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A Case for Machine Training

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a case for machine training superhero gym

If you’ve been active in the fitness community for some time, you’ve probably heard over and over again that machine training is inferior to training with free weights (barbells and dumbbells).

The problem with this statement is that it tries to get you to choose one or the other. As if it would be blasphemy to use both modalities to your advantage.

Now, I don’t disagree that if you had to pick one or the other, free weights are the better option. For one, they’re more versatile.

All you need is a set of dumbbells, a barbell, some plates and an adjustable bench and you can get a complete workout in.

With machine training, you essentially need a full machine for each exercise you perform. Not that efficient, especially if you’re working out at home.

As well, a lot of times machines aren’t designed for elite level lifters. So if you plan on achieving godlike strength and a killer physique, you may outgrow most of the machines in your gym.

The other advantage of free weight training is that you develop your stabilizers. This may not have a role in promoting muscle growth – after all, how big do you think the rotator cuff and hip stabilizers can get?

The answer, is not very big. However, building stabilization strength can improve your athleticism and functionality.

Finally, with free weights, there is a standard across the board. Bench pressing 300 lbs is the same, no matter where in the world you are.

Whereas, 300 lbs on one machine may feel different than 300 lbs on another machine. This makes free weights better for developing standards.

What Are The Advantages of Machine Training?

A case for machine training

With all that said, you might be thinking, well now why would I bother with machine training. Well the first reason is for variety.

One of the key strategies I use in my routine is exercise rotation.

When I stall on a specific lift, I’ll rotate it to a similar movement pattern. Machine training allows for exercise rotation, beautifully.

For example, if you stall on incline dumbbell curls, you can switch to a machine curl variation. What you’ll notice is that you feel incredibly fresh.

Over the next few weeks progress will move swiftly. Then when you go back to incline dumbbell curls, for example, you will start to make positive progress again (since your CNS will no longer be drained).

Machine Training Allows You to Get More Volume In

Due to the nature of machine training, there is less neural fatigue and mental burnout. You simply position yourself in the machine and start working your muscles.

There’s no stabilization involved, there’s no loading heavy dumbbells, you just sit and lift. For this reason, machine training is less taxing than free weight training.

Now that’s not to say that free weights are bad. But rather, at the end of your workout, if you want to get more sets and reps in to promote more muscle growth, machine training may be the better option.

I know that after hitting three heavy sets of bench press, the idea of going into heavy incline dumbbell bench presses is frightening.

That said, doing a few sets of incline machine presses is a walk in the park. The same is true with dumbbell lateral raises and dumbbell rear delt flyes.

Sometimes these exercises drain me when I’ve been doing them for a while. But machine lateral raises and machine rear delt flyes are easy like Sunday morning.

So I find that incorporating a few machine exercises into my routine, allows me to get in more volume without increasing the level of mental exhaustion or burden.

This Is A Hybrid Workout Including Machines

I have crafted together a Superhero Muscle Building workout routine you can perform, that blends free weights and machine training together.

*Your results may vary. Testimonials and examples used are exceptional results and are not intended to guarantee, promise, represent and/or assure that anyone will achieve the same or similar results.

This is quite similar to a workout that I’ve been doing for sometime.

Monday (Workout A) – Chest, Biceps, Rear Delts 

  • Flat Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets RPT
  • Machine Incline Bench Press: 3 sets RPT
  • Incline DB Hammer Curls: 3 sets RPT
  • Lat Pull Down Curls (or machine curls): Rest Pause
  • Machine Rear Delt Flye: Rest Pause

Wednesday (Workout B) – Legs, Calves

  • Single Leg Squat Variation: 3 sets RPT
  • Sumo Deadlifts or Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets RPT
  • Leg Extensions (toes pointed out): Rest Pause
  • Calf Raise Machine: Rest Pause

Friday (Workout C) – Shoulders, Back, Triceps

  • Weighted Pull ups: 3 sets RPT
  • Seated DB Shoulder Presses: 3 sets RPT
  • Seated Cable Row (or machine row): 3 sets RPT
  • Cable Rope Pushdowns: Rest Pause
  • Lateral Raise Machine (or cable lateral raises): Rest Pause

Notes:

  1. How to warm up 
  2. RPT = Reverse Pyramid Training
  3. Rest Pause Training
  4. If you want to do this routine on a cutting plan, I recommend dropping the number of sets down for Reverse Pyramid Training to 2 per exercise.

How To Use Machines In Your Training

For the most part, I recommend using free weights as the staple of your routine. That said, as you get more and more advanced, it makes sense to include some machine exercises into your program.

For example, in my most advanced muscle building course, superhero bulking, I give machine substitutions for the workout program.

These are only for the secondary/accessory movements. But adding in some machine training can help give advanced lifters a neural break and encourage higher volume for optimal muscle growth

Greg O'Gallagher

Greg O'Gallagher is the founder of Kinobody, a site dedicated to helping men and women achieve the lean, muscular, and aesthetic "Hollywood" physique. His fitness programs have helped hundreds of thousands of people transform their bodies and change their lives in the process.

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