A Penny For My Thoughts- Part II

Part two of my interview for the book. Hope you all enjoy! Leave a comment about what you’re dying to hear about!

Is it better to lift weights with free weights or with weight machines?  Why is one better than the other?

When determining which type of training is more beneficial there are four main things to consider and they are as follows: safety, amount of musculature used, range of motion, and overall cost of the equipment required. In every consideration free weights trump weight machines by large margins. Let’s take a closer look.

User safety is of the utmost importance when considering which training modality to utilize. Free weights are vastly superior in this regard as the user’s own anthropometry organically determines the movement whereas a weight machine only offers a fixed movement. Consider this, most machines are built with the average sized male in mind, a 5’10 180lb guy, and will be adequate for users close to this size. However, anyone that deviates too much size-wise from this standard will now be at risk for improper movement mechanics which can result in poor results or worse yet, injury. If we compare a barbell squat to a leg press this becomes even clearer. In a barbell squat it does not matter the height, femur length, torso dimensions, or any other metric of the user because the barbell and trainee are independent of any outside influences on the movement. A leg press, on the other hand, can only be adjusted so much and a user who doesn’t fit this scope of measurements is out of luck.

The next benefit that free weights confer over weight machines is the amount of musculature utilized during the movement. Traditional free weight exercises are compound movements in that they recruit the muscles that span multiple joints together in one seamless expression of force development. Machine-based training on the other hand, generally only allows for movement about a single joint- otherwise known as isolation movements. There are some machine-based training movements that do utilize more than a single joint but they rarely (if ever) allow for full articulation of the joints. This increase in muscle mass used results in what is known as training efficiency, as more machines are required to mimic the demand on the musculature exhibited in one simple free weight exercise. Additionally, the muscles that are involved are recruited in a very general motor pattern that is consistent with the natural and organic movements that occur in activities of daily life. When we compare the muscles used in a free weight squat with the muscles used in a leg press this becomes clearer. In a squat the musculature of the entire back is isometrically contracted to both support the load, and also to maintain a neutral spine. Furthermore, the trunk and core muscles must also be active to support the spine even further. Finally, all the muscles of the hip, leg, and lower limb are maximally activated to allow for proper articulations about the hip, knee, and ankle joints while also actually lifting the weight. In contrast, the leg press does not require the trainee to utilize the extensors of the back, muscles of the shoulder girdle, and trunk/core muscles to either stabilize or support the load since the leg press is supported mechanically on 2 sliding tracks and the user is supported by a seat and seat-back. The muscles of the hips and hamstrings are also not as active in the leg press due to the range of motion constraints demanded by the leg press. For this reason the leg press would also needed to be supplemented with a leg curl, leg extension, and calf raise to meet the amount of muscle mass recruited in a barbell squat.

This leads to the next point, range of motion. Free weights allow for a greater, safer range of motion in virtually all side-by-side comparisons. Whereas a machine has a fixed, short range of motion designed for certain sized individuals, its free weight counterpart allows for full range of motion independent of the size of the user. Increased range of motion given the same weight results in more work being done by the trainee (force x distance= work) and increased work output results in increased work capacity, stimulus to the body, and better results overall.

Finally, the cost of the equipment required to engage in hundreds (if not thousands) of effective free weight exercises pales in comparison to the price of the amount of machines required for the same task. A quality barbell, hundreds of pounds of plates, dumbbells, squat stands, pull-up apparatus, and dip station retails for about the same as a single nautilus-type machine while conferring the added benefit of longevity, variety in movements available, and effectiveness of use.

Is it true that eating too many vegetables will make most people gain water weight?


This depends on what we classify as a vegetable. Sometimes vegetables include fruits, tubers, potatoes, seeds, and other stems, leaves, roots, etc. However, for this question I’ll assume we’re referring to cruciferous vegetables and other green veggies.

The main determinants on overall body water volume and water retention are as follows: hormones like insulin, aldosterone, ANP, etc., carbohydrate intake, salt intake, and overall fluid intake. Insulin causes the kidneys to increase sodium reabsorption. Since water follows salt osmotically, more water will be retained along with the salt.  Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose during the digestion process and stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. For each gram of glycogen stored we also tend to store about four grams of water. Salt intake in and of itself doesn’t typically result in a large gain in water weight unless insulin levels are also elevated, since when insulin levels drop the kidneys increasingly excrete salt. Finally, adequate hydration is needed daily to maintain a normal level of water in the body. When people drink too little water they tend to turn into a sponge and retain more and more of it due to the body’s defenses against dehydration. When people drink lots of fluids they tend to eliminate any and all excess fluids from the body thereby preventing bloating and water retention.

As far as green vegetables are concerned, they don’t provide much in the way of glucose, as they are mostly fibrous, although there are some exceptions. At any rate, even if supraphysiological levels of green vegetables were consumed the person would concomitantly be ingesting large amounts of fiber, which would result in more frequent elimination most likely, preventing any significant gain in water weight. More importantly, however, would be the overall intake of starchy carbohydrates during the day, which would influence insulin levels subsequently. A large volume of starchy carbohydrates in the diet would increase water retention (since water is stored with glycogen) and the opposite is also true. This is one of the reasons why low carbohydrate dieters tend to drop so much weight immediately (within the first few days). With little to no dietary carbohydrates the low-carb person will actually shed a significant amount of their body water as glycogen is released from the muscle tissue. So in essence carbohydrates and insulin drive water retention overall, with salt playing the middleman and water being the innocent bystander. To conclude, I wouldn’t worry about green vegetables at all with respect to water retention.

How can someone do resistance training if they don’t own weights or belong to a gym?

If for any reason someone’s current situation precludes him or her from being a member at an actual gym with the necessary equipment, or purchasing the equipment themselves, I would advise that the person rectify that problem as soon as possible. It’s just highly unlikely that someone will achieve the same long-term results utilizing other training methods besides resistance training. That being said, the next best training option would be a progressive bodyweight training program.

In this style of program a trainee would begin with the most basic of bodyweight movements- like a squat, pushup, pull-up, chin-up, plank, etc. and then progressively make the movements more difficult from there. This is achieved by manipulating the leverage, reps, limbs utilized, and tempo – to name a few- of the movements in the program. An example of the progression for the lower body might be as follows: bodyweight squat> bodyweight squat + jump> stationary lunge> walking lunge> walking lunge + jump> single leg squat> single leg squat + jump. While this program isn’t perfect for many reasons it still beats not training at all and is focused upon progression, just like any program should.

My ultimate recommendation is for someone without access to a quality gym is to purchase his or her own equipment. A good barbell, plates, squat stands, pull up bar, and dip station do not cost very much at all and will allow the trainee to train appropriately for life!

Please tell us how readers can get in contact with you here (By default we will include the website, email address, and phone number that we have on file for you unless you specify otherwise):


Readers can visit my website, www.dynamicfitnesscoach.com, or email me at coach@dfmfit.com. In addition, they can check out my personal blog at www.thefitcoach.wordpress.com or send me a tweet @DFitnessCoach.

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About thefitcoach

An aspiring physician, I've been involved in the strength and conditioning world for over 5 years now in a professional sense. I started this blog with some like-minded individuals to share our thoughts on training, nutrition, lifestyle, medicine, health, and everything in between.

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