Nowadays in modern gyms, there is a lot of kit to choose from. Varying from machines working on pulley systems, racks of dumbbells, to functional equipment such as TRX and slam bags.
The opportunity to vary our workouts should be embraced… but, which ones are best for muscle growth? The simple answer is they all have their place, depending on what we are trying to achieve, so here is a quick guide to the 3 most popular pieces of equipment in the gym:
Free weights use stabilizer muscles (smaller muscles that support joints), more than machines and cables; this is essential in controlling movement, preventing injury and maintaining equilibrium within the body.
They also allow for all ranges of movement along any plane and allow you to develop strength in practical and real situations, making them important for athletes. Another benefit of free weights is the loads can be increased to very large amounts, especially for gym goers who want to put on muscle. However, when using heavy free weights, the chance of sporting injury and injuries caused by dropping weights increases, and can be tricky for beginners.
Machines are great for the beginner, and can also aid the user in recovery from an injury, the reason being, machines work within limited planes and if one is injured, it can protect vulnerable areas. They are also useful for beginners if they have no knowledge of using free weights, and can train the brain to perform movements it hasn’t performed before. However, machines could limit the more advanced lifter/athlete for these same reasons. If the machine you are using doesn’t work on independent pulleys, for example, seated chest press, where both levers move when only one is pushed, muscle imbalance can occur i.e. one muscle can grow differently than the other.
Cables are slightly different than both machines and free weights, as using cables can change the direction of the resistance, yet keep the muscles under constant contraction and tension throughout the full variety of movements. Cables can also have advantages when trying to isolate certain muscle groups, especially at angles an individual cannot; with dumbbells for example, when performing the standing reverse pectoral fly and pectoral fly respectively. Some cable machines may not have heavy enough resistance to satisfy the stronger athletes.
Remember, every method has benefits! Stick to the principles of training; decide what you are trying to achieve, and alter your workout accordingly. Good Luck!