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Functional vs Machines

Functional versus Machine Training – Which is Best?
      You may assume strength training means going to a gym and using the Nautilus or Smith machines. Many people developed beautifully sculpted bodies using these machines. However, you also notice trainers working with clients using only resistance bands, cable machines and stability balls. Does this type of training produce better results? What type of training is best for you?
      The debate is between isolated muscle group training (often single joint exercises) and functional training (often multi-joint exercises). Isolation means that you work a particular muscle group to the exclusion of others. A seated shoulder press performed on a shoulder press machine maximally isolates the shoulder muscles and minimizes stress on the lower body and trunk. You could concentrate all your energy into the shoulder press movement. Conversely, performing a shoulder press after a deep squat while standing on a half foam roller develops the body’s ability to function as a whole unit during a movement pattern on an unstable base. Hence, the term “functional training” describes this exercise since many real world movement patterns, such as bending down to pick up a child, require the body to function as one unit. You will work your entire body during the exercise, but you cannot focus all your energy into the shoulder press because of the demand on your lower body and trunk. 
      In my opinion, both methods have value. The types of exercises you select depend on your goals. If you want to improve your aesthetic appearance, your workout might emphasize muscle isolation to maximally load and develop each muscle group but still incorporate functional exercises to develop core stability and ensure coordination among all muscle groups. An athlete, however, may emphasize functional exercises that most complement her sport and incorporate isolation exercises for limited purposes. For example, she may perform a set of leg presses to pre-fatigue the leg muscles before performing multi-direction lunges. She will test her ability to balance and coordinate movement on partially fatigued legs such as in a competitive situation. 
      Keep the following points in mind regarding the differences between isolation and functional exercises to help you select optimal exercises for your goals and reap the benefits of each. 
      Since machines often provide stabilization of the body to allow muscle group isolation, they may allow you to work with a greater load than if you performed similar exercises with free weights or bands. Use caution and make sure you thoroughly warm up the exercise with at least one light load set before lifting your maximal or near maximal load. This is one of the benefits of keeping an exercise log. This helps you remember your work intensities and volume from previous workouts and avoid over zealous lifts. 
      Likewise, since machines may not entirely mimic real life situations, do not assume you could lift the same amount of weight at home or at work as you lift in the gym. If you lift 50 pounds on a shoulder press machine, do not assume you will feel the same lifting a 50 pound box of household items. Your body must provide its own stability when moving items at home or work. If you lift objects regularly at home or work, you may want to use primarily free weights, cable, and resistance bands to most complement your daily activities.
      Machines vary in structure and function. Get as much information as possible about the machine’s design before using it. For example, Free Motion cable machines promote core stabilization like free weight exercises because you determine the line and range of motion. Hence, Free Motion “machines” often promote functional exercises. Similarly, other machines may allow users to determine their particular range of motion and degree of core stability. Talk to trainers or other fitness professionals to determine which equipment most benefits your interests.
      Lastly, muscle isolation exercises may help you rehabilitate from surgery or an injury and may help you level a right-left strength imbalance. A patient recovering from knee surgery may perform the single-joint leg extension exercise to strengthen the quadriceps before moving to more demanding, multi-joint exercises such as the squat. Also, someone with stronger right quadriceps than left quadriceps may incorporate one or two sets of leg extensions of leg presses on the right leg to level the imbalance.
In summary, isolated muscle development does not promote motor pattern development. Motor pattern development requires coordination among all muscle groups and the neuromuscular system. Body builders and those seeking aesthetic benefits from exercise use muscle isolation training to develop form and symmetry within the body. However, athletes and those concerned with movement patters, focus their training on coordination of the entire body. They perform primarily multi-joint functional exercises that complement their sport or desired activities. Anyone may benefit from both types of exercise. Understand your goals, your primary activities, and the likely result of the equipment you use. Each piece of equipment varies in its capabilities. No matter what equipment you chose, perform your exercises correctly with good form and control. There is no benefit to poor form and lack of control. 
Source: Cook, Gray. Athletic Body in Balance. Human Kinetics, 2003, pg. 11.

This article was provided by Free Movement Fitness Inc.
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