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Rage Against the Machine: Build Muscle With Compound Movements

There I was, sitting at the same seated row machine I had been using for the last 10 months, wondering why I still looked like a “Before” picture. Glancing over to the other side of the gym (the one with all the benches and free weights), I saw masses of ripped dudes, not a machine in sight. Suddenly, I had a revelation: machines ain’t worth squat.

I’ll admit it: weight machines are alluring. You sit down, set your weight/height and perform a tracked movement. No balancing weights, no worrying about form.  Machines target certain muscles (biceps, triceps, abs, etc.), but fall short when it comes to working your core.

Fight the machine

In order to teach your body you need to activate your stabilizer muscles. Using machines, you miss out on the all-important element that is integration. Think about it: most everyday movements involve several muscle groups working in unison (well, unless you’re sitting at your computer typing articles). Isolating your muscles to work independently takes away from this. Sure, you’ll build stronger biceps, but other muscles will get weaker in the process. Real muscle growth comes from teaching your body’s muscles to work together.

Weight machines take the work out of working out. I know: I used to use them exclusively. When I switched over to free weights, I was unable to lift nearly half the amount of weight I was supposedly able to handle on the machine. Using free weights, I had to work harder and use my core stabilizer muscles. Machines strip this element away.

Now, I don’t mean to diss on weight machines completely. If you want to target certain muscle groups and/or learn the proper movement for a specific exercise, they’re great. Legs are particularly hard to work out using free weights/body weight. Weight machines come in handy in this instance. Machines are also great for rounding-out workouts, for targeting trouble muscle groups.

Whether you’re doing squats or pullups, you’re using several muscle groups at once. Squats, for example, target the lower back, quads, hamstrings and glutes. Compound exercises not only target several muscle groups at once, but they just feel more natural. Integrated movements mimic the way people actually lift, push and pull objects in real life.

Using free weights might seem scary at first, but they’re worth it. I know when I first left the machines I was totally clueless and constantly looking around at other guys to see if I was doing the movements right. You do need to know the movements involved before you dive headfirst into free weights. Luckily, there’s this thing called the Internet, and you can look up thousands of quality different and YouTube videos explaining particular movements.

If you’re serious about strength training, you’ve got to incorporate integrated movements into your regimen. Stick with just the machines and you’ll never realize your full potential. Take the plunge, hit the bench and you won’t regret it. You’ll finally know the benefits of hanging out on the other side of the gym.

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About John Brhel John Brhel is a freelance writer from upstate New York that enjoys picking apart life's idiosyncrasies and listening to Huey Lewis & the News.

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