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Gyms.co.nz Fit Tips

Free Weights or Machine Weights?

Deciding what type of weights to use can sometimes be very confusing, especially for those of us that are new to the concept of resistance training.  Should I use levers, cables, barbells or even dumbbells to train a given muscle?  Is it better for me to perform single arm / leg exercises or to train both simultaneously?  This month in Gyms.co.nz Fit Tips we investigate the benefits and drawbacks of utilising machine weights vs. free weights as part of our exercise programme.

Machine Weights

Machine weights are great for beginners because they are safe and easy to use.  They are designed to guide your body through a certain range of motion and often restrict movement outside of this desired motion range to avoid injury and ensure correct technique.  The are particularly beneficial for those new to exercise as you do not have to worry about balancing weights, a simple change of the pin position is often all that is required to increase the weight lifted.  Additionally, there is very limited coordination required as you generally will work each muscle group in isolation.  A workout designed around machine weights will often be more time efficient as you can quickly move from one machine to the next without carrying weights back and forth.

However, it is not all roses when it comes to machine weights.  Yes they do not require as much coordination, but in turn this means they are less effective in building muscle balance and coordination within your body.  Also, machines are obviously not portable, they cannot be moved around easily, and during peak workout times it can sometimes become difficult to gain access to your desired equipment at your gym.

Free Weights

Free weights on the other hand are very versatile.  One set of dumbbells can be used for many exercises, and they tend to build a better muscle balance and muscular coordination within your body.  Your muscles can be trained in a way that matches real life.  Free weights allow you to strengthen stabiliser and synergist muscles and tendons that would perhaps not be utilised during an isolation exercise on a machine.   

The difficulty with free weights is that due to the balance and coordination required generally workouts are more suited to advanced gym goers.  Additionally, the increased complexity and freedom of movement means injuries occur more easily using free weights. Furthermore, if you are pushed for time then you may want to bypass the free weights as a workout will generally take longer than when using machines.

The conclusion.  For beginners, free weights are a great way to get used to movement patterns required in resistance training.  However, as you become more confident with your training then why not try to incorporate a combination of dumbbell and barbell exercises into your routine to replace some of the machines.  Not only will you get a great workout of the muscle that you are training, but the surrounding and assisting muscles will also get a supplementary workout at the same time.  If you are happy sticking with machine weights, then look to modify your exercises slightly so that you perform single leg / arm movements from time to time to add variety and to ensure you are not creating muscle imbalances.

Safe Lifting Precautions

Whether you are lifting free weights or using a machine there are a number of precautions that you should take before embarking on any weight training workout.

Warm up before you begin.
Take 5 to 10 minutes doing some light aerobic exercise to warm your muscles up.  By doing this your muscles will become more limber and less susceptible to injury.

Do a warm up set for each exercise.
Choose a lighter weight than you will be using and perform 8 - 10 repetitions of each exercise you do before you exercise.  Again, this will ensure your muscles are ready for the strain of more intense weight lifting and will reduce the incidence of injury.

Lift the weight slowly.
Too many individuals try to rush the movement when they are training.  Generally, the weight should be lifted in a slow, controlled fashion to gain optimum benefit and reduced injury risk.

Don't hold your breath.
Holding your breath during weight training can be very dangerous as it causes a sharp rise in your blood pressure.  Remember exhale during the exertion phase of the lift.

Use proper form.
Always use proper technique when performing your exercises, do not swing your body or weights around.  If you are unsure about the correct technique then ask an instructor.

Cool down.
Just as important as warming up is cooling down post workout.  Again, 5 - 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise will assist in returning blood pressure to normal, reducing breathing rates and removing waste products from muscles.

Sleep Your Way Thin?

Sleep... often a luxury that we have to or can do without.  "Honey, set the alarm"... so we can get up and tend to the daily chores, or hit the day running.  However, some new evidence suggests that we may now need to be planning our sleep patterns as we plan our exercise training.

A recent study has actually stated that additional sleep may actually help you lose weight.  The study into the sleep patterns of 500 volunteers, over a 13 year period, revealed that significant increases in weight were displayed as sleeping time decreased.  Women gained on average 5 pounds when their sleep fell from 7.7 - 7.3 hrs, and men also gained on average 5 pounds when sleep activity dropped from 7.1 to 6.9 hours.

The scientist concluded that Leptin, one of the chemicals created during your sleep, aids the suppression of fat cell production by curbing your appetite, and that a lack of sleep may affect the hormones that burn off calories during the day. 

The consideration for Joe public?  Perhaps we should be planning an extra couple of hours of sleep into our exercise programme each week to maximise the potential for the weight loss that we are seeking?