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The last word: Free weights against machines



What is the biggest debate in resistance training? Machines against weights. Are weights superior to machines, equal or inferior? Let's break it. Below you can hear the extensions for each position. This is what their teams look like:

Team Free Weights

Mantra: The body is the only machine you need!
Philosophy: Free weights kick in the ass; Machines are for pussies.

  Free Weights

Your Talking Points

Machines are not functional

The machine chooses its path of motion so you do not gain much efficiency and thus gain strength or size They are less transferable to real life ,

Machines do not improve the "stabilizers"

Because the path of movement is fixed, you do not have to rely on your own stability and use your body best because you usually sit or lie down.

Machines do not fit every body type

Machines are not fully adjustable and the resistance curve may not fit you perfectly. They do not work the same for all of us.

Free Weights Increase Strength Better

The central nervous system works harder with free weights, as the exercises for free weight require more coordination, which is important for the development of the body. Improving CNS efficiency will increase your power potential and your ability to increase performance in other movements.

Weights cause more muscle damage

If you cause more muscle damage, you stimulate more muscle growth. [19659017] These arguments have been around for a long time. Some are legitimate; others are just not exactly. For one thing, there are no stabilizers. Stabilizing is a muscle function, just like fixing and moving. Stabilizing means making a moving joint more stable while in motion.

A muscle can be a stabilizer in one exercise and a mover in another exercise. For example, the lats and rhomboids stabilize the shoulder joint in a bench press, but are a prime mover in a row. Most muscles can be stabilizers or fixators in some exercises (stabilization of a non-moving joint).

Team Machines

Mantra: Tension is tension!
Philosophy: Machines are safer and purposefully better.

  Machines

Your talk points

Tension is tension

The muscles do not know if the resistance comes from free weights, a machine, a roll, your body weight, a wheelbarrow, a bale of hay, etc. If one Muscle performs a mechanical work against a resistance, it adapts and grows.

Machines Provide More Constant Tension

A well designed machine alters the resistance along the way and increases it in the part of the range of motion where you are stronger, making the muscles work hard for 100% of the reps. The free weight is dead weight and up to two-thirds of the range of motion is achieved with muscles that do not contract completely (eg, flies).

Machines facilitate targeting of a muscle

One of the benefits of free weights is that they involve more muscle in an exercise – for fixation, stabilization and also as a synergist. However, this can also make machines superior if you want to better focus on a single muscle.

It's easier to compensate with free weights.

For a machine, the path is predetermined and can not change. Although you can compensate for something by changing the body position, it is less important than free weights, where you can balance the bar, the movement and the body position to compensate.

Machines Require Less Nervous System

While CNS stimulation is important for maximum strength and performance enhancement, too much can reduce your gains through depletion of the CNS (dopamine deficiency or adrenal receptor desensitization) or overproduction of cortisol. If only your goal is to stimulate hypertrophy, it is not always a good idea to create more fatigue in the CNS to get the job done.

They can fail on machines

. it appears to be an effective growth stimulus (Cameron and Mitchell study).

Yes, you can fail with free weight exercises. However, when you talk about multi-joint exercises with free weights that are associated with higher neurological costs, failure (which also increases CNS stress) can bring more disadvantages than benefits. Not to mention that it's safer to fail on machines, and you're less likely to be compensated with other muscles.

Who is right?

Both are right and both are wrong. The key is to know which circumstances are best for machines and which ones are best for free weights.

When it comes to building muscle, protein synthesis must be triggered. That is undeniable. However, it is not so easy to say "X-exercise = increased protein synthesis = muscle growth."

  Leg Press

4 things that trigger muscle growth

1 – Muscle Fatigue

Quote from Professor Zatsiorsky, "A muscle fiber that was recruited but not fatigued was not trained." This approach is taken by the Work by Cameron and Mitchell (2012) that showed that if you train to muscle failure (until you can not lift any more weight), your muscle gains will be the same over a period of 8 weeks, regardless of whether you use 30% or 80% of your maximum.

This is about training for or about failure. With each repetition you tire more muscle fibers and your strength decreases (about 2-4% per repetition). This forces your body to recruit more muscle fibers to keep the weight moving. If you fail, you have recruited and tired a large amount of your muscle fibers and stimulated growth.

2 – Muscle Damage

For decades, muscle damage was the only way to stimulate growth. Damage to the muscle cells triggers the repair process, which is driven by the immune system and strongly depends on stem cells – they donate their material to repair the damaged muscle fibers and build up thicker.

Muscle damage is best achieved through the use of relatively heavy muscles weights (70-85%) for moderate repetitions (5-8, possibly up to 10 repetitions per set) in exercises where the target muscle is stretched under exercise.

3 – mTOR activation

This triggers protein synthesis and initiates muscle growth. While any type of resistance training stimulates the activation of mTOR, two types have a greater impact – loading the eccentric or negative part of the exercise and the muscle under tension when stretched. So we are talking about slow eccentrics (4-6 seconds), while the muscles are contracted as hard as possible and the target muscle is bent in the stretched position for 2 seconds.

4 – Local Growth Factors and Lactate Delivery

The burning or accumulation of lactate (lactic acid) has long been associated with muscle growth by bodybuilders. And science has recently shown that they were right!

Lactate itself can induce muscle growth (Oishi et al., 2015, Nalbandian and Takeda 2016). It increases stem cell activity, increases follistatin and lowers myostatin, leading to muscle growth. There was also a correlation between lactate and MGF release (IGF-1) in muscle. These local growth factors directly stimulate protein synthesis in muscle. These are maximized for a fairly long time under tension (40 to 70 seconds per set) and keep the target muscle under constant tension as local growth factors accumulate.

  Deadlift

How Do Free Weights And Machines Stack Up?

Of all these paths for growth, free weights only have an advantage ONLY in the muscle damage path and only marginally in the mTOR path.

Local growth factors and lactate release tend to be better suited for machines due to more constant stress / strain, and muscle fatigue is also better suited for machines because of lower neurological costs.

Here is a summary table:

Effectiveness for hypertrophy

Free weights Pulley / Cable Machines
Damage +++ + +
Fatigue + ++ +++ +++ +++ ] mTOR +++ ++ ++ [19659061] Growth Factors + ++ +++
Lactates ++ ++ ++

Let's look at the pathways for muscle growth You will see how they are applied on dumbbells and weights Machines:

Muscle Damage

Muscle damage can occur if the muscle fibers are stretched while producing strength.

And here is a funny fact: the more unevenly the power production is distributed to the involved muscle fibers the more muscle damage will occur. When the force is distributed unevenly across the involved muscle fibers, some of these fibers stretch faster than others. This results in a shearing action that causes more muscle damage than just lowering a weight. Therefore, it hurts you to do a new exercise, but stop being sore if you have done it often.

First, the intramuscular coordination (how well the muscle fibers work together) is inefficient, the muscle fibers are not coordinated, and the load is not shared equally. This leads to more muscle damage. The more often you practice an exercise, the better the intramuscular coordination and the lower the damage. The second, which causes the greatest damage, is when a muscle is loaded in the extended position.

So what makes free weights think this way? These lifts are not as controlled and take longer to become neurologically efficient and have good intramuscular coordination. That's because the path is not set. With machines you become much more efficient and quickly reduce how much damage the exercise causes.

Muscle Fatigue

Machines are superior to free weights on this path. Why? Three Things …

  1. Failure (accumulating as much fatigue as possible) increases the neurological needs of an exercise. In this respect, failure in exercises with a lower neurological requirement leads to less damage to the nervous system. Insulation exercises on machines or pulleys, isolation exercises with dumbbells and multi-joint exercises on machines or pulleys are the best option if you are doomed to failure.
  2. Failure to go for machine exercises is safer, especially when talking about multi-joint exercises. There is also a lower risk of a technical failure.
  3. Exercises with machines are less expensive than dumbbells. The more fatigue you accumulate in a set (or the heavier the weight), the more likely you are to balance with other muscles than the one you are targeting.

Accumulation of Growth Factors and Lactate Delivery

Local growth factors (such as IGF-1) can be released directly into the trained muscle during mechanical work. It is accentuated when oxygen is extracted from a muscle (which is why occlusion training is effective) and when lactate / hydrogen ions accumulate in the muscle. In both cases, there must be two elements to accomplish this:

  1. Stopping or high blood flow to the muscle (and out of the muscle). If no blood can enter, oxygen can not penetrate. When blood can not leave a muscle, the lactate remains trapped and accumulates in the muscle. Occlusion (with a pressure cuff to stop blood flow) does this, but also to keep a muscle under constant tension – flexing the muscle as much as possible in every inch of each repetition.
  2. Under load for 40-70 seconds.
  3. This is required to be in the "lactate" zone and to cause oxygen starvation.

To maximize GF release, machines or pulleys are the better choice, as it is easier to keep a muscle under load the exercise and the more constant tension. Free weight isolation exercises may also work, but you must actively try to contract the target muscle as hard as possible to compensate for the reduction in stress at specific points in the range of motion.

For the other two growth paths (mTOR and lactate accumulation) We see no significant differences in free weights, roles and machines. To maximize mTOR activation, you need to highlight the eccentric phase of the movement (slow lowering while the muscle is heavily flexed) and the stretched position in which you need to maintain tension. Example:

With mTOR activation, there may be a slight benefit in free weights, as free weights often place better strain on the muscles in the "stretched" position.

As with lactate build-up, sets are 40 to 70 seconds under load, the best that can be done with any exercise as well, although the shape is easier to break down during exercises such as squats or deadlifts.

So, what's the best?

Free weights (multi-joint versions)) are best when …

  • Their main objective is overall strength.
  • You want to focus on muscle damage, which works best with fairly heavy weights (70-85%) and moderate reps (5-10 reps / set) with exercises that put the target muscle in a stretched position can.
  • With fewer exercises, you want to do more.

Machines / pulleys are best when …

  • You are trying to focus on a muscle that you can feel heavy with free weights.
  • You want to stimulate growth with the method of growth factors.
  • You want to use the muscle fatigue / failure approach.

Free weights and machines are equal if …

  • You want to maximize the mTOR (slower eccentric pause in the extended position) or lactate accumulation (40-70 seconds under load per set). Any tool can be used efficiently, but you must be aware of the changes in technology when using longer sets.

No Right or Wrong Tools

Only the best tool needs to be selected for the job you want. No Machine or No Dumbbells is about as smart as No Carbs or No Fat. Sure, it can work for a while, but it makes the process more complex, less fun, and ultimately less productive in the long run.


The simple workout without machines



Machines have their place



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