Home > Hiring the Right Personal Trainer > Hiring the Right Personal Trainer…Part 2

Hiring the Right Personal Trainer…Part 2

A great exercise for ruining your knees, with the added bonus of wasting your time and money.

In my opinion, one of the most debated and redundant subjects in the field of resistance training is that of exercise machines vs. free weights…which is better? I will settle it once and for all, in 99% of cases, exercise machines suck. Need proof?

Exercise Machines

One of the biggest concerns with exercise machines is that they force your muscles to work in a manner that is completely different from real-life situations. For instance, when placing a large box overhead onto a shelf, your deltoid muscles are the primary movers, with your rotator cuff muscles acting as stabilizers. This harmonic relationship between your deltoid and rotator cuff muscles is replicated when you lift a barbell or dumbbells over your head. But when you perform this movement on an exercise machine, because of its fixed trajectory, the rotator cuff muscles do not activate. This forces your body to function in a completely unrealistic manner and teaches your body a faulty motor (muscle) recruitment pattern, drastically increasing your chances of injury.

The fact that fewer muscles are exercised with machines should especially concern those looking for favorable body composition changes. The fewer muscles engaged in an exercise, the fewer calories you burn. In the above example, while lifting a box or barbell overhead, your lower body musculature is recruited to keep you from losing your equilibrium, which is half your body! But on a machine, where you are in a seated position, your lower body is not recruited, requiring less energy (calories) to be expended. 

There are numerous gyms that highlight the fact that they have a “30 minute exercise circuit,” consisting of exercise machines set up in rows.  They claim that it is easy, efficient and convenient. They fail to mention that after 3 weeks, your body will become used to performing the same exercises, no longer benefiting from them, and you’ll eventually succumb to tendonitis.

Trainers and Machines

I will let you in on a closely held secret: Most trainers love exercise machines.  Trainers use exercise machines for the same reason parents use a leash on their children…it allows them to focus their attention elsewhere while still exercising a measure of safety on the client/child. Again, most trainers would rather daydream and take the path of least effort, than focus on the client. Plus, most trainers lack the ability to properly teach an exercise. It is easier to place a client in the leg press versus teaching them to squat. 

Exercise machines are also popular with trainers because they allow the client to use a large amount of weight. Exercise machines do not require the client to stabilize the weight, thus allowing for a greater weight to be used than if a free weight version was performed. For instance, it’s not uncommon for beginners to perform the leg press exercise with over 500 lbs.  However, these same people would snap their spine in half if they attempted the same weight with a squat. It is even doubtful if they could squat a third of that weight. But trainers know this and rely on exercise machines to impress their clients. A client notices the huge amount of weight they are lifting, gets really excited, and proceeds to purchase a block of 50 sessions. But in reality, the client is headed down a path which ultimately leads to stagnation, injuries and a false sense of accomplishment. But at least the trainer makes their mortgage payment for the month. 

On two separate occasions, I was told by two different female trainers that the reason they use machines is because they did not have the strength to properly “spot” their male clients.  Spotting refers to an individual assisting the lifter during a rep when needed. Now, I am not making any statement as to women being weaker than men. I know numerous women who can out lift most men, Liane Blyn for instance. However, I was told by these female trainers that they were not strong enough. If these female trainers were professional and placed the needs of the clients before their own financial gain, they would have referred the male clients to someone else.  But in the cut throat world of the fitness business, they were thinking of the money they would have lost, instead of the muscular injuries and imbalances they will ultimately induce on their clients.

What to Ask

Ask your potential trainer to share their philosophy on exercise machines. If their response is similar to what you have read in my blog post, chances are they know what they are talking about. 

Ask to see training programs they have designed for other clients. If you notice that in every training session they include 2 or more exercise machines, take your business elsewhere.

I have produced countless 12 week training programs without using a single exercise machine.

Ensure the trainer’s strength levels are adequate to spot you when needed.

In the next installment, I’ll share another tip guaranteed to save you money, and importantly TIME.

If you missed Part 1, click here.

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  1. March 31, 2010 at 04:09

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