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Free Weights or Machines?

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Free Weights or Machines?

When beginning a strength training program, it isn’t always necessary to begin working with machines before "graduating" to free weights. In fact, this is just a common myth that tends to deter people from trying free weights–especially beginners.

When beginning a strength training program, it isn’t always necessary to begin working with machines before “graduating” to free weights. In fact, this is just a common myth that tends to deter people from trying free weights–especially beginners. While free weights require a bit more attention to detail, they aren’t as scary as some may think.

Daily Free Weights

The best type of training activities mimic actual sports movements. If you train on machines only, then you become better at lifting, pushing, or pulling weights on those specific machines. However, this doesn’t mean you will develop a better tennis serve or master rock climbing.

It may help to consider that most of our daily chores involve “free weights.” Groceries, children, lawn tools, vacuums, books, and laundry baskets are mobile weights that promote movement in many directions. We lift, push, and pull all day without the security of guides or rails.

Stability and Balance

Stabilizers are muscles that are responsible for providing support and stability during a movement. For example, when you squat, your leg muscles are your movers. However, other muscles are working as well–the muscles in your calves and feet are keeping you firmly planted, and the muscles in your torso ensure your spine remains aligned.

Free weights encourage better stability and balance. For instance, managing to stand still and upright while curling a bar or dumbbells demands that your body not tip over. The body has to engage muscles it wouldn’t otherwise have to if you were seated doing a preacher curl supported by a machine. Remember, muscles learn by doing.

Free Weights Allow Free Movement

While machines do have an important role in a well-rounded weight training program, they can limit range of motion around a joint because of movement along a pre-defined track. Free weights allow movement to happen in a way that is natural and unique to each person. You have the option of slightly varying an exercise to ensure that your movement remains natural in order to avoid injury. Therefore, a good idea is to create a program that combines the best of both worlds–machines and free weights.

A good regimen for working with free weights is two to three times per week. Select a convenient starting weight. In determining a comfortable number of sets and repetitions, remember that muscle fatigue should occur but should not be painful.

Lateral Rise

This movement strengthens the shoulder muscles.

Technique: Stand with your arms hanging at your sides, hands holding weights, palms facing your body, and elbows slightly bent. Lift arms out to your sides no higher than shoulder height. Return to starting position. Starting weight should be between 2 and 5 pounds; 1 to 3 sets; 10 to 15 repetitions.

Biceps Curl

Works the biceps (front of upper arm).

Technique: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms hanging at your sides, palms facing forward. Keep upper arms parallel to body without squeezing elbows tight into sides and raise both dumbbells toward shoulders. Return dumbbells back to sides. Avoid bending backward when lifting dumbbells. If you have to, then this is a good indication that the weight is too heavy. Starting weight should be between 3 and 10 pounds; 1 to 3 sets; 10 to 15 repetitions.

Triceps Kickback

Strengthens and tones the triceps (back of upper arm).

Technique: Bend forward from hip and place one hand on the back of a chair to support your spine (back is parallel to the floor). Hold dumbbell in other hand with elbow bent so upper arm is at same level as torso. Extend elbow, reaching dumbbell behind you (elbow stays close to your side). Bend elbow back to start position, keeping upper arm close to your side. Starting weight should be between 2 and 5 pounds; 1 to 3 sets; 10 to 15 repetitions.

Stationary Lunge

Works the muscles in your bottom, front of your hips, as well as the front and back of your thighs.

Technique: Stand with feet about hip distance apart, arms hanging at sides and holding a dumbbell in each hand. Then take a long step forward with right foot. This is your starting position. Keeping back tall, bend both knees to lower yourself into a lunge position. Heel from back foot will lift off the floor. Knee joints should bend no less than 90 degrees. Return to starting position by straightening both legs, but without locking knees. Alternate feet and repeat. Starting weight should be between 5 and 10 pounds; 1 to 2 sets; 10 to 15 repetitions.

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