Working out on weight machines? Some experts say that staying home from the gym may be better for your health.
“Life isn’t like climbing a ladder. Life is actually more like climbing a rock wall because every time you rock climb, you go up a different way,” says certified personal trainer Tony Horton, creator of P90X Extreme Home Fitness.
Horton, who has trained clients at every level, including celebrities such as Sean Connery, Rob Lowe, Tom Petty, and Shirley MacLaine, says his approach to optimal fitness has changed dramatically in recent years. His regimen includes “synergistic” movements that employ stepping, squatting, pushing, pulling, and jumping. It’s more like how you experienced activity as a kid when you ran, kicked a ball, and swung from the monkey bars.
The Way You Move
“Weight machines work isolated parts,” says Horton. “For example, when you sit on a leg extension machine, you extend your leg from the floor to out in front of you, lifting a weight and working the quadriceps.”
But that isn’t how muscles work in real life. “If you’re using weight machines, you’re not using all of those small stabilizing muscles that are so important,” says Timothy E. Hewett, PhD, director of the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Developing that musculature and functional posture is critical to true fitness and avoiding injury.”
In addition to the underdevelopment of stabilizer muscles, overtraining one side of the body and undertraining the opposing muscle groups is a classic problem associated with weight machine use. The result is an unbalanced body, and unbalanced muscles don’t help you accomplish everyday tasks.
“I was at the airport watching people with their luggage,” says Horton. “Most of them were grunting and groaning, obviously compromised and setting themselves up for injury, and they really didn’t have the strength to move their bags.”
Exercise that empowers you in real life is real fitness. Being able to get on a weight machine and leg press like Pat Robertson isn’t true strength. But being able to get through the airport, play games with children, and have enough stamina to clean your house is. Many researchers, trainers, and surgeons have concluded that weight machines don’t strengthen the body properly and can lead to serious injuries. That’s why most professional athletes no longer use nautilus machines. Horton was recently invited to visit the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL team can certainly afford the sleekest, newest machines, but its conditioning coach had the guys doing Horton’s functional fitness program instead.
Functional workouts bring faster results. “One functional move can work the entire body from the rib cage down your glutes, your hamstrings, your calves, and your quadriceps, instead of one or two muscle...