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Monday, April 1, 2013

Women and Weights Part 2: Free weights vs. Machines

Happy Monday and more importantly, happy April Fool's day!  I hope everyone had a great Easter weekend!  I definitely enjoyed the family time, food and egg hunts.  I'll be honest, I indulged a little too much but it's back to the routine this morning.

If you know me then you know I love a good prank.  I saw this ecard this morning and hard to share.  Totally me to a "t"!

Last week I in my post, Women and Weights I gave you some reasons why it's important for women especially to add resistance training into their exercise rountine as well as debunk some myths I often hear women reference.  This week I want to explore the advantages and disadvantages of free weights vs. machines.  Let's get started!

Free Weights: Free weights are described as weights not attached to machines. Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and even medicine balls are all examples of free weights.  A large advantage of using free weights include versatility.  With a set (or a few sets) of dumbbells or a single barbell you can perform a number of exercises using both large and small muscle groups.  Free weights tend to require more muscles to help stabilize the weight than machines which can help improve one's balance.   Dumbbells are often inexpensive and occupy little space which make for a great choice for home workouts.

As I mentioned in the advantages, free weights require a lot of balance to perform more exercises. This can be difficult and even potentially dangerous if you are new to exercise, have poor form, or lack balance.  Women new and old to exercise may also find it hard, if not impossible to target specific muscles without correct form.  Because free weights can allow for a large range of motion, it is important to pay especially close attention to form and technique to decrease the risk of injury.

Since beginning my "new career" I've heard multiple women tell me they are intimidated by the free weight room in their gym.  Some of them are intimidated because they are unsure of how to use the weights while others are intimidated by the type of people that tend to occupy the free weight room.  If you find yourself feeling this way let me offer a suggestion- Most gyms have employees on staff who's job is to help you use the equipment correctly.  If you work out at your local YMCA ask a Wellness Coach.  These people can show you how to perform a specific exercise, assess your form and answer any questions you may have about free weights.  If you're nervous to use the free weight room because of the people in it, don't be.  I'll give you a few thoughts to help you relax.  1. These people were beginners once too.  2. Just because they have a protein shake, a cut off t-shirt and blasting metallica in their headphone so loud you can hear it does not mean they know what they are doing.  3.  Most of these people just want to look at themselves in the mirror, not at you.  And I say #3 with love, I'm one of those people.  I'm sure people think I spend my time in the weight room checking myself out but really I'm looking for correct form.  Ok, ok...and to make sure my pretty pony looks good too.  :)

No make-up, no filter.  And I'm serious, I'm always concerned with the pretty pony.  

Machines: Cybex, Strive, Free Motion are all brand names of machines you may have seen at your gym. Some work on fixed cams, adjustable cams or even cables to provide resistance to the user.  Regardless of how the machine works, generally speaking machines are a great choice for women new to exercise.  Machines are great for isolating a desired muscle group. With proper adjustments (seat height, bar height, etc) machines help ensure proper form and users can quickly select their weight by the set of a pin.  Another big advantage of machines to newbies is that they often have the name of the exercise, a diagram of the muscles used during a repetition as well as a description of how to execute the move labeled on the machine.

Unless your machine works on a set of cables, you most likely are not using additional muscles to help stabilize and therefore don't work as many muscles and/or work to improve balance as you would when using free weights.  Machines are also very specific in their use.  You may only be able to perform one exercise on each machine therefore requiring you to use multiple machines to get a full body strength workout.  You may also find that you have to wait for another gym member to finish using the machine or ask to work in between sets if you're comfortable.

I find myself mostly using free weights but do use machines a bit too.  I especially love the lat pulldown, lying hamstring curl and seated leg extension machines.  What about you....when you lift do you use free weights?  Machines?  A mix of both?  Or something totally different?

And finally, any good April' Fool's day jokes you have in the works?  I'm always up for fresh ideas!

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