Strength training affords us the opportunity to challenge ourselves through multiple planes and ranges of motion. Toward that end, I think it’s important to minimize machine use and train in space with free weight and body weight movements. While machines have value, reducing our reliance upon them actually enhances the strength training effect while improving how our body functions
For the overwhelming majority of the population, sitting is a way of life. We have 9-5 desk jobs and plush leather chairs at home. Our children spend most of their day sitting in desks and have less opportunity for recess or physical education than ever before. It behooves us to use our structured exercise time to unlock our bodies. You’ll very rarely, if ever, see me training a client on a leg extension machine when they’re perfectly capable of squatting or lunging. A seated shoulder press becomes an entirely different exercise when we perform it from a standing position. Point being, nearly everything that we can do in the gym sitting down we can also do standing up. Standing and moving are exactly what we need after extended periods of sitting.
Above, I mentioned that we have the opportunity to move in multiple planes during training. Three planes of movement exist and they are the following:
Sagittal: Movement primarily occurs in flexion and extension. Think of movements in this plane as being forward or backward. Bicep curls, squats and the leg extension machine are examples of sagittal plane exercise. Most movement, in general, occurs here as well.
Frontal: Movement primarily occurs laterally as abduction and adduction. In this plane, we primarily move limbs away from to toward our midline. Lateral lunges and chest flys are examples of frontal plane movement. Some, but not much of our daily movement occurs here.
Transverse: Movement primarily occurs as rotation. Medicine ball chops and throws are examples of transverse plane movement. Throughout our day, we probably move the least in this plane.
Machines mostly limit us to sagittal plane movements, through pre-set ranges of motion. Once we’re off the machine and moving in space, we can move in any plane we’d like and our range of motion is limited only by our own ability. As a result, a whole new playbook of exercises opens up for us where we can strengthen our body for our daily activities, weekend sports, etc.
Many serious injuries (e.g. an Achilles tendon tear) suffered during weekend pick-up sports or slipping unexpectedly, occur because our bodies are locked down from sitting, then exposed to explosive or uncontrolled movements. By strength training in multiple planes, hopping, jumping and undoing the time spent sitting, the likelihood of injury can be significantly reduced. As such, my advice would be to ditch the machines and include exercises like the examples below to give your body a whole new challenge:
Lateral Lunges – This exercise combines frontal plane movement (abduction/adduction) with sagittal plane movement (flexion/extension). It’s great, both for strengthening your hips and inner thighs and for hip ROM. I use them both in my warm-up (a great time to learn) and in my regular training.
Medicine Ball Chops – One of my favorite exercises, chops are a great transverse plane (rotational) exercise, combined with a little sagittal plane (trunk flexion and extension). If you’d like a stronger core, give them a try!
Single Limb and Offset Exercises – While much of the work is done in the sagittal plane, you need to stabilize your body to resist rotation and maintain alignment. That makes single leg exercises a great choice to challenge your body in the frontal and transverse planes. Offset exercises, where you’re using a weight one side of the body provide a similar challenge.
A single-leg RDL trains hip extension, but also resists rotation. You must also hold your off-leg in an adducted position:
When performed correctly, a plank row is an anti-rotation and anti-extension exercise in addition to the rowing component:
When you walk into a gym, the machines are always displayed front and center. The barrier to using them is pretty low and it can be tempting to choose them over free weights. However, I’d strongly encourage you to give the free weights a try. You’ll add variety to your workout, while challenging strength and stability.
During a Vitalifit workout, you’ll very rarely find yourself sitting. Even better, our exercise coaching program comes with a comprehensive exercise video database that’s yours to keep. With over 150 different exercises and growing, you’ll never be at loss for things to try. If you’re looking to get off the machines and would like guidance, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.