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Understanding The Differences In Various Fitness Equipment

Are you just getting into fitness and don’t know what kind of equipment to use, because you don’t know what the differences are in the different types of equipment?  Well each type of equipment does have its own uniqueness and will exercise you slightly differently than doing the same type of exercise on a different piece of equipment.  So for instance: doing pushups, resistance band chest press, machine bench press, dumbbell bench press, and barbell bench press (all of the exercises that you will see pictured below) may all be essentially the same type of movement and exercise the same muscles, but they all do so in slightly different ways.  And each will have various pros and cons and trade offs between them.  It is important when getting started on your fitness journey to understand what these differences are so that you can choose to do the right exercises on the right pieces of equipment.  So here in this article I am going to go over the different types of exercise equipment and what exactly the pros and cons and trade offs of each are so that you can understand them fully and know exactly which ones to choose for your exercises.

 

 

 

Calisthenics (No Equipment – Body Weight Exercises)

 

 

 

 

Pros:

 

  • The movements are generally completely natural and the way the body is supposed to move.
  • It’s totally free!
  • It can be done just about anywhere!
  • This is the easiest form of fitness to get started with since you don’t need to buy any equipment or attend a gym, you just need a body and a space to do it in.
  • Since you do not need to deal with setting up any equipment you can quickly and easily switch from one exercise to the next, making this the best aerobic/cardio option, which has the highest potential for intensity and speed.
  • Optimal for endurance training and aerobics

 

 

Cons:

 

  • You can’t adjust the weight so some of these exercises may be too easy and some may be too hard (some people may be able to do lots of sit-ups, squats or pushups, but almost no pull-ups/chin-ups), and for people who are brand new to exercising and do not have much strength yet, and especially for people who are overweight doing body weight exercises may simply just be impossible and they really do need equipment so they can start with some light resistance training and work up from there.
  • You will need some accessories to set up certain exercises, and if you can’t figure out a way to do certain exercises that you need to do for certain body parts you will still need some equipment.  For instance you can do body weight rows by placing a broom stick between two chairs or two other surfaces, but many people won’t have surfaces that are the right height or are stable enough to support their body weight, so they will need to get some equipment to row with.  If you don’t have a tree branch you can do pull-ups on you will need a pull-up bar, or will need to do something else in place of pull-ups that will also require equipment.  Also for bicep curls, you really do need to find something to lift for those.
  • Just because the movements are natural that doesn’t mean they are all as ergonomical as is ideal, so you can still hurt yourself.  Especially with certain exercises, like those that target the shoulder (which there are really no great ways to target with calisthenics), such as the hand stand shoulder press, or the underhanded pushup, both of which are dangerous exercises that I do not recommend anyone do unless they are already very strong and not prone to injury.
  • You will be more limited with variety, and while you can find lots of variations of different exercises to do, the more varied they get the less ergonomical they get (I have actually injured myself this way).

 

 

 

 

Resistance Bands

 

 

 

 

Pros:

 

  • Extremely ergonomical because you aren’t getting the full load at the bottom of the exercise when the resistance bands haven’t been stretched much.
  • You can acclimate to heavier weights because of the fact that you aren’t getting the full load at the bottom and only the top, whereas with other weights you might have trouble even starting the exercise with that heavy of a weight.
  • You can do anything with resistance bands that you can do with cables at a gym, but can do it at home.
  • Optimal for low impact physical therapy based training for recovery from injury, or easy at home workouts, as well as doing anything you would do with cables at a gym

 

Cons:

 

  • Because you are only getting the full load at the very top of the exercise when the band is completely stretched out any normal person will need a lot of weight in order to get a good enough workout, 100lbs of resistance bands probably won’t be enough, even if it is at first, you’ll quickly outgrow it.  Anyone who is serious about fitness will want at least 150 to get started, or 200 if they are already somewhat fit.
  • When you are using a lot of weight, switching from one weight to another can take a couple moments since you have to fumble with reorganizing  bunch of bands, and that can not only be frustrating but will hinder the speed of your workout and make it less intense and aerobic.
  • They get stretched out over time, and thus offer less and less resistance.  So the band that says it weighs 40 pounds will be weighing less and less than that the more you use it.  Which is converse to the fact that you are getting stronger and stronger the more you work out and will be needing more weight, not less.  Which makes resistance bands less and less effective as time goes on.
  • Will break sooner or later, often sooner rather than later, in a matter of months or no more than a year.
  • All resistance bands are not created equal.  Some are good, some are bad.  Also the weights are going to feel different on different sets, and the bands colors will indicate different weights on different sets.  So you can not mix and match different sets.  Once you get a set you want to stick with you do have to stick with it.  If a band breaks or you just need more weight, you need to get the same exact set that you got before..
  • Though I have had a generally good experience with resistance bands, that may be just due to luck, because reading through the reviews about them on amazon it seems that just about ever set out there is a gamble and could break easily.

 

 

 

Machines

 

 

 

Pros:

 

  • They give you all the support that you need and thus they are generally very safe and pose little to no risk of injury (if the machine is a good one).
  • Most machines are super ergonomical since they keep your body locked into the exact right position (if the machine is a good one).
  • The fixed movements make perfect form automatic (as long as the machine is designed well) and deviating from that form and cheating is near impossible.
  • They generally give you the same resistance, or nearly the same, throughout all parts of the full range of motion, which no other piece of equipment does.
  • They are the safest and best way to do heavy strength training.
  • Most people have several (or more) exercises which are too difficult or just impossible for them to do ergonomically and effectively using free weights and they require machines to do them because the machines make them easy, safe, secure, ergonomical and highly effective, and for this reason exercise machines are an incredibly valuable thing to have and this is why machines are so popular and gyms will have them in such great abundance even though they are such a great investment for a gym to buy.
  • Optimal for light high rep training, heavy low rep training, and training to and past failure

 

Cons:

 

  • Buying an at home gym machine is extremely expensive, so if you can’t afford it there is no way to work out with a machine at home, to do so you have to join a gym.
  • The weight indicated is not the actual weight you are getting, because after the weight has been run through the pully system it will have been greatly reduced to a fraction of what it was.  Newer machines are more accurate than older ones.  But regardless, just because you are using a certain weight on a machine doesn’t mean you can go and do that same weight on free weights.  If you are bench pressing 200lbs on a machine, do not try to go bench press 200lbs on a barbell, you will definitely injure yourself.
  • Not all machines are created equal, so just as how you cannot go from using one weight on a machine to doing the same weigh ton free weights, you also cannot switch from one machine to another, or to cables, and expect the same weight to feel the same.
  • Machines only work well if they are designed well and not all of them are because not all machines are created equal.  Some machines are created well and others are not.  Some are ergonimical and will give you a great workout without any risk of injury and others are not ergonomical and will not give you a good muscular workout but instead may just put a strain on your joints.  The latter is rare now of days, but is more common with older machines.
  • Machines must be adjusted just right in order to make the exercise both ergonomical and most effective, and a lot of people do not know how to adjust the machines properly and will just sit down in the machine and keep it adjusted as it was for the last person, which will not be ergonomical and can result in injury.
  • Machines that work both limbs together and not independently will allow for your dominant side to do more of the work, and over time this will lead to muscle imbalances, so you should try to only use machines that work both limbs independently whenever possible.
  • They are a fixed motion so they do not work the stabilizer muscles and can tend to make the exercise a bit too easy and they are only training your muscles to do the exercise in that fixed motion, not by itself.

 

 

 

Cables

 

 

 

 

Pros:

 

  • They are very ergonomical unless used improperly.
  • They give you the ability to push or pull from just about any angle possible, and varying the angles from which you are targeting your muscles is key to muscle growth.
  • They give you the ability to optimize poor resistance curves of free weights on any curved movement (like curls).
  • You can use a variety of grips, and varying grips is important.
  • Optimal for any rep range!

 

 

Cons:

 

  • Very limited exercise selection for lower body.
  • Like with machines the weight that is indicated is not the actual weight that you are getting, the pulley mechanism cuts it down, so you cannot for instance be curling 120 pounds on a cable and expect to go be able to curl 120 pounds on a barbell, doing that can tear your bicep.
  • Also like with machines not all cable machines are created equal so just like how you cannot just go use the same weight on free weights you cannot switch from one cable rack to another, or to machines, and expect the weight to feel the same.  So once you start using one cable machine for one exercise and progressing on the weight for it you can not simply go to another cable machine and use the same weight you were using on the other one, if someone else is using that machine you will have to weight for them to be done.
  • Sometimes you may need a certain grip and take time to look all over the gym for it, or wait for someone who is using it to be done with it, and this will interfere with the speed/intensity of your workout and reduce the cardio component that you may want present.

 

 

 

Dumbbells

 

 

 

Pros:

 

  • All these weights are created equal, the weight is always going to be exactly what it says it is on any dumbbell, and all the dumbbells of the same weight weigh exactly the same.
  • They are very ergonomical when used with proper form.
  • They make each arm work independently, thus forcing you to build individual arm strength.
  • They work the stabilizer muscles the best of any piece of equipment.
  • They give you more freedom to do more advanced techniques than other equipment
  • Optimal for the 10-20 rep range

 

 

Cons:

 

  • You are only going against gravity here, so anytime you are not going up and down you are not getting the full resistance of the load, so curved motions (which most motions are) are limiting in that you are only getting the full weight during that small part of the motion in which you are going up and down, which means often at both the top and bottom of the movement (if the movement is circular) you are not getting any weight at all.
  • Most people do not know how to use proper form which can make these weights less ergonomical.
  • Using heavy weights is harder than with barbells because you have to get into position with the weights and start from the bottom of the exercise where you are weakest and most prone to injury.

 

 

 

Barbells

 

 

 

Pros:

 

  • All these weights are created equal, the weight is always going to be exactly what it says it is on any barbell, and all barbells of the same weight weigh exactly the same.
  • They make lifting heavy weights easier than dumbbells because the weight is kept together, and when using a rack you can start at the top of the position where you are strongest and don’t have to go all the way down until you are weakest and most prone to injury.
  • Optimal for the 5-15 rep range

 

 

Cons:

 

  • Your hands are in a fixed position when holding them, which limits your range of motion, which is more ideal when it is more circular.
  • They are more dangerous to use in pressing heavy weight or going to failure because the bar can come down and hurt you, so you always need a spotter when you are bench pressing a barbell, unless you are not going anywhere near failure, which is sub-optimal.
  • They make lifting heavy weight easier, which though that is a pro sometimes, it can also be limiting at a point because when you are trying to get stronger you do not want to be doing things that make it easier but things that make it harder.

 

 

 

Kettle Bells

 

 

 

 

Pro’s:

 

  • Useful in what is called “functional training” which is good for things such as mobility and joint health and is like an advanced form of physical therapy for athletes.

 

 

Con’s:

 

  • Because of their shape they are awkward to try to use for any type of general weight lifting and are basically only useful in functional training.
  • They can not be used for strength training or bodybuilding and will not improve strength or grow muscle, they only improve your ability to move around in various ways while holding a weight.
  • Functional training with kettle bells is overly complicated and can seem unnatural and frustrating compared to other forms of resistance training which utilizes primarily simple natural basic movements the body is meant to make, such as pushing, pulling and squatting, and which is actually more functional than “functional training”, which is an ironic term for a form of exercise that doesn’t actually seem like it is the way the body is meant to function.
  • Functional training is not always as ergonomical as it should be and some exercises that are supposed to help can actually cause some people pain or injury.
  • Is very cumbersome or nearly impossible to do a functional training routine without a trainer.
  • Is not very generally useful for everyone as other forms of resistance training are, it only works well for certain people in certain situations and so most people who are trying to get fit will not find kettle bells and functional training useful at all.

 

 

 

 

So now that you have read through this list and understand the pros, and cons and trade offs of different forms of exercise, you are probably wondering how to use this information.  This is not something where you just want to be looking for the one that has the most pros and the least cons and that is the winner that is the best exercise of all.  Because of the unique pros and cons each different type of exercise equipment has its own place.  Also while you may find certain equipment/exercises that you like most and seems to work best for those muscle groups doing too much of the same thing will eventually stop being effective because your muscles will have gotten so used to it in that time that they aren’t getting enough stimulus from it anymore.  So the key here is a term called “muscle confusion”, which basically means not letting your muscle get too used to any one thing, and confusing it by doing the same movements but in different ways to ensure that you are still providing maximum stimulus.  And so what you are going to want to do is to use different ones at different times based on the place you are in on your fitness journey.  So for instance what I recommend people do is to start out by doing a full body callisthenic aerobic workout, since you can do that without any equipment starting right now.  And just do as much different calisthenics as you can.  And as you notice what limitations that has (what exercises you cannot do using your body weight and need some equipment for), then you are going to obviously need to integrate in some work using equipment.  I recommend the first form of equipment you get be resistance bands, which you can still use in your own home, and start doing other forms of movement with them and adding more and more resistance the more they do them.  Then when you need to move up from there and have something that will start out with the same weight as when you finish the movement (since resistance bands start lighter and get heavier as you stretch them), then you can buy yourself a couple little dumbbells and start using those along with the resistance bands and calisthenics.

 

 

Then after you have gotten used to using both of those you can continue to make adjustments to your working by doing whatever feels better and more effective (and harder), and less of what doesn’t.  And then if you do not want to continue buying bigger and more expensive gym equipment the next step is to go ahead and join a gym and then you can incorporate more barbell, cable and machine work, and at that point you will have probably advanced to the point where you do not want to use resistance bands or calisthenics as much and soon the weight you are using will be outgrowing them as well, unless you wanted to start doing things like weighted body weight exercises where you do calisthenics while using a weight vest to make you heavier.  And then what you will want to do is use the different types of gym equipment almost equally, since each one has its own pros and cons and will help you in its own way (except kettle bells which can be ignored), especially with targeting your muscles from different angles which is very important.   And as you get used to working out you can continue to add intensity, reps, sets and weight over time, in what is called “progressive overload” so that you will get stronger and more muscular as time goes on.  And as long as you keep it up and never give up eventually you will have your ideal body!  So I hope that this information and advice has helped you to set off on a fitness journey.  And if you would like my help with designing the right fitness program for your current body type your ideal body goals you can send me an email at info@TrueLifeDevelopment with any questions you may have and be sure to inquire about my personal training program so that I can take out all of the guesswork and get you to where you want to be physically!

 

 

 

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