Set Your Workout Free


Over the past decade or so, strength training for health and fitness has moved away from machine based programs for a more functional approach. I like to think of it as free movement training, because it’s not done while anchored to a machine. Free movement training is more time efficient, more fun, and the strength it builds transfers better to everyday activities.

Human movement is a consonance of many muscles synchronizing to push, pull, stabilize and balance. Strength training machines typically target single muscles in a seated position, which is vastly different from how the muscular system works in real life activities and sports. When was the last time anyone carried a load of groceries up a set of stairs while sitting down?! Considering this basic concept, training with machines doesn’t make sense and is a really inefficient approach for improving strength for most people.

Because they target so few muscles at once, machines are also time consuming. Functional exercises that recruit lots of muscles, challenge balance and stabilization and require more energy to perform are effective, time efficient options for increasing strength and function.

However, there are two groups of people for whom machine based strength training may be a viable choice; those who are severely deconditioned, and bodybuilders. For severely deconditioned people, using machines can re-establish isolated muscle function to allow the progression to free movement training. For bodybuilders, whose main goal is increasing muscle size, isolating specific muscles on machines can help maximize muscle growth. Muscle growth can also be achieved through functional exercises, so using machines is more of an individual preference rather than a must. For those who have normal muscle function and don’t want to build huge muscles, machines are simply not the best choice for strength training.

Maybe the best selling point for functional exercises are that they are more fun than machines! There aren’t many ways to make machine training different so it becomes boring, and most people who have done it for any length of time will tell you it gets to be a grind.  There are lots of ways to change free movement training and dozens of exercise options.  For example, functional alternatives to a leg press machine could be:

-Two leg Squats (using a TRX, bodyweight, holding dumbbells, a kettlebell, etc.)

-Split Squat

-Rear foot elevated split squat

-Forward or walking lunge

-Backwards lunge

-Side lunge

-Step ups (or step downs)

-Single leg squats

In comparison,  how many variations there are to a leg press?

If you base your training on how your body truly works, you’ll get better results in less time, have much more variety and more fun working out!

Learn something new!


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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

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