Last week, we looked at the advantages and disadvantages of Dumbbells and Barbells. This week, we’ll look at exercise machines and, the most unorthodox method of free-weight training in common use today, kettlebells.
Machines: Weightlifting machines are often the staple of a bodybuilder’s preparation for competition, but that doesn’t always mean it is the best approach for everyone. With machines, you can lift more, reduce the risk of injury to your spine and reduce the risk of injury from weights falling on you. This is because of their ease of use and the fact that most of them are designed to place you in a seated position and don’t usually place the weights directly above you (and provide an easy way to “rack” the weight even if it is directly above you). All of this means that it becomes easier and safer to exercise alone, so you don’t have to wait for a floor trainer to monitor/spot you and you also don’t have to find the extra cash to pay a personal trainer. Additionally, you can use machines to isolate a specific muscle/muscle group and the resistance is more even throughout the workout. However, in a crowded gym, you can’t do circuit training due to the fact that most machines are usually occupied (unless you’re very lucky) and you may have to wait to do your exercise (also true for free weights, but with less frequency). The increased stability offered by the machine means that the use of stability muscles is almost completely eliminated, so you now have to do extra work just to develop the muscles in your core, your rotator cuffs, etc., and you expend less energy in a workout, so you also have to put the extra energy to burn your requisite number of calories. Finally, machines create a “one-dimensional” type of movement, thus reducing their likeness to real-world movement and also forcing your body to move through unnatural angles. This means that the translation to real-world functionality is reduced and there is an increased risk of joint-injury when the load gets heavier.
Kettlebells: A kettlebell is a weight with a handle on one end. It is very much shaped like a kettle, but without the spout. Also to note, kettlebells are not new — they may have been around for well over 350 years — but they are simply the newest weightlifting “craze” to hit gyms (along with CrossFit). Kettlebells, because they are primarily used in explosive exercises, create the most fat-burning* type of exercises (a kettlebell exercise becomes, in and of itself, similar to an HIIT routine, with increased calorie-burning benefits long after the exercise). Because many kettlebell lifts are performed unilaterally (and the most popular bilateral movement, the kettlebell swing, involved holding the weight while it tries to escape your hands), it may have the highest rate of core activity (except maybe the barbell squat and deadlift) of all weighted exercises. Almost all kettlebell exercises provide a full-body exercise. The emphasis on posterior-chain development also means that kettlebell training has a more functional, real-world translation for athletes (pro or amateur). By varying the weight, you can vary the type of exercise you do with kettlebells easily and without adjustment. You can even do conventional exercises with kettlebells (but with slightly greater activation of smaller muscles — wrists, for e.g., when doing bicep curls or tricep extensions). Finally, kettlebells are plain fun to work with! However, because kettlebells come in specific, non adjustable weight categories, you have to buy several pairs of this already-expensive type of weight to complete your set and get the most out of kettlebell training. Getting someone to teach you how to safely use them is also expensive, since kettlebell trainers are more expensive than regular trainers (niche marketing and what-not). Also, because you have to hold them in your hands, at some point they are subject to the same limitation as dumbbells — you just can’t hold that much weight in a single hand, so utilising a barbell becomes more efficient.
So, there you have it! Our four categories of weight-training examined and explained. Next week, we’ll compare all four. Look out for it!
*The use of the term “fat-burning” is an oversimplification. Activity burns calories, regardless of the source (carbs, fats or proteins). Your body stores carbs for ready-to-use energy and taps into fats when that’s done. The idea of “burning fat” comes in more after the exercise and also by creating a caloric deficit through a combination of diet and exercise.