Machine weights – to be avoided at all costs!

gym work


Article by kind permission of Andy Dubois from

Just because something is easier to use doesn’t mean it is worth doing in the first place. It is easier to use because it doesn’t involve any co-ordination or neuromuscular skill something that the Machine weight Advocates say is a good thing.
However running is an activity that requires very good co-ordination and neuromuscular skill so it makes no sense to start with an exercise that involves neither of these.

Machine weight advocates will argue that you can start with free weights and then build up to free weights.

If we followed that train of thought we would have stronger main muscles (one of the supposed benefits of machine weights) and therefore the balance between our stabiliser muscles and main muscles will be even worse than what it was when we started so co-ordination between the two will be even more difficult.

It’s like saying that a good way to learn to ski is start with sitting on a sled and coasting downhill because real skiing involves too much co-ordination and neuromuscular skill. Obviously you wouldn’t start of by going down a black run, you start by learning how to snow plough and do some basic drills but it still LOOKS like skiing.

If the co-ordination and neuromuscular skills required for an exercise are similar then the brain can use the skills gained in one exercise and transfer it to another if they are different then it can’t do that.

Machine weights are safer – False

Yes they are safer to use in terms of doing the actual exercise, the worst that can happen is you let go and the weight stack falls and makes a large bang whereas if you are using free weights and drop a dumbbell you can injure yourself BUT are they safer in terms of the effect they have on your body afterwards? No

If your main muscles are stronger than your stabilising muscles can control then you simply set yourself up for an injury. If the pattern of muscle recruitment and co-ordination is different for the machine weight compared to running then injury will likely result. Machine weights are very good for developing muscular imbalances that eventually lead to injury.

Machines weights apply a more even resistance via the use of cams and pulleys which allow equal load to be put on the muscle throughout the exercise – True
Does it matter? No

If we want to improve the way we run then the loads should simulate the loads that occur in running. In running we have a landing force we have to deal with; we have to deal with the constant effect of gravity and the effects of momentum. None of these are simulated by a Machine. Who cares if the machine can give your muscles a nice even load throughout the movement, it certainly doesn’t happen when we run.

It is easier to perform Machine weights exercises slowly which will lead to greater strength – False

A slower speed of movement will lead to more hypertrophy (muscle growth) not strength. One thing most runners don’t need is big bulky muscles (sprinters possibly accepted)

Body builders like machines because they can perform slow controlled movements that are great for putting maximum stress on the muscles to stimulate maximum growth. (That’s another argument that I won’t go into today!)
What do we mean by greater strength anyway? Does the ability to lift a heavier weight mean anything when applied to runners? When you consider that when running each foot hits the ground ninety times a minute or 5400 times an hour, the idea of improving your strength to lift a weight 10 or 15 times seems a bit pointless.

Studies show that runners having undergone a Machine weight training program have improved running performance – True

This is what the Machine weight advocates cling to, research that shows improved performance after a 12 week weight training program. All these studies used either free weights or a mixture of machine and free weights, so are inconclusive when comparing free weights to machine weights. Short term studies like this also ignore any long term negative effects that machine weight had on the athlete.

Since there are some short term studies saying that some use of Machine weights when combined with free weights improved running performance isn’t that good enough to keep using them?

No. In my opinion why use a training method that contradicts almost every known training principle? When the risk of a running injury is higher using machine weights and there are far better ways to improve running performance, using machines make no sense.

Some people will argue that machine weights would be good for building a particular muscle up since they believe that muscle may be weak and causing an injury problem.
If you are recommended to use the leg curl, leg extension, leg press, hip adduction and hip abduction machines by a health professional or trainer find another professional or trainer for they do not understand what they are talking about when it comes to exercise prescription. They may be great at diagnosing injuries but they aren’t in terms of prescribing exercises.

Muscles become weak because they are not activated properly in a particular action (in this case running), just because you increase the strength and size of a muscle on a machine doesn’t mean it will activate properly when you run. Muscles are activated by movement and if your body doesn’t move correctly then the correct muscles may not be activated. The key is to get the body moving correctly.

For example if your foot doesn’t pronate enough then your lower leg and then upper leg wont rotate inwards when you land which would normally switch on your inner quadriceps muscle and your gluteal muscles, the rotation of your upper leg combined with correct movement of the pelvis should also switch on your gluteal muscles. No amount of repetitions on the Hip Abduction machine is going to make your foot pronate more .