Grab the Dumbbells: Using Free Weights at the Gym

By Vic Spatola, Director of Personal Training

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 edition of The Pulse

What is the difference between working out on a singular weight lifting machine and lifting with free weights? Aren’t both weight training activities? Shouldn’t they give you the same benefits? In a word-NO!

Lifting in a fixed machine has some benefits:

  • It gives you the ability to isolate a muscle for maximal growth or hypertrophy
  • If you have an injury, the machine can limit the range of motion to allow you to work in a safe method

Traditionally, fixed isolated machines have been the default equipment for most weight rooms. Their simple and easy use has made gym participants more likely to lift weights. They were originally created for body builders in the 1970’s to allow them to isolate specific muscles for competition. Most were designed by former lifters who knew how an exercise should feel and then put resistance against that motion. Arthur Jones revolutionized this type of training by introducing the first line of Nautilus equipment. This equipment was the first to use a cam method, allowing the strength curve to increase as the muscle got stronger and it brought many gym goers into the weight room.

But let’s fast forward to modern times. We now understand that training exclusively in a machine limits core activation, range of motion and hampers your functional ability. Even though machines can isolate a particular muscle, they lack an overall whole body benefit.

When you lift free weights, you benefit in these ways:

  • More intense core activation
  • Stabilizer muscle activation to decrease unwanted motion
  • More muscles working and more calories burned during workouts
  • More balance and vestibular system challenge
  • Better preparation for sports and daily life

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Lifting with free weights allows you to train in a three-dimensional world where as a machine locks you into one plane of movement. Every day we are affected by many external forces (i.e. gravity, rotational forces and linear resistance) and these forces are taken away when training on a machine. Not only does free weight training allow for a more complete workout, it allows for compound movements to occur with resistance. For example, if I do a bicep curl and then I add a step up on a bench as I do it, I can burn more calories and have more muscles working then simply doing either exercise. Also, when doing a barbell exercise like a deadlift or a squat, you use more core activation and increase flexibility and overall range of motion.

As the demands of a busy life increase, we need to be more efficient and selective about how we work out. Doing the same old line of machines that we have been doing for the last five years is less beneficial than moving in a three-dimensional pattern with resistance. Ask one of our personal training experts to set you up on a new weight training program!

Greenwood offers One-on-One Training, which allows you and your trainer to individualize your workout and spend a great deal of time focusing on form, technique and the best way for you to see results, or Semi-Private Personal Training, where you and a friend (or group of up to four friends) will get a great workout together with one of our professional trainers. This is a perfect option for those who like to workout with a friend but need guidance and instruction to maintain consistency and remain efficient.

We also offer a number of PWRFIT classes throughout the week, which deliver functional training movements in a circuit style format to create a high energy, calorie burning, muscle-building workout with professionally mixed music. We offer three class options: Upper Body/Core, Lower Body/Core and Total Body.

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Smart Start by Les Mills

Smart Start by Les Mills

by Andrea Morris, Director of Group FitnessBodyPump at Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club

When it comes to motivation, your brain is a mysterious creature. One minute you’re pumped, full of enthusiasm, a few weeks later the excuses start to creep in and before you know it you haven’t been to the gym all week. Smart Start is a beginner’s plan for fitness that is based on scientific research. Follow this simple approach to guarantee that your first steps to fitness are not your last.

Three Secrets to Success

  1. START SLOW– Don’t push your body too soon. It’s okay to stop working out when you’ve had enough.
  2. BUILD GRADUALLY– Aim towards completing full workouts as your fitness builds.
  3. MIX IT UP– Mix strength, cardio and flexibility training options and learn what workouts consistently motivate you to get moving.

Small Changes

When you’re starting out, a good goal to aim for is 150 minutes of exercise a week. Research shows that with 150 minutes of exercise a week you will start enjoying the health benefits of exercise. The next goal is 250–300 minutes. This is the suggested amount of weekly exercise needed to begin seeing some of the physical changes that accompany exercise without making  any changes to your diet. If you’re up for this challenge, you can begin following our scientifically-proven six-week introduction. This workout plan lets you know how to mix up your workouts to maximize effectiveness and keep it interesting.

Another smart move is to set goals. Setting goals can be a huge help at any stage of your exercise journey. We suggest setting two goals; one based on the results you’re after and one on the behavior you’re trying to change. For example, I want to drop one size and I want to get to the gym twice next week. Post these goals where you will see them often, like on the fridge or on your mirror. Make sure your goals are realistic and don’t be too hard on yourself. As you reach each of your goals you can reevaluate how much time you are exercising and what you are trying to achieve.

Get Together

People who work out in a group are far more likely to stick to exercise than those who go it alone. Get Fit Together, a study conducted by Dr. Jinger Gottschall from the Pennsylvania State University, followed 25 sedentary adults through a 30-week program of group fitness classes. The 30 weeks started with an initial six-week period encouraging the exercisers to “dip their toes” into fitness before building up to a six-day-a-week exercise schedule. The gradual introduction meant that instead of feeling sore from overworking unfit muscles and giving up, the group actually enjoyed their path into exercise. The results were so good that participants delayed the onset of cardiovascular disease by an average of 3.6 years. Over the 30-week study, 20 out of 25 study participants never missed a workout – a compliance rate of 98.8 per cent – almost unheard of in exercise studies. This commitment is proof that, when it comes to exercise, you shouldn’t go it alone. Combining a steady start with the support of others works wonders.

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After Six-Weeks

To really lock in your healthy new habit, the next 12 weeks are just as critical to your success. Each week from now should include three 60 minute cardio workouts, two 60 minute strength workouts and one 60 minute session of core/flexibility work. If you want to find out about cardio, strength, core and flexibility workout options, please consult our Group Fitness Schedule.

Andrea Morris, Director of Group Fitness | 303.770.2582 x312 | AndreaM@GreenwoodATC.com