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View Full Version : Why can I bench-press more weight on a machine vs. free w


Crafter_Man
10-21-2005, 06:42 PM
I can bench-press 200 lbs maybe once using free weights. (If I'm lucky.) But I can bench-press the same weight six or seven times on a machine. Why is that?

alice_in_wonderland
10-21-2005, 06:48 PM
The machines let you "cheat".

That is, with free weights, you're using a lot of muscle to stablize the weight (so it doesn't fall on your head, crash into your neighbour, etc. On a machine, the weight is fixed so all you have to do is move it - there a way fewer muscles engaged in the exercise.

I think this is why really hard-core lifters eschew machines for free weights.

I think both will make you pretty buff if you stick with it.

jayjay
10-21-2005, 06:52 PM
Not to mention that some bench machines have counterweights...you might want to check that. You may think you're lifting 200 but you're really lifting 150.

jimpatro
10-21-2005, 07:00 PM
And the whole point is resistance not numbers. Using free-weights brings in other muscles and balance in order to move the weight. And guess what the advantage of that is? Being able to move free-weights. As mentioned above using either will get you buff. The advantage of machines over free-weights is that you can take many movements to failure without a partner. And failure is key to growth.

deevee
10-21-2005, 07:00 PM
As alice_in_wonderland the machines remove the need to stabilize so you can really blast the muscle and get buff. The downside is that you don't get very strong. Strength is about being able to lift a weight through a full range of motion and you can only get that with free weights. I only use free weights for this reason. It can be embarassing to have big buff muscles but be unable to have any useful strength unless it is within the precise arc that a machine leads you through.

jayjay
10-21-2005, 07:02 PM
It can be embarassing to have big buff muscles but be unable to have any useful strength unless it is within the precise arc that a machine leads you through.

As examples, see about half of the big buff gymbunny contestants on any given Survivor (Osten, I'm lookin' at you!) who burn out after 10 days or so because their muscles are optimized for lookin' reeeaaaall good.

ultrafilter
10-21-2005, 09:47 PM
Everyone else has nailed it, so let me address a few points:

Not to mention that some bench machines have counterweights...you might want to check that. You may think you're lifting 200 but you're really lifting 150.

Even without counterweights, the way the pulleys are set up can really change the actual weight.

And failure is key to growth.

I'm just going to point out that this is very controversial and leave it at that.

I think this is why really hard-core lifters eschew machines for free weights.

The other issue is that machines don't allow for any variation in the arc of movement. Everyone knows what RSI stands for, right?

CookingWithGas
10-21-2005, 10:03 PM
Everyone knows what RSI stands for, right?Wrong. What does RSI stand for?

jayjay
10-21-2005, 10:43 PM
Wrong. What does RSI stand for?

Repetitive Stress Injury

Balduran
10-21-2005, 11:34 PM
The other issue is that machines don't allow for any variation in the arc of movement. Everyone knows what RSI stands for, right?

The only time I've ever injured myself on the bench press was with a machine. I figured it was because with free weights you can follow the natural motion of your body, but a machine makes you conform to a motion that may not be quite right for you.

R. P. McMurphy
10-21-2005, 11:40 PM
As examples, see about half of the big buff gymbunny contestants on any given Survivor (Osten, I'm lookin' at you!) who burn out after 10 days or so because their muscles are optimized for lookin' reeeaaaall good.

Just to take that statement to it's logical conclusion:

Yea, he may be strong but can he fight?

Any decent 120 lb. boxer (or other martial arts student) could easilly kick the ass of any size bodybuilder under just about any circumstance. Bodybuilding is sick joke. These guys are typically horrible athletes. The weight room can make a good athlete better but it can't turn a knob into a athlete.

jimpatro
10-22-2005, 01:26 AM
So somebody who doesn't train as a boxer or isn't a mere bodybuilder is really worthless huh? :dubious:

Anyway, when did the paradigm shift? It's been a long held tenet that taking a set to failure promotes muscular hypertrophy. I could see where the opposite approach would be controversial. Of course one should train in cycles alternating between a few weeks of failure training and a few weeks of predetermined rep sets.

Schuyler
10-22-2005, 02:27 AM
To add my humble opinion to the OP's question, machines vs. free weights are different for at least 3 more reasons that were maybe only touched on earlier.

1. The way the cams or pulleys work on many bench machines means that the max weight is only applied at the end of the movement, so early on, when your leverage is lower the effort to move the bar is less - this can allow you to put up more weight on these type of machines.
2. Not only do you not need the stabilizing muscles when using a machine (vs. what you would need with free weights), but these muscles can actually be incorporated into helping with the movement, again increasing the amount and reps that could be done on a machine. For this same reason, I find that I can reach a higher max or number of reps when using a bar vs. using dumbells (not sure if that's a shared experience for everyone), since there are fewer degrees of freedom to control with a bar.
3. Related to number 2, technique can slide worse on a machine, not only increasing the risk of injury (as noted) but also allowing you to squeak out that last rep if you really work for it.

I guess I come across as kind of biased (I guess most responders did, come to think of it), so I really only use machines for pulling excersizes that are otherwise hard to isolate with free weights - seated rows and lat pulls, mostly.

Chairman Pow
10-22-2005, 02:51 AM
Bodybuilding is sick joke. These guys are typically horrible athletes. The weight room can make a good athlete better but it can't turn a knob into a athlete.

Getting into IMHO, but bodybuilding is a sport unto itself. Saying that a bodybuilder who is increasing the weight they use purely to increase their muscle size (among other things) compared to, say a powerlifter, for whom increased muscle size is a byproduct of lifting heavier weights really doesn't make a good analogy. They're training is for two different goals.

If you wanted to say, "training like a bodybuilder is not a good idea for someone trying to compete in a different sport" is closer and "people who train like bodybuilders thinking that it will help them in their other chosen sport are going about things incorrectly" is probably what you're meaning to say.

While you may not enjoy it, there's certainly nothing wrong with bodybuilding in and of itself.

R. P. McMurphy
10-22-2005, 09:13 AM
Getting into IMHO, but bodybuilding is a sport unto itself. Saying that a bodybuilder who is increasing the weight they use purely to increase their muscle size (among other things) compared to, say a powerlifter, for whom increased muscle size is a byproduct of lifting heavier weights really doesn't make a good analogy. They're training is for two different goals.

If you wanted to say, "training like a bodybuilder is not a good idea for someone trying to compete in a different sport" is closer and "people who train like bodybuilders thinking that it will help them in their other chosen sport are going about things incorrectly" is probably what you're meaning to say.

While you may not enjoy it, there's certainly nothing wrong with bodybuilding in and of itself.


Chairman, your point is well taken.

To try to explain my point better: People naturally tend to make the association between large muscles and toughness. The psychological underpinning of bodybuilding are to present oneself as THE Alpha Male. My contention is that the end result of bodybuilding is just the opposite. In the animal world of survival of the fittest the bodybuilder is a lot of sizzle and little steak.

A good athlete, particularly one with martial arts experience, is the real Alpha Male in the law of the jungle. Again, strength training will improve an athlete but it will not turn a poor athlete into a good athlete. Everyone should do some kind of strength training. Bodybuilding, however, is some kind of weird contridiction.

Before I get flamed with a bunch of stuff about how there is a lot more that goes into determining the Alpha Male, remember we are talking about people that are only concentrating on building visible muscle definition and nothing else.

jimpatro
10-22-2005, 11:30 AM
And if you're truly into martial arts, you know that any real fight eventually progresses to in-fighting. 240lb bodybuilder will crush 150lb boxer.

jimpatro
10-22-2005, 11:32 AM
Anyway, why does a bodybuilder need to know how to fight? Why does a tennis player or volleyball player need to know how to fight?
Take some estrogen.

ultrafilter
10-22-2005, 12:00 PM
Anyway, when did the paradigm shift? It's been a long held tenet that taking a set to failure promotes muscular hypertrophy.

The notion of training to failure is actually a relatively recent one, having been introduced by Arthur Jones right around 1970 or so. Before that, it was unheard of.

It's a lot of reading, but this interview (http://t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=508353) with Dr. Ellington Darden and the ensuing discussion present both sides pretty well.

Chairman Pow
10-22-2005, 12:07 PM
SpartyDog, I just wanted to clarify your point to head off the flaming.

Which brings me to:

And if you're truly into martial arts, you know that any real fight eventually progresses to in-fighting. 240lb bodybuilder will crush 150lb boxer.

Not necessarily true on both counts. First, I can guarantee that for every stat you've heard that says "X% of fights end up on the ground" I can remember having heard one that says "X% of fights are over after 5 seconds and never even go to the ground." People (especially untrained ones) get knocked out, they run away, their friends break things up, etc.

Second, again, not necessarily true. A bodybuilder who trains for hypertrohpy is will likely not be as flexible as a boxer and could very well overstretch himself, causing problems. Second, that muscle isn't necessarily conditioned for fighting and he'll likely gas quickly. The boxer is quite likely to be in better condition (both form good cardio and having a lot less muscle to fuel) and probably used to working out of the clinch, so he's definitely got some skills there. Now, if our bodybuilder can leverage himself properly on top of the boxer, it's entirely likely that the extra 90# will come into play.

But it's a silly argument - who is a better soccer player: the football running back or the basketball player?



You missed the point entirely (hopefully it was cleared up following, but here goes again): what Spartydog was getting at was the crux of the OP: what's the difference between using a machine and freeweights? The freeweights recruit other muscles into a given motion, the machines essentially isolate one (or relatively few) muscles in that same motion.

When I bench press with a barbell, I have to worry about the bar moving in three "axis" (I can drop it on my chest, I can drop it to the side (or down on my stomach), or I can twist it). When I bench press on a Smith machine, I only have to worry about dropping it on my chest. The muscles that I'd use to keep from dropping the weight to the side or twisting are not used. As previous posters have stated, each method has their benefits depending on your goals.

Dog'susing the analogy of a boxer training his muscles to work in concert and the bodybuilder isolating specific muscles to develop their individual size/appearance. Hes moving outside the realm of the OP to make the point that many people equate big muscles with "functional strength" and that the boxer, while smaller, will have more functional strength than a larger bodybuilder. Thus, he's obliquely saying that freeweights are more conducive to gaining functional strength than machines.

No one necessarily needs to know how to fight.

[quote]Take some estrogen.

Taking estrogen will compromise our hypertrophy training whether we want use the machines or freeweights. :)

jimpatro
10-22-2005, 12:22 PM
Thanks for that ultrafilter.

Chairman Pow, yep, fights involving untrained, sedentary individuals and trained fighters end quickly. Most bodybuilders I know train for size, definition, flexibility and endurance.

I recently shot a short film with a boxing theme. The two fighters/actors involved were a professionally trained boxer and a bodybuilder with no fighting experience.
The boxer helped the bodybuilder along and was very impressed with his performance. He suggested he should train to compete.

The estrogen suggestion was to counter Spartydog's testosterone surplus.

jimpatro
10-22-2005, 12:38 PM
When I bench press with a barbell, I have to worry about the bar moving in three "axis" (I can drop it on my chest, I can drop it to the side (or down on my stomach), or I can twist it). When I bench press on a Smith machine, I only have to worry about dropping it on my chest. The muscles that I'd use to keep from dropping the weight to the side or twisting are not used.

Right and these extra muscles are employed isometrically which is of negligible consequence to strength or size.

ultrafilter
10-22-2005, 12:42 PM
Right and these extra muscles are employed isometrically which is of negligible consequence to strength or size.

Isometrics are great for strength because they allow for much higher recruitment of muscle fibers. Furthermore, if your local musclular system (the stabilizers we're talking about here) isn't up to snuff, your in-gym strength gains aren't going to have as much carry over into the real world.

BMax
10-22-2005, 01:04 PM
I like free weights because I can work out at my house without spending a grand on a machine. Yes, I work out to look good.

jimpatro
10-22-2005, 01:50 PM
But you're still working out.

Some folks snazz up their car or their yard or their dog. For some reason they aren't supposed to make their bodies look good.
Beats the hell out of me. Maybe it's the macho types who think strength or fighting ability is the only excuse. Or maybe it's the couch potatoes who feel you shouldn't look better than them. Those who work out, for whatever reason, should be respected. It ain't easy.

Rant over. :rolleyes:

Chairman Pow
10-22-2005, 06:57 PM
The estrogen suggestion was to counter Spartydog's testosterone surplus.

Yes. The smiley face was to make it a joke. However, technically estrogen doesn't negate testosterone (or other androgens), so...

:dubious:

But you're still working out.

Nobody has said that working out to look good is bad. Nobody has said that the only reason one should work out is to increase their functional strength/fighting ability.

At worst, Dog is guilty of a poorly chosen analogy.

jimpatro
10-23-2005, 01:46 PM
True about the estrogen of course, just engaging in a bit of hyperbole.

As examples, see about half of the big buff gymbunny contestants on any given Survivor (Osten, I'm lookin' at you!) who burn out after 10 days or so because their muscles are optimized for lookin' reeeaaaall good.

Everyone should do some kind of strength training. Bodybuilding, however, is some kind of weird contridiction.

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