The answer to this question is dependent on multiple factors that are dependent on individual goals and conditions. Consider the factors in a Free Weight Workout (FWW). Personal Trainers frequently use FWW as a method to increase Variety in their clients’ exercise programs. Experienced Personal Trainers have learned that Barbells, Dumbbells, Kettlebells and various FWW equipment can provide them with a virtually limitless variety of exercises.
Variety of exercise provides both physiological and psychological benefits. Many people find Strength Training about as exciting as watching re-runs of C-SPAN Congressional Speeches. FWW can eliminate much of the boredom by a continuous change in exercises. Going from Flat-Barbell-Chest-Presses, to Dumbbells Chest Presses, to Cable Flyes breaks the monotony of using the same Chest Press Machine, month-in, month-out!
Personal Trainers have also learned that FWW can provide a greater degree of Instability, that is an additional benefit for a Personal Training Client whose fitness goals require more functional or CORE training modalities. While intermediate or advanced Personal Training Clients should do some functional training or CORE Training, a Personal Trainer needs to be far more cautious with a beginner or the very deconditioned Personal Training Client or most especially one with joint disorders.
For Example: The beginner who has any joint pain or dysfunction, especially pain in the neck, shoulders or upper extremities would not be advised to begin with a FWW. Beginners do not have the neuromuscular control, Agility, Balance or Coordination for FWW. The neck, in almost all exercises will contract. While the neck contraction is almost always ineffective in helping with the exercise, unless they are performing a targeted neck exercise, the client will subconsciously contract the neck as the client “searches” for the right neurological input to perform the movement. If the client has previously injured neck muscle, tendon, ligament or joint, their subconscious contractions could result in unnecessary pain and discomfort. Never forget Rule #1 for the IFPA Certified Personal Trainers: DO NO HARM!!!
In general, Beginners, the very deconditioned, the elderly and anyone with significant neurological, joint or any musculoskeletal dysfunction should begin on machines; the additional stability the machine provides will lessen the client’s temptation to unnecessarily contract the neck muscles or other muscles not needed or used on the targeted machine.
Additional benefits provided by machines are: beginners can focus on their breathing and timing without overly focusing on their technique. Actually, the beginner does not have to think about technique at all, as one of the primary purposes of the machine is to rigidly restrict the movement to the specifically targeted muscle or muscle group.
While the machine restricts and stabilizes the movement, Safely and Effectively, the Personal Trainer can teach their clients the correct timing and breathing. Reminder: The Concentric Contractions are the contractions that occur during flexion, or the muscle fibers shortening. Concentric Contractions during FWW or on a Strength Machine are executed while the weight or weight stack is going UP. Eccentric Contractions are the contractions that occur while the muscle fibers are lengthening while returning to their original position. Eccentric Contractions occur while the Weight or weight stack is going DOWN.
While timing and breathing are rudimentary to those of us who are advanced strength trainers, very few beginners will know how to breath correctly and have no idea what the correct timing should be.
For breathing, it is essential that you EXHALE during all Concentric Contractions and INHALE during all Eccentric Contractions.
For timing, you should take 2 seconds to complete each Concentric Contraction and take 4 seconds to complete each Eccentric Contraction. There should be a brief PAUSE between each Contraction. The correct breathing and timing is essential to maintain safety and effectiveness.
While Power Lifters are correct that HOLDING your breath can substantially increase your strength during a lift, it will also substantially increase your RISK!!! This Power Lifter Technique can rupture capillaries, particularly in your eyes, rupture Alveoli in your lungs, and dangerously increase Blood Pressure, especially in Hypertensive and Cardiac Patients. For these and other reasons, proper breathing is critically important!
Lifting with Safety and Effectiveness is the best way to achieve long term success. Every poor technique results in some level of damage. The damage may be below your PAIN threshold, but it is damage that at best will slow your gains and at worst can lead to an injury that may result in your stopping training, loss of all your hard-earned gains and the slow process of rehabilitation before you return to training at a far lower level.
Knowledge is not Power! The use of Knowledge is POWER!!! The IFPA has developed over 70 Advanced and Specialty Courses all constructed so you can immediately transition your knowledge into proper use to maximize your gains and those of your Personal Training Clients. If you want to be a successful Personal Trainer, USE the Knowledge provided for you by the IFPA!
Dr. Jim Bell