by Christian Duque
Bodybuilding is about creating the perfect body. You cannot have big arms and chest; You can’t have a huge torso that stands on toothpicks. You can ultimately do what you want, but if you want to create a look like the golden era of sport, you have to have symmetry. You may not need the kind of flow that is required to compete as an amateur or in the elite of professional bodybuilders nationally, but you do need to have balance – this is what distinguishes bodybuilders from fit people.
This balance comes at a price. To build a symmetrical body, a strength athlete must consider their time in the gym and create a game plan (or breakdown). If strength athletes didn’t have a schedule every week, they could fall prey to spontaneity. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, just the temptation to overtrain fun body parts like your chest and arms while under-exercising other muscle groups like your legs, back, and shoulders. The truth is, if most people could work their chest, arms, and abs every day, they would, but they wouldn’t look like bodybuilders.
A breakdown is key; it holds the lifters accountable. Although the backs and legs aren’t that big on social media and very few mainstream people care about how much a person can crouch or pull, they are fun for people who enjoy breaking through PR and putting up big numbers. Additionally, among all of the many accessories that are made, from belts to straps to leg wrappers and more, there are many ways to ensure that the athlete is not injured. The same cannot be said over the shoulders.
While large shoulder muscles add the finishing touches to building a great body, the shoulders are one of the most injury-prone muscles around. Most of the injuries I hear about on the boards and through interviews involve some type of shoulder injury – particularly rotator cuffs. Some guys can injure themselves even with minimal weight, but their freedom of movement may not work. Others could injure themselves if they hold the bar too windy while doing the bench press. The bottom line is that there is a growing camp that believes strength athletes should avoid old-school shoulder movements with bars and dumbbells. The risks far outweigh the benefits, and while mesh procedures exist for shoulder injuries, many people are simply never the same afterward. This is why so many people in their gym would rather work on shoulder injuries than have them surgically treated.
So the big question is, can you make the same profits on machines as you do on barbells and dumbbells? Purisists are against a lot of machines because they feel like they are doing a lot of the key work. While the jack is still lifting heavily, the machines theoretically do all of the balance and stability work. For this reason, you will rarely see seasoned athletes squatting on a Smith machine or sitting on the bench table. Many make an exception to the fact that the 45 pound bar can be moved with just one finger.
Is the bar really 45 pounds when it’s that light? It might not be, but bodybuilders aren’t powerlifters either. Body-hugging athletes are obsessed with being strong, but they are not judged by it. But what if we’re not talking about competitors? What if we talk about people who just want the bodybuilder look?
Well, the same can be said for them too. There is no connection between heavy lifting and creating an aesthetic body. The main idea is to stimulate the muscles and eat good nutrition. Do you need to lift a car to have round pecs, limited deltas, and good arms? I would say no. The truth is, machines are just as good at breaking down muscle tissue and reducing the risk of injury. When it comes to the shoulders, there are lots of old-school exercises that just bold egos but don’t necessarily add much to the look you want.
Take neck presses, for example. While these looked great in pictures and videos from back then, they are almost a guarantee of shoulder and neck injuries. The Barbarian Brothers loved to do this. They would hit 225, sometimes 315, and occasionally even up to 405. Can you imagine doing that with a barbell even at 315, even with a great spotter, at 30, 35 or 40 years old? Perhaps people could get away with such meaningless show of strength in high school and / or college, but as we age we become more prone to injury and much more difficult to heal. Also, what’s the benefit of being strong in this exercise?
Another exercise that carries a high risk of injury is standing military presses. These are pure ego lifts. It is dangerous to do them in a crowded gym; The strength athlete must not rely on explosive strength or momentum, and the rep range must be carefully studied. Unless the lifter is in an Olympic training facility, it can’t just drop a bar 135, 225, or more on the floor. Not only does this destroy the floor, it could injure others, and it could easily injure the lifter. What’s worse, the lifter might be injured and not even know it. There is simply no need to sit behind the neck press or do a standing military press; Even so, tons of people still do them.
Dumbbells aren’t much safer than straight bars. Nobody is equally strong on both sides. Many people are more on their dominant side (e.g. their writing side). It is almost unknown to find someone who is just as strong with the left as with the right – or vice versa. One side always pushes or pulls more than the other. This, along with posture and range of motion, could contribute to the safety or danger of a lift.
Machines do the balancing for you and thus reduce the risk of injury. With shoulders, which are already more prone to injury, it makes far more sense to use machines and cables over dumbbells and barbells. Presses can be done with machines, as can flys and raises. Indeed, once a lifter is on a machine, there is less temptation to walk harder than necessary.
The fact that someone is on a machine by default takes away a large part of the limelight. Nobody sitting at a machine looks for attention; Hence, you don’t have to lift like a monster. This whole mindset is no longer a pressing concern. In all fairness, this mentality is the real culprit in injury. The key to going to the gym is the work it takes to build. Showing off should be the culmination of all efforts. This is what sunbathing by the pool, strolling on the beach and / or shopping in the mall is all about. I can assure you, nobody cares how strong you are in the gym. Still, most people live for the day when the entire gym is fixated on their strengths. It’s a recipe for disaster.
The truth is, I’ve seen countless athletes build beautiful bodies – all on machines. I’ve seen guys who look like larger-than-life freaks who only train at Planet Fitness.
Also, check out some of the best-built prison bodies. These guys don’t have free weights, let alone machines. Many of them train with their own body weight, towels and sandbags. They don’t have access to great food or exotic supplements, but somehow they get it. But don’t take my word for it. Head over to YouTube and see what some guys achieved during their incarceration. Plus, step onto any fitness planet, anywhere, and you’re sure to see some pretty impressive bodies. Hence, not only can it be done, it is done all the time.
The bottom line of good workout is getting the muscle guessing, tensing it, and using various techniques (ex. High intensity, high volume, rest / pause, and training to failure). Personally, I believe that these goals can be achieved by including and / or relying solely on machines.
What are you saying?