Functional Fitness Training

Gym Machines – are they for you?

Most people go to the gym and love to use all the fancy machines. There’s always a new one that performs miracles or they will try and sell you one on those late night info commercials. Curves turned them into a great franchise in the 90s and even some physios have jumped on the bandwagon with their one size fits all pilates reformers. While machines may be suitable for some people, one needs to question if they will help you achieve your goal or could they contribute to injury?


Big machines like the leg extension and pec dec have been gym mainstays for decades. They isolate the muscles so you can pump them up to make you look ‘huge’. However, the problem is they move you in only one plane of motion. Nearly every human movement we do is multi-plane. These gym machines are not strengthening you for real life and are ineffective. They were originally designed for bodybuilders who had hours a day to isolate and stress each muscle.

Fitness Expert BJ Gaddour

More importantly, exercise machines can lead to injury. Even with their adjustable seats and pegs, finding the proper position can be close to impossible—and even then the movements just aren’t natural. “Free weights and bodyweight exercises allow your body to move in a natural range of motion,” fitness expert BJ Gaddour says. “When you fix it, it results in a limited and improper movement pattern that can be dangerous. Ref:


Besides parking you on your butt, most machines isolate a single muscle, having the opposite effect for every day functional use. Because you’re either sitting or lying down, one seldom uses their core, obliques, glutes or stabilisers and this causes muscle imbalances that result in injuries.


We live in a different world today. Most of us are always sitting down -hunched over in triple flexion. Either on the computer, in the car etc…our shoulders are more hunched over than ever before. Our necks are stiff. Our hip flexors are tighter.

So if anything, our training should be aimed at reversing these issues. We should not prescribe exercises that will contribute!

Injury Prevention

As we grow older, functional training becomes more important if we want to avoid operations. While any exercise is better than no exercise, proper training and injury prevention go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other or you simply won’t be doing exercise later on in life when it is most needed.

One size will never fit all

Another reason machines don’t cut it. Each person is different and has different strengths. Everybody has specific weaknesses that only they need to work on. Whether its stretching, strengthening or mobilisation.  You must find your “weakest link” and work most on it. Further, it will make you heaps stronger overall.

You are only as strong as your weakest link

Sitting on machines while isolating muscles will further limit your hip mobility. Everyone has stiffness at the hips as it is. Basically, when the soft tissue structures at the hips are stiffer than the muscles acting at the lumbar spine, we wind up moving in the path of least resistance, creating lumbar instability and allowing “energy leaks” to take place that decrease performance.

Advice from the Best in the World

Physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann championed the approach of creating stiffness at adjacent joints (lumbar spine) to the stiffness (hips) to improve clinical outcomes in the rehabilitation community years ago. More recently, Gray Cook and Mike Boyle introduced these thoughts on a whole-body scale to the performance training world in a solid framework with the joint-by-joint approach. Ref: .

Their outstanding research suggests you can make these improvements quicker and more long-lasting by simply introducing proper core stabilization exercises with greater hip range of motion. Functional fitness is not a trend, its here to stay.

What to do

Stay away from machines unless you want to get huge. Use your own body weight in movements like a push-up or try free weights like dumbbells or kettle bells. Focus on your functional strength and your core. Having a strong fit body is a great way to keep the injuries away. If your muscles are balanced with a strong core then your body will not wear down or have to compensate for being weak or tight.

Core Exercise Selection

Don’t do sit ups until the rest of your core is balanced or it will have the opposite effect and tighten your hip flexors.  Learn to balance your core exercises by focusing on your weaker areas such as your pelvic floor, obliques and anterior core to increase pelvic stability. Learn the concept of neutral spine. Don’t ever do crunches as they contribute to shoulder and neck pain. Ref:

Never skip your warm up

Do soft tissue work (Foam Rollers) at the hips, quads and side quads (ITBs) first before lengthening the hip flexors. Then activate and strengthen the glutes to get these guys doing some work and sharing the load with your poor old knees and lower back! (These steps alone will help immediately.)

Always stretch after

After exercising, at least stretch your specific tight muscles for a minimum of thirty seconds each. Note we said ‘your’ specific tight muscles. Pointless stretching your muscles if you are flexible. You may need to strengthen those muscles.

How can I be sure I’m doing it right?

To get the best results from exercise, technique is extremely important. The big three are range of motion, control and posture. The problem is it’s really hard to get these three factors perfect. So, unless a trained eye is on you giving you the right cues, you’re not getting the most workout benefit. Find a qualified fitness professional in a small group format so they can guide you to minimise injury and maximise results

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