Changing it up



No one really likes change. It often scares people because to takes them out of their comfort zone into unfamiliar territory. I experienced this first hand last week when I moved the equipment around on the weight floor at the gym I manage. This caused quite an uproar.


I didn’t do it to cause trouble or because I get joy in moving around extremely heavy weight machines.  I actually need to make room to train hockey players. That type of training involves a lot of athletic movements, agility, speed and power drills, not just lifting weights.  My actual intent was to move things around so that there is enough room for both the hockey players and the rest of the members.

About half the members that I talked to said they like it the other half say they don’t. A few people actually say that the change messes with their chi. Those members that dislike the change got quite vocal about it and demanded that I change the floor back to its original layout.

That got me thinking a lot more about how much many people dislike change. Everything from change in daily routines, weight rooms layouts, phone numbers, your favorite tee shirt and everything else in between. People are creatures of habit and are reluctant to change things up.

That also applies to peoples workouts. Everyone should change up out workouts from time to time, not only to reduce boredom but to improve training outcomes.

I have seen people doing the same routine day in and day to for years. If you work in a gym where that happens it can sometimes seem like you are in the movie Groundhog day.

ground hog day

I give everyone  props for sticking to an exercise routine and actually doing something. Advanced lifters that keep doing the same thing over and over without much change are more than likely just maintaining their current fitness level. That is fine if it is your goal but if you want to improve you need to stress your body.

Our body doesn’t like change, it likes to stay in homeostasis, meaning it likes to remain stable and relatively consistent. It doesn’t want change so it must be forced to change by providing enough stimulus so that it is forced to adapt.

Beginners, you guys can keep doing the same thing over and over until you build that exercise habit. Once you have been sticking with a program for six months to a year, if you haven’t changed things up already, you may want to think about adding a little variety into your program. You don’t have to wait that long, especially if you are getting bored, adding change can make exercise more fun and seem less mundane.

If you are not seeing progress then it is definitely time for change. You need to do something different if you want to challenge your body. If you are not challenging your fitness your body will have no need to adapt ( get stronger, bigger muscles, better cardio, more endurance, faster, etc…). The changes don’t need to be huge. I have had many clients that I get to change  one or two little things or add in something different  into their program and it makes a world of difference.

Athletes train in cycles. These cycles vary depending on the competitive year if they are pre or post competition or competitive cycle. They train like this to either maintain their fitness level during their competitive time of year or to increase their power, strength, speed, endurance or size. Depending on their sport and how long their off session is they may do several weeks of each type of training.

To achieve this athletes will change up the number of sets, reps, exercises, types of exercises, rest between sets and tempo of the exercise. They change up all theses varies to elicit the training response they want, build more muscle, get faster, stronger, leaner, etc…



Even if you are not an athlete you can still train like an athlete. You don’t have to work out at the same intensity you can still vary your program to add variety.

Here is a short but by no means complete list of things you could do to add variety in your workouts

Change the order of your exercises

Change the days in which you train certain body part

Increase the number of sets you do

Vary your reps either up or down and adjust your weights accordingly

Try interval training

Try different handles or grips on cable exercises 

Try new machines or exercises.

Vary your tempo (usually slow it down, too many people speed through reps)

Try advanced training principles like supersets, tri sets, drop sets and rest pause set

Decrease your rest time between sets.

If you are stuck in a rut, getting bored with working outs, your progress has stalled or you haven’t  been seeing much progress, embrace change. It doesn’t have to he big or dramatic, just adding in one of the above mentioned workout variations can give your program that kick it needs.






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Machines vs free weights part two

In the first part of the this post between machines and free weights I talked about the safety aspects between the two different training types.

If you missed the first one you can check it out here

Aside from the safety thing, the other big debate around machines is if they are as effective as free weights at building strength and muscle.

Like I pointed out before the definition of a machine is to make work easier. In the gym to make muscles grow and get stronger you don’t necessarily want to be making things easy.

Lets first take a quick look at how muscles grow. When put under stress, tiny parts of the muscle can become damaged, providing the stress is high enough.

If you were able to subject your muscles to enough stress to cause damage then your  body says “wait we just tried to lift this heavy thing and we damaged a muscle. We need to repair it. When we repair it lets make that muscle cell a little bigger and a little stronger so when faced with this stress again it won’t get damaged.”

Here is  quick video to reiterate my information above.


When you keep repairing your muscles bigger and stronger you need to keep increasing the intensity by increasing the weight or reps or sets or time under tension to continue cause damage to the muscle so that it will continue to build up bigger and stronger.



If your body can lift something easily then there is no reason for it to build up bigger and stronger. So there need to be enough stress to cause the damage.

Working with free weights can be more challenging. The weight that is on the bar is the weight you are lifting. Compared to a machine where the weight may be reduced depending on the number of pulleys it goes over or if it is on a leaver system of incline plane it can make the exercise easier. This goes back to the number of pulleys the cables go over or the angel the machine is on or the length of the lever arm of the machine. I won’t go into that any further. If you ever work out on different machines or in different gyms with different machines most people find there is a little difference on how much they can lift because of the difference in designs.

When using free weights you do need to use a lot more stabilizer muscles in order to do the exercise correctly. This can make the exercise seem more difficult because you are recurring more muscles to stabilize therefore using more energy. This involvement from stabilizer muscles is why free weight exercises feel harder. Having to use a lot of energy to balance weights instead of using that energy to just execute the movement.

To increase the intensity on a machine just increase the weight. just like on any exercise if you can do the desired number of reps and sets with ease then you are not using enough weight. To increase the intensity add more weight this will increase the stress on the muscle and cause the damage you are seeking for muscle growth.


Free weights also allow you to cheat a bit more when you are working out compared to machines. It is still possible to cheat on machines but seems to happen more with free weights.

Cheating is usually where you swing your body and swing the weight a little (or a lot) to help move the weight. Advanced lifters use this for increasing the tension the muscle is under or bringing the set past failure. Some younger lifters use it for their entire set just to move heavy weights. More of an ego thing than anything else. It is an advanced lifting technique and can be quite dangerous if done incorrectly.


With all that taken into consideration your muscles can’t tell the difference between a machine or free weights. If you compare a bicep curl with a barbell and a bicep curl on a machine your body can’t tell the difference. If the intensity is high enough that you cause damage to the muscle using the barbell or the machine the end result will be muscle growth.

When planning a resistance training program it is good to mix it up and have some variety in your programs. Use a variety of machines and free weight exercises in your program to keep things fresh and interesting.

I personally like to add some machine work into my program especially at the end of my routine. This will increase the safety factor because I may be tired but still allows me to use enough weight to stimulate muscle growth and still remain safe.  By putting machines at the end I am able to use all my remaining energy into the exercise and not have to worry about trying to stabilize heavy weights if I am already tired.




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Machines or free weights part 1

I was teaching a course last week on exercise adherence to a bunch of up and coming personal trainers and wellness coaches. On one of the breaks we were chatting about our own personal workouts and how we liked to train.

I typically train like a bodybuilder, but don’t compete. I can’t do certain exercises because of old sports injuries. One exercise in particular I have trouble with is squats. I have three compressed discs in my lower back so heavy squats are out of the question. Light squats are fine but nothing like I could do when I was younger.

When I mentioned this to the trainers one of them immediately spoke up and asked how my legs were so big if I didn’t squat. The answer was easy and with the trainers in the room I thought they would have known already; heavy leg press. I definitely recommend squats as long as you can do them pain free and with perfect form. Even 6X Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates had to give up squats in 1986 because of a hip injury and he was able to build Olympia caliper quads with leg presses.


That conversation really got me thinking about the difference between machines and free weights and the stigma around them. Many in the bodybuilding and some of the extreme fitness sports and even some personal trainers advocate for free weights and free weights only. Some state that machines are only for beginners.

These stereotypes are becoming less and less but they do still exist.

Some state that machines are safer and easier therefore you can’t get as good of a workout or the same results you would as if you used free weights. Free weights are more dangerous but you get better and faster results with them for various reasons we will explore.

But first the definition of a machine. The machines in a weight room are simple machines, levers, pulleys and incline planes for the most part. We as a society have invented machines and continue to invent machines to make work easier. We don’t tend to invent things to make our lives more difficult.

The difficulty of a machine exercise is very congested and I will talk about that in part two of machines vs free weights. Today we are going to talk about the safety of machines.

Are machines in the gym safer?

They are technically, in theory safer,  but that doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt by using a machine, especially if you use it incorrectly.


This is a classic youtube video. You can see as soon as he spreads his feet apart a little things start to go wrong very quickly.

In most machines You probably won’t get crushed to death if something goes wrong. But you can still get hurt, like we saw in the above video. You need to be properly set up in the machine, have correct alignment, still use proper form, keep your abs tight, do the movement slow and controlled and use a weight you can lift for your desired number or reps and sets.


Machines fit average size people and they have adjustments on them (seat, back, chest pads and handles depending on the machine) that need to be adjusted on them properly so you fit in the machine correctly. If you are not in there properly you can increase the joint torque stress on certain joints or put your body in compromising positions. If this happens you can end up fighting the machine for range of motion.

Not literally fighting it but if your body wants to move in a certain direction because it is designed to move that way, and the machine prevents you from doing that, and forces your body in a different range of motion, you will be fighting against the machines motion. Even if you are off by a little in your alignment (depending on the machine) you can be working against a force you won’t win against.

I have seen a few people using machines that lost the fight. It is usually a quick snap or pop as your body gives into the machines aliment and forces a limb to go the way it wants it to go.

If you are lined up properly but you start to contort your body to move a heavy weight you can’t move with proper form, again you can be putting your back, knees, hips and elbows out of alignment and causing undue stress on those joints. Don’t think that leaning into the peck deck and using momentum and your abdominal muscles to move the weight is going to build you a bigger chest.

If you don’t know how to use the machine, seek to understand before attempting to use it.


This guy should really get an orientation to the gym before touching anything.

I am a professional trainer and there are many like me in gyms around the world that love helping people and want to see people safe. Come find us if you don’t know what you are doing. We can show you, it will keep you safe and make your results faster.

Free weights can be dangerous too, especially if you don’t have a spotter, or again if you have no idea what you are doing.

There are many youtube videos out there of people getting hurt doing free weight exercises completely wrong. A missed step, bad set up, no spotter, things can go wrong quickly.


The good thing when it comes to free weights is that you define the range of motion and the path the weight travels in. If you have injuries or other restrictions you can change the exercise ( as long as it is still biomechanically safe) so that you still get the benefits of the exercise.

You do have to have proper form when using free weights, strong stabilizer muscles and be set up to execute the exercise properly, if not you can suffer an injury. If you are having difficulty completing the last one or two reps of a free weight exercise, hopefully you have a spotter that can help you out before things go wrong. Worst case (except in barbell bench press) you are able to “dump” the weights before you get injured. It makes a loud noise but scaring people is better than a serious injury.

When it comes to the safety aspect of machines vs free weights, I am in favor of using both. I use both in my personal exercise programs and when training clients. One is not necessarily safer than the other, you can still get quite injured doing both. The unfortunate thing is the false sense of security people get when using a machine. Uninformed people think that the worst injury in a gym is having weights dropped on you. When bad form and technique can lead to acute and chronic injuries.

The important thing to remember is to have proper instruction on how to use the machine or how to perform the free weigh exercise properly. With proper set up and instruction anything can be safe.

In Machines vs free weights part 2 I will talk about the effectiveness of machines compared to free weights in building strength and muscle.

Stay tuned!

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