When you walk into a gym, or "gymnasium" as they're known on the streets, you'll find three distinct areas: a "cardio area," where boring people are doing things I don't even care about; a free weights area, where people are doing exercise; and a fitness machine area, where crippled people are doing physical rehab. "But hey," you exclaim stupidly, "I do the fitness machines, and I am not crippled!"
Well then friend, I'm sorry to tell you: "You are doing it rong," as the kids say. (Catering to the youth demographic: check plus).
Here is an alarming but mostly true story: once upon a time, a savvy businessman named Arthur Jones invented the Nautilus fitness machine, which kept a steady amount of resistance on the user throughout the movement. Nautilus machines only worked one muscle group at a time, so gyms bought entire suites of Nautilus machines to make up a full "circuit." People went around, doing each machine in turn, and voila, they had exercised their whole body. Gyms made money. People were happy to pay a lot of money to join a gym that featured hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fancy plastic equipment, rather than just five hundred bucks worth of jagged scrap iron in a fetid pile (a real gym). Arthur Jones made money. And American gymgoers became a bunch of people who thought they were strong because they could move the pin on the chest press machine all the way to the bottom of the rack.
They were not strong.
People perceived workout machines as shiny, fancy evolutions that were superior to boring old free weights. Bonus: they were much easier, too! Do you see where I'm going with this, America? It was a sham! A sham! A sham! The whole theory! The whole idea! A crock! A fake thingamajig, is what it was, the whole idea that sitting in a fixed position and moving one single muscle through a rigidly controlled range of motion was a better way to work out, than just lifting a god damn weight. It is not. It is much less hardcore. The best exercise you can do with a Nautilus machine is to deadlift the Nautilus machine into a dumpster.
The body is one big complete system of muscles that work together. When you lift a barbell over your head or pick it up from the ground or squat with it or do a pullup or a row or some other actual real life exercise, many of the muscles in your body are working together to lift (and constantly stabilize) the weight, in a useful approximation of some task which you might actually do in the real world, one day. Exercise machines, by contrast, are designed to isolate single muscles or muscle groups, thereby taking the real world design of your body's muscles out back and shooting it right in the noggin. Exercises with free weights are harder, and they make you stronger, and they are one million times more useful than any kind of exercise machine bullshit, so you should just lift free weights. Okay? If the alleged "personal trainer" at your shitty gym tries to "train" you by walking you around the gym floor and telling you how to do various exercise machines, you punch him right in the nuts, and ejaculate "That is not hardcore!" Is that clear enough? And then you can feel superior to all the weakling suckers on the weight machines, and snicker at them under your breath, as long as you do it with the high level of class exhibited in this column, for example.
There is one class of people who are allowed to use the exercise machines: cripples. In this category I include you, me, and anyone who is old, decrepit, or recovering from one injury or another. But you are only allowed to use the machines for the movements that might otherwise cause you to break, or die, and when you are better, and stronger, you should stop using the stupid machines, and go back to free weights. For example, I have a fucked up left shoulder, so sometimes I use the machine that simulates the behind-the-neck press, rather than doing the behind-the-neck press with a loaded barbell, which might be fine, but then again could, with the merest wisp of misplaced movement, cause all the tendons and ligaments in my left shoulder to pop and tear in a great and painful rending of flesh and then my left arm collapses like an imploding old building and the barbell comes crashing to the floor like "Kabloosh!" with a great ruckus, scraping the skin off the back of my neck on the way down, and the gym goes silent as the echoing of the dropped weights is eclipsed in volume by my wailing, "My shoulder! Ahhhh fuck my shoulder, Jesus dang shoot that one smarts," and the lengthy physical rehab that follows causes me take to my couch and become a recluse and lose much of my self-esteem and even years later, when I find a girl to marry, it ends in divorce, because I never really recovered that twinkling je ne sais quois I possessed before what I would only refer to thereafter as "the accident."
So I use the machine. But I don't like it. And neither should you. Tigers don't use any god damn Nautilus machines. (They use free weights.) (Or would if they were capable.)
[Images by Jim Cooke]