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Guitar Hero, Machines, and Barbells

Filed under: Uncategorized — Shon @ 5:49 am April 25, 2011

No, this isn't a case study today.  It's more of an expansion of an observation I made while away from the clinic. 

Last week while in Disney with my family, I noticed 2 teenagers playing Guitar Hero ( which makes me wonder why you would pay to play Guitar Hero at Disney when you can play in 90% of U.S. homes for free is deserving of it's own post).  The 2 kids playing looked, well how should I say, very proficent at the game.


I made a comment to my 11 year old son Lance about how those 2 looked like they spent a lot of time playing Guitar Hero, to which he astutely replied "Yeah, but they don't look like they could play a guitar!"  After laughing a little bit, I got to thinking how this applies to the state of the average gym member at your average U.S. gym.

In the big box gyms, weight machines, elliptical trainers, and treadmills are little more than toys that adults use to entertain themselves for 45-60 minutes 2-3 times weekly for a couple of months, before interest is lost, or their membership runs out. Stated simply:  Exercise machines = Guitar Hero.    

Dictinary definition of  "Bad Idea"



Barbells (and most other free weight exercises) are more like a guitar.  Like a real guitar, barbells can be intimidating to a beginner.  It may seem that the effort isn't worth it, especially when it seems a lot simpler to just sit on a leg press, push in a pin and go through the motions.  You risk looking vulnerable when starting out with basic barbell training.  You also cannot project the illusion of strength using a barbell that you can with the right seat setting and a ridiculous amount of weight on the incline bench machine.  My son, mentioned above has "leg pressed" 300 lb on a Nautilus Nitro machinewhile weighing 68 lb. This was an illusion on par with Criss Angel.

Barbell and free weight training also takes effort to progress from a proficient level of performance to an advanced level, although "advanced" is there for the taking for those willing to put in the time.  Machine based exercise doesn't require the total body kinesthetic awareness, appropriate joint-by-joint mobility and stability patterns, or the mental focus that are all prerequisites for effective free weight training.

Like my Disney buddies who got really good at playing "Psychobilly Freakout" on a fake guitar with colored buttons, people in a safe gym enviroment using  get fooled into believing they are making progress through the same mechanisms when using selectorized weight equipment.  Benching 250 lb. for reps on the Paramount isn't really something to behold.  Strap the Paramount machine on your back and squat it-now you have my attention. 

This is not to say all machine based training is bad.  I have machines in the clinic, and I use them judiciously as well as effectively for certain outcomes, especially with my physical therapy patients more so than my strength training clients.   However, they co-habitate near an Elite FTS squat box, a set of Ivanko bumpers, several straight and trap bars, and a very nice set of Black Iron Strength kettlebells.  I can't use machines to teach  and load basic movement patterns that are vital in getting my patients progressed toward discharge and making my athletes as strong and mobile as I can make them.  

Likewise, just because someone uses an Olympic bar in training doesn't mean  it's being done right either…….   


Guitar Hero can be fun after you have had a few beers at a Christmas party, but it doesn't do anything to prepare you to even  play open mic night at the local tavern.  Likewise, machine based training isn't a two way street when it comes to whole body mobility, stabilization, strength and power.  There's just too much work to do early on for an average trainee to sacrifice these benefits by using only an elliptical trainer and a Life Fitness circuit.



Or this:


Or this…….

If you had to think about it longer than a second, perhaps you need more help than I can offer right now.