Long gone are the days when gyms were small, cramped sweatboxes with a few rusted barbells and dumbbells to use with a frayed cable machine, if you were lucky.
Today, almost every city around the world has a selection of commercial gyms to choose from depending on your own personal preference for facilities, classes etc. One thing that is common in almost every gym now days are machines. Walk out on to any gym floor and there’s a wide array of machines to choose from as gym equipment has developed people have realised its importance.
Machines allow people who may be intimidated by the egos over at the free weights sections of gyms to feel at ease and get used to the gym and their surroundings. I believe they are a crucial part of any training programme because there are so many ways and training techniques that machines can be used for.
For a newcomer to the gym, machines are a fantastic tool and the best way to start training yourself and getting your body and muscles used to the demands of pushing or pulling against the resistance of weights that it is not used to.
Machines focus and isolate different muscle groups and help teach proper technique without the worry of lifting with poor and unsafe form, or dropping weights. For beginners, machines are a great way of developing a 'mind to muscle' connection which is important and will be crucial down the line for training progress to be made.
Intermediate - Advanced
After the first few months of training, most people will be utilising barbells, dumbbells, cables and machines during their gym workouts. This is when machines can really help to get the most out of your workouts.
Most of us looking to build and sculpt muscle will focus or workouts around heavy compound movements with barbells and dumbbells, as they have been proven to be the most effective for building muscle. However, when combined with machine exercises, it can take your training to a whole new level.
Below are some of my favourite ways to add machine exercises into your workouts to keep progressing and pushing past plateaus.
Using machines after compound lifts to keep targeting the chosen muscle
Strength and energy levels usually start to fade as you work through your session after your main compound lifts. I always recommend you start with compound lifts while you are fresh and motivated. You can then move on to machines to keep the emphasis and intensity on the chosen muscle and continue to push past your comfort zone in order to promote progress.
Just because you can’t keep pushing maximum weight on your compound lifts for a certain muscle doesn't mean that you don't have anything left in the tank. This is when machines are great to use as they keep working the muscle without having to push or pull just as much weight.
They also allow you to fully isolate the muscle without worrying about stability or failing with heavy weight, which is dangerous and could cause injuries. Machines are also convenient, as the weight and seat or handle positions can be easily adjusted to suit the individual.
Machines make a great choice when doing drop sets. Weight can be quickly adjusted and lowered when failure has been reached to keep further shocking a muscle. This has been proven to be one of the most effective training techniques to squeeze every last muscle fibre to failure.
Drop sets are a great way to finish off a set or workout. Just because your muscles reach failure at a certain weight doesn't mean that they can’t continue to push out more by dropping the weight slightly and continuing.
Example drop set leg workout
- Squat: 5 x 10-12
- Leg press: 4 x 10-12
- Walking lunges: 3 x 15 per leg
- Leg extension: 3 x 15-20 reps. In the last set drop set at least 2 drops
- Lying leg curl - 3 x 15 - 20 reps. In the last set drop set at least 2 drops
Another great training technique is a compound movement followed immediately with no rest by an isolation movement. Again, machines make a great choice for this as the combination of the two exercises back to back keeps the intensity on the target muscle and the use of machines are the best way to fully isolate a muscle.
Example super set chest workout
- Barbell bench press and pec dec machine
- Incline dumbell press and incline cable flye
- Dumbell flye and cable crossover
- Machine chest press
Another great way of to mix up your training session to shock your muscles into new growth is by simply performing an isolation exercise for the target muscle before you then move on to your first big compound movement. Pre-exhaust is great as it starts to tire out the muscle before the demanding heavy compound lifts, making them harder. As a result, it helps cause more muscle trauma, which is needed for the muscle fibres to develop bigger and stronger.
Example pre-exhaust leg workout
- Leg extension: 3 x 15-20
- Lying leg curl: 3 x 15-20
- Squat: 5 x 10-12
- Leg press: 4 x 10-12
- Lunges: 3 x 15 per leg
All of the above are great training techniques that should be incorporated into your training programme to mix things up and keep your muscles guessing, although I wouldn't recommend using them all for every workout. Try mixing up your own training by incorporating some of the above training techniques through the use of machines and take your training and physique to the next level.