So You Have a New Gym Membership....

Posted by Adam | Posted in , | Posted on Wednesday, January 06, 2010

This is going to be gym related post. I'll follow up with a recipe one later, but as you can imagine, it's tough to make yet more sweets in the post-holiday aftermath of indulgence and perhaps a sprinkle of regret :)

I got the idea after some great responses to the last post I had, and just like in class, if someone has a question, it's very likely that another person is thinking the same thing. I think it's a topic that is as popular and misunderstood as the high school prom queen... or our beloved Micheal Jackson.

Should I use machines, or free weights, or both? I hear free weights are better, but they are kinda intimating, and all these sweaty guys are around... (I'm paraphrasing of course)

This is a great question, and my opinion has definitely changed over the years. Ask me 3 years ago, and I wouldn't of touched a machine. Ask today, and I just used a machine or two on Monday.

My answer is an indecisive, grey colored... it depends. What do I mean? Well, it depends on your goals, and what you are looking to change about yourself or improve on. Even if you had the most stacked gym ever... with all sorts of equipment, you should pick exercises that focus on a couple of things:
  1. Do you feel the appropriate muscles being worked during the exercise?
  2. Can you progress with the exercise each week?
  3. While you may not enjoy doing the exercise, do you at least not hate it's guts?
These are the most important things to consider when working out. While there are THOUSANDS of weight training routines available, there is no perfect one. Why? Because people aren't all the same. What works for you might not for me. It's the same thing with foods, diet, hair cut styles, eye sight ability, sport team favoritism... on and on. As long as you pick something and stick to it... and progress... you'll be good. You body does not want to change. Trust me. Why would it want to lose weight and gain muscle? That takes work. So you have to give it a reason to :)

I like machines for a number of reasons. I don't need a spotter, and they are great at teaching because they kinda force your muscles into learning a movement pattern, which will allow them to be 'felt' and contract correctly (as long as you focus on the muscle). So that fulfills rule #1.

So what I'm saying is what good is a free weight dumbbell chest press if you only feel it in your shoulders? Sure it's a free weight, so stabilizing muscles come into play, but if it's not working the muscle you want it too... see what I mean.

But I will add another caveat when it comes to exercise selection...

Make it relevant to your goals. Let's say your goal is to do one pullup, all the way up and down. While there are a couple of exercises you can pick from, the best would probably be assisted pullups. You need to train to your goals more than half the time. A pulldown machine will help, but different movement patterns require different activation from your brain. Because of motor units, neural activation, torque angles of force created, etc, the skills aren't exactly transferable.

I mean like, all cars can drive... but ever notice how it takes a minute to "get used to it"... same kind of deal...

I can't tell you how many times I've switched from bar and dumbbell bench presses in the past, and got shocked when I didn't feel stronger right away. It's not because of muscle, it's because you need to learn how to recruit muscles for that particular exercise all over again :)

So you need to focus on the exercise that is direct to your goals. You need to swap out movements when you stall, but you need to change back once you stall out again.

So, the short of the long of that question is... do what works for you, and what will bring you closer to your goals. I think a mix of the two methods each has risks and benefits. One time I had someone younger and smaller than me call me lame for using machines. I smiled...

Just remember results take time. Time is def on your side, and soon you'll become a gym fanatic that's the envy of the town :)

Now if you're asking what exercises give you the most bang for your buck, and you're lost with free weights... well that's another day :)

Comments (22)

This is a very useful post Adam! I have always been asking same questions too to myself. Thanks for "chef"!!

Great article. As a personal trainer I was always got the question on the best exercises to help with weight loss/strength/toning etc.... as you said everyone must find what works for them. I think as a beginner starting with machines first and progressing to free weights is ideal... once you have a variety of exercises in your repetoire you can change your routine frequently (8-12weeks) allowing your body to always be challenged.

Wow, I'm actually first. Amazing. Do I get a prize?
In my former gym going incarnation, I LOVED the machines. Except for the thigh machines which made me blush.

Oh, I forgot about the comment moderation :(

I like both-machines and free weights. I think strength training is VERY important. If you don't belong to a gym and only have free weights at home-they can help you get a great workout. If you have a gym pass-do both! Great post! I look forward to your future fitness posts too:)

oh my heavens my gym is so packed these days! and then by the end of feb, beginning of march it's dead again (yeah).
good advice though dude: the machines take a lot of minutes to get used to and comfy with, I totally agree, esp. those chest press ones.

Nice post, Adam.
I've been working out at a gym for 35 years..before that it was sports. Because I am not self motivated, I go to classes. Six days a week, weights, step and pilates. Never liked spinning.

Unfortunately, it really does not prevent weight gain as I've put on 10 pounds in the last couple years. It makes me feel better though and really is important to keep it up when you are trying to lose weight.

What I thought was funny about this is that every people group has something they're uptight about; knitters with yarn; runners with races, shoes, etc; food snobs with ingredients; and apparently the weight machines. For some reason I just found that funny!

The last time I was at a gym I used a combination of both, though I think I'd tend to use the free weights simply because I tend to replicate what I do at home elsewhere. If I don't have the machines, at least I know I can get the same workout with free weights by myself.

THAT is the cutest picture ever! Oh, and good post too.

I have to admit that when I'm at the gym I tend to steer clear of free weights. They intimidate me a little. I worry about my form being correct. I always stick with the machines.

I am a free-weights girl...but I know soon enough I am going to need machines to help me with higher I am a little conflicted about that because I HATE THE GYM. I LOVE working out, but I hate the gym....UGH. Now I am gonna have to re-think this whole "machines" thing - I guess it goes against my Sarah Connor nature ;)

Oh the weights... I'm doing free weights now, but integrated in aerobic classes. I'm on vacation from machines for now. It's a phase maybe... But good news is that I'm going everyday to the gym, you'd be so proud!

Love the advice. these last couple of months I actually started going to the gym, rather than just sponsoring the gym :-) I think I like the machines best but, am trying a bit of everything.

Thanks for reminding me that I should go to the gym as soon as I come back from Cyprus.

Hello sweet Adam. Yes, it's that work out time of the year, isn't it. Though I find it difficult to do even my eliptical except for short bursts of time, I have managed to lose 14 pounds. I can certainly tell the difference in how my knees and ankles feel. Oh, and my blood pressure is down too. I still eat cake and chocolate, but all good things in moderation. Have a wonderful year my work out guru. ♥

After using the snow/cold/holidays as an excuse to be a lazy bum all December I'm really trying to up my indoor exercise. However, I'm still in exercise limbo from my normal routine. Any suggestions for a pregnant lady?

Good article. I use to belong to Bally's then they moved out of my neighborhood and even though I kept the membership I stopped going (too inconvenient) Still miss it as I enjoyed it alot.

Thanks for putting this post together, Adam. It makes sense -- to use the equipment that leads you toward your goals. Maybe I need to sit down with someone and point out people in the gym sayings, "I want her shoulders/arms....and that girl's butt...etc.." because I really don't pull-up-type goals. My fitness goals are cardiovascularly-oriented (e.g., run a 5k) rather than lifting a certain amount of weight.

For me machines can serve a very specific purpose. They are great when I'm recovering from an injury. The isolation of specific muscles means I don't have to engage the parts of my body that might be hurting. That's coming in useful this week when I don't want to disturb my knee too much.

I've been a member of the gym for 1½ years now and I decided to resign... as the only machine I was using was cross trainer, small weights and ball... The last two I have at home, now I only need get cross trainer on credit what will be less than gym membership monthly. I guess it is different with men because there is more choice of exercises & machines... (?)

That was a really informative post... although I don't know how helpful that is to a lazy, I-hate-exercise kind of girl like me..haha.

I have never used machine, always free weights. I would not know which machine to use at the gym. I just go there for the classes and I do the free weights at home. I may reconsider using machine one day. Thanks for the post.