Should you work out with barbells and dumbbells or with resistance machines?
The weight training corner of the gym is no longer exclusive to those who dream of being the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. Research has shown that men and women of all body types can benefit from some resistance training. It is a fact that Jason Boyd, a health educator in the Wellness Center at St. Joseph’s/Candler, shares early on with his clients.
“Resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, especially as you get older,” Boyd says. “Maintaining muscle mass is one of the critical factors that correlates to longevity.”
People naturally start to lose muscle mass after the age of 40, with some losing almost two percent a year. This can lead to a drop in your metabolic rate, fewer calories burned, and unhealthy weight gain.
But now that you’re ready to do resistance training, where do you begin?
“If a person is older or a beginner, we start them off on the machines,” Boyd says. “They are generally safer because they keep you in a fixed plane of motion, with the weights being lifted through a pulley system. If your muscles fatigue halfway through a bench press rep, for example, you can just set the bars down.”
The machines also help beginners with illustrations or descriptions of the exercise included on its side.
“Our machines actually have a QR code that you can scan with your phone, and it will play a video of someone performing the exercise,” Boyd says.
Learning the movements as you work each muscle is important for when you are ready to try free weights. Boyd tries to incorporate those exercises into a person’s routine as they gain more experience because they do have additional benefits.
“Free weights stress the muscle a little bit more, and they engage more muscles,” Boyd says. “Each of us has what are called stabilizer muscles that come into play when we need to keep proper form with a dumbbell or a barbell.”
Boyd also notes that the pully system in resistance machines that help you perform an exercise smoothly can inadvertently allow your stronger muscles to compensate for weaker ones. With free weights, both left and right muscle groups are equally and independently challenged. So Boyd does encourage the use of free weights whenever possible.
Of course, with a free weight bench press or any other exercise where the weight could come on down on you if your muscles fatigue, you will need a second person to spot you.
Even though free weights typically create more muscle strength, Boyd does not want anyone who is limited to machines—due to surgery, injury or a doctor’s recommendation—to get discouraged.
“You can still get a very effective workout using just the machines,” Boyd says. “As long as those muscles are stimulated, they will get stronger. And with the equipment we have here, you can work all your major muscle groups.”
Looking to join a gym? Learn more about what the Wellness Center has to offer at www.sjchs.org/WellnessCenter.