of resistance band biceps curls, ouch!) or at the end of a workout as a ‘finisher’ to really fatigue the muscles. Basically to drain all the ‘juice’ out of your muscles until there’s nothing left, lol!
Machines are typically a great place to start for beginners, though they are not only for beginners (far from it!). That’s because you’re able to control the weight without having to worry too much about stabilization, as you do with free weights. Machines are a great place to learn proper form and technique as one is gaining strength and understanding of various workout concepts, and just getting used to a fitness routine. One of the biggest benefits to using machines is that you can generally go a little heavier than you can with free weights or cables, depending on the movement and the exercise.
Cables are awesome and can be very challenging! You typically can’t use as heavy a weight as you can with machines or even free weights. For example, if you can do biceps curls with a 40—pound barbell, you may not be able to do cable biceps curls with 40 pounds (or at least not for very long) because you not only have the weight, but you also have resistance of the cable pulling you in the opposite direction. So, it’s not just the weight and gravity going against you, it’s also the cable pulling your arms in the opposite direction of the curl. The extra resistance from the cable adds a stabilization element to any exercise, so you’re recruiting different muscle fibers when using a cable machine.
I feel that free weights are the most “unforgiving” in the sense that you need to have strength, stabilization and proper form in order to both prevent injury and get the most benefit out of free weight exercises. Not only that, but among free weights, I feel that in general dumbbells are the least forgiving – depending on what exercise you’re doing of course.
For example, you have to activate more stabilization using dumbbells for shoulder or chest presses than you do when using a barbell. Choosing the correct weight is also a little trickier with free weights because of the critical importance of proper form. A machine chest press can almost force you to hold the machine in a certain place and just press forward. So, if you choose a weight that’s too heavy, the least of your worries is that the machine won’t budge! If you choose dumbbells that are a little too heavy for incline bench presses, you may end up sacrificing form and potentially causing injury. That is not meant to scare you from trying to go heavy with free weights, it just means you should either be a little more knowledgeable about selecting the right weights and proper form, or you should be under the guidance of a knowledgeable trainer or coach who can help you.
You can do just about any exercise movement using a wide variety of techniques and exercise equipment. Depending on what your current fitness program is, try alternating from week to week using different gym equipment for the same exercises. Or try adding resistance band exercises during a workout or at the end of a workout to see how much more you can squeeze out of your muscles.
Using a variety of equipment and methods can help increase the effectiveness of your workouts giving you a much more well-rounded, overall strength and exercise endurance, as well as more balanced physique development.
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ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.