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March 15, 2014 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Is there a particularly good handbook/regimen for using weight machines at a gym? Something preferably geared toward strengthening the back, improving posture, eliminating back pain (as opposed to e.g. weight loss.)

I've read Starting Strength, I've briefly worked out with barbells, I know about the relative benefits of free weights, etc. and I'm going to stick to machines anyway for a bunch of reasons. I can't imagine they're worse than not going to the gym at all.

I want to make the best of it. I worked out with weight machines regularly as a teenager, so I'm confident using a bunch of them. I just have no idea how to get started, and I'd like a good outline for proper form, which sort of machines target what and so on.
posted by griphus to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, squats are one of the best exercises you can do for your back and posture, but unfortunately, that's one of the exercises where doing them on a machine is actually not good, because the limited plane of movement can actually cause injury. Rowing is probably a good one to do with a cable machine, that should help with the lower back.
posted by markblasco at 4:34 PM on March 15


ExRx is a good resource. You might especially find this page useful as it tells you exercises to work different body parts. Click on a body part on the left and you are given a list of exercises, most of which have animated GIFs and other info. As for actual books, I like the Gym Bible.
posted by sacrifix at 4:43 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


You can do reverse sit-ups to strengthen your back, like this guy in this video is doing.
posted by clockzero at 6:58 PM on March 15


I can't imagine they're worse than not going to the gym at all.

If your issue is back pain and posture, weight machines may actually be worse than spending your time on free or even body weight exercises. Almost always, for young guys experiencing non-structural lower back pain, it's hamstring and lower back flexibility that's the root cause.

Weight machines are notoriously bad for encouraging poor range of motion and creating strength imbalances and weak stabilizer muscles that lead to injury. Full range pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts, even at low/assisted weights, will give you better results for the time you're going to put in at the gym.

If you are absolutely, positively married to weight machines, you should have a trainer watch you and point out where your form is breaking down and to build you a program. Focus more on maintaining that form than adding weight, as weight machines are very easy to "cheat" on, where you think you're getting stronger but are just adjusting your form/range of motion to accommodate the weight.
posted by rutabega at 7:11 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


My trainer is really big on strengthening lats and rhomboids: these prevent hunching. The 'reverse fly' machine works these, though I find forward-lean-hugging on a large ball and doing the motion with a resistance band is plenty hard.

So maybe start with muscles you want to work, and then find machines that work them? I don't know if there's a centralized source for this, but it would probably get you the information you want.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:08 PM on March 15


Professional fitness nerd Lyle McDonald agrees with you, OP, that it's possible to use machines to get strong, and that the risks might balance out compared to typical use of free weights. See the other parts to that series (links in article) for more on how to figure it out, and a sample program is here in Part 4.

Here's a thoughtful article on safer exercises if you think you'd want to try dumbbells (vs barbells), and here's advice on creating a balanced program from the ACSM.

I think the best thing would be to talk to a physiotherapist, though. They can plan workouts as well as help with pain (as you seem to be in a grey area). You can agree up front what you would like from them, i.e., 1-2 appointments, specifically to set up a routine. And see them in a few months.

It's useful. E.g. I know that while a lot of machines are mostly ok, this one's prone to messing up knees, and I know that because of my physio. Who also told me to keep one foot on the floor when using the leg press, to reduce the arch in the back that often happens otherwise. I did not hear that very sensible advice from trainers. You could try to persuade a trainer to show you machines, and you might succeed (though you'll still probably get snark and maybe some bad advice - some trainers are really great, but many are really not).
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:28 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Get a good trainer to help you. I have been working out with weights for the past two years and it has been incredibly impactful, definitely far better than no weights at all. The machines I use at my local Y are remarkably customizable in terms of setup and range of motion and indeed have a bunch of computerized sensors that are set for each user by a trainer/teacher to capture individual range (and tally weight lifted, too, which is great for an ego boost!)

I'm sure mileage varies widely with trainers but mine for user is experienced in working with people far from healthy. She was very mindful about my posture, breathing, back, wrists to make sure I didn't hurt myself. I can't tell you how glad I am to work with her. It sounds like you are in need of some care and confidence too, so I'll bet working with a good trainer would help you a lot too.
posted by Sublimity at 10:22 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


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