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Wodraska: Rage against the machine for better fitness

Published June 13, 2012 1:53 pm

Fitness • Free weights improve strength, balance.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I don't like machine-based exercises. They force you to perform the same motion over and over again, causing injuries and prohibiting strength and body definition.

Research backs up my disdain. In a 2008 study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers followed 30 people (with a median age of 49) for 16 weeks. The participants were divided into three groups: One group used free-form equipment, such as dumbbells, kettle bells and medicine balls, that allowed for multiple planes of motion.

A second group worked out using fixed-form training equipment — such as leg extension and rowing machines — where they were unable to deviate their range of motion.

The third "control" group didn't exercise at all.

Researchers found that the group that used the free-form equipment increased strength by 115 percent and balance improved by 245 percent. That was significantly better than the fixed-form training equipment group that saw strength increase by 57 percent and balance improvement of 49 percent.

Additionally, the free-form group reported lower overall pain levels than those who used fixed equipment.

As expected, the control group saw no change.

So what is the message? Get off the machines and vary your workouts.

With free weights, any time you change the direction of an exercise, even by 15 degrees, it becomes a whole new exercise.

Arm exercises are some of the best ways to ease into free weight training.

Start with a few sets of bicep curls. Hold free weights with the palms facing you; then perform a set with your thumbs up as if you were holding a cup; then perform a set with the palms facing down. Challenge the body by holding the weights out farther from the body for some sets and closer to the body for others.

Experiment with different grips and angles on other exercises as well.

If you are uncertain how to perform bigger, more core-demanding exercises such as squats and lunges, it's always good to get a personal trainer to show you proper form.

With free weights, changing the degree of an exercise changes the exercise, leading to more variety, better definition and a fitter you.

Lya Wodraska is a certified CHEK Practitioner and Holistic Lifestyle Coach. Email her at Lwodraska@sltrib.com.

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