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Rise of the machines

Make more of your gym’s weight machines for faster gains

If you’re new to working out, or just finding your feet in the weights room having previously concentrated on cardio, using resistance machines is a great way to learn the main movement patterns behind most of the major weight lifting exercises in a safe and controlled way. That’s because machines are configured to allow only movement in a fixed path, so you can only lift and lower the weight in the correct way.

Fixed form 
Using machines not only teaches you how to lift in a safe and controlled way; it also builds muscular size and strength, forges a stronger mind-muscle connection, and increases your confidence levels ahead of advancing to the free weight moves that use dumbbells, barbells and other bits of non-fixed kit. Read on for the other advantages of using machines, and you can learn more about all the different types of weight training equipment, and how to select the right weight for each exercise, here.

Lift heavier
Machines allow movement only along a fixed path, which makes them an effective tool for targeting specific muscles with heavy weights.

Why it works: 
While free weights are an essential element in any quality muscle-building programme, such as New Body Plan, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, which is often the small, stabilising muscles around a joint. When you use free weights you are limited by the strength of these stabilisers, but that’s not the case with machines because of their fixed movement pattern does the stabilising for you, so you can lift heavier safely to push a particular muscle to its limit.

Overcome injury
It’s inevitable that at some point during your training life you will suffer an injury, regardless of the precautions you take. And it’s when you return to training that machines can help you regain strength and stability lost during time on the sidelines, enabling you ultimately to come back stronger than ever.

Why it works:
Thanks to the fixed movement range of machines you can specifically target a muscle without requiring support from any stabilising muscles. This means you can work, or rest, specific muscles with pin-point accuracy and perfect form to safely strengthen muscles or muscle groups without risking another injury.

Build power
Muscles are made up of different types of fibres, and the more fast-twitch fibres you have, the quicker and harder they can contract to make you more powerful and explosive.

Why it works: Using machines for explosive contractions – think of a fast but controlled movement to initiate a lift – is one of the most effective ways to build bigger, stronger and more powerful muscles, according to research from Loughborough University.

Increase tension
All resistance machines allow you to maintain more tension on the working muscles – which results in greater growth – but none more so than cable machines.

Why it works: Cable machines are a halfway house between fixed machines and free weights because you have some control over the movement range. The best thing about them is that the weight you move remains constant through every stage of the rep, which isn’t the case with free weights where gravity has a big impact, so you can really concentrate on maximising the control of the weight and increase your muscles’ time under tension to build bigger muscles.

Eccentric effort
Have your strength gains hit a plateau? Using machines for safe eccentric lifting – which is when you lower a heavy weight slowly and under complete control – can shock your body into getting stronger.

Why it works: Eccentric reps are very challenging to do safely with free weights, especially if the weight is heavy and you’re feeling fatigued. But machines allow you to control the eccentric phase even under a heavy load when you’re tired. And the rewards are worth the effort: a study in the journal Frontiers In Physiology found that subjects increased their power output, lifting capacity, and muscle size and strength after just five weeks of eccentric lifting.

Try these five simple tips to build more muscle with every rep!

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