Why machine training is bologna if you want to build muscle

You can feel the burn on machines, man! So much safer than circular hunks of iron! Right? So if you can feel your muscles work, why do (unsafe) barbell thingy?

(This is Part 2 of an article series. You can read Part 1 here.)

Too often we are victims of reductionism. Take something big and complex. Reduce to pieces. Example always used = clock.

Want to understand how clock works? Take apart. Look at bits and pieces. Understand how they work in isolation. Then you'll know how they work together. Boom.

But can you take apart a cloud? Can you understand a cloud based on behavior of its smaller components in isolation? No. This = emergence. Aristotle even knew…whole greater than the sum of the parts.

This = why machine training is bologna. Especially for skinny-fat dude. Or dude not on favorable side of muscle building genetics.

Training = stressor. Two factions…

Local stress. Strain on the immediate structures. Flexing your biceps as hard as you can. Lots of local stress.

Global stress is strain on you…as an organism. The nervous system that contracts your biceps is the same nervous system that controls your hand when using a pencil.

Every movement delivers a local hit (to the muscles and structures directly involved) as well as a global hit (to the entire organism).

Flu. Entire body goes out of whack (fever-global), but there’s also a specific response to the thing that’s doing the damage (antibodies-local).

Or, better yet, when someone touches an ice cube to the small of your back. You don't just sit there and say, “The small of my back is cold.” The cold causes a widespread bodily freako response. You flinch. You get goosebumbs all over your body from the cold. You breathe quicker.

Global response runs deeper than any of us (including me) realize. As Buddy Morris, former mentor of mine, once said:

The stress of training is greater than that of a broken bone because it encompasses the entire system. It encompasses the cardiac, cardiopulmonary, detoxification, hormonal, metabolic, central nervous system, neuromuscular, and […] immune system.

That’s all affected by training. And those systems do not recover at the same time.

Crossover effect: if you have an injured limb, training the uninjured limb also strengthens (or retains strength within) the injured limb.

Pavel Tsatsouline recommends training midsection and your grip if you're taking a trip and don't have lots of equipment available to retain your overall strength.

Charlie Francis had his sprinters do heavy bench pressing a few days prior to a sprinting competition to keep legs strong without stressing them directly.

All examples of how training affects your entire body globally, as an organism.

Machine training…? Eliminates global stress. Something special about moving and controlling your body through gravity and spacetime.

Earth existence = barbell training. Stand up from toilet. Work against gravity. But could be a barbell on another planet. Imagine on Jupiter, standing up from the same toilet. You weigh 220-pounds here, you’d weigh 529-pounds on Jupiter.

Sit on the Earthly toilet, load up a barbell with 309-pounds, and then put the barbell on your back. Jupiter living conditions. Now stand up.

Crushing force imposed on your body from head to toe every second of every day. Barbell training delivers that same crushing force, only under supergravity conditions. Instead of standing up and opposing just gravity, you stand up and oppose gravity plus. Hyperbolic Time Chamber, you say?

You often hear people call exercises “the king of ___,” meaning the exercise is Super Effective! and delivers the best bang for your buck.

Squat is the king of the lower body lifts. The king of the upper body lifts waivers between the weighted chin-up and the weighted dip. Why?

Chin-up and dip are unique. Normally, your arms aren’t supporting structures. Simply dangle from shoulder-blades. Don’t support your bodyweight like your legs do.

But when you do chin-ups and dips? They become the lone contact point for your entire body. They become the support structures. They become more like your lower body. And your lower body has stronger bones and bigger muscles than you upper body because they have to deal with the constant demand of gravity.

All these are loaded with gravity.

  • Gravity = vertical.
  • In a squat, gravity + barbell = vertical.
  • In a chin-up, gravity + weight = vertical.
  • In a dip, gravity + weight = vertical.

Structures you want stressed are responsible for handling the crushing stress.

Not saying other exercises useless. But not same.

Deadlift is useful. But barbell held in arms. Meaning grip important factor. And if legs are meant to be stressed most, can't be bottle necked by grip.

Machines don't load the body with this same crushing force. Machines often loaded horizontally, so the high stress crushing environment is gone.

Machines also guide your body through space for you. Stand up. Close your eyes. Now lift one leg in the air and balance on the other. Feel how your entire body fires to maintain balance and keep things stable.

Now do the same, only hold onto a door nob. I'll let you figure out the differences between the two.

Machines are usually advertised as a safer alternative. It's True…for the most part. Sometimes logistics screwy, like fact that I'm 6'4″ and using the same machine pathway as someone 5'2″.

But it's kind of like advertising a skydiving video game as a safer alternative to skydiving itself. The safeness defeats the point. In some respect, good precisely because dangerous.

Machine training is like having a fly buzz around your face. It's annoying. You might mobilize a bit. Try to swat the thing. But that's about all.

Compare to having a wasp buzz around your face. It's scarier. You mobilize a bit more. Leave your seat if its swarming close.

Compare to a black bear bursting through the clear and sprinting towards you. You poop your pants. Yell, “Yeehaw!” as you break for a clearing if for no other reason than to have you last words be “Yeehaw!

Would make for a good news headline at least. “Man killed by black bear, yells ‘Yeehaw!’ before death.”

As stress scales up, body does more to deal with threat. More threatening = more adaptation.

Upgrades are expensive. In order for your body to feel justified in investing in more muscle tissue (or a better movement system), it has to think, “If I don't invest, my survival will be compromised.”

A strong (yet controlled) threat = justification.

McFitness ploys strip movements and exercises from the global response because they try to be “safer.”

Machines are popular because they are easy. You can read directions and use them. So don't have to pay $$$ for coaches. Also don't lose time where coaches teach you. People can move in and out of the gym with speed, and when more people move in and out you make more money.

Just like McDonald's. Machines are food for those that just trying to get by, not food for those that want…more.

In general, exercises that have low global impact are for the birds. This is why methods like dynamic tension by Charles Atlas didn’t quite prove effective.

Machines aren't totally useless though. Retracting my thesis like a boss! Their global drawback can be a positive. Bodybuilder want to focus a ton on muscle contraction. Can do because less global strain.

So, in my broad spectrum, machines are side dish. Not main course. Typically need global catalyst for adaptation. Beyond, there's wiggle room.

But useful to qualify: in my system, the purpose of barbell training is to load the body with supergravity stress.

Ways to do this with just bodyweight training at first.

If you stand on one leg, then the leg you're standing is dealing with more gravitational stress than its used to. Probably build a little bit of muscle working through.

But the lower body generally has enough muscle. Can already jump (spring). The upper body has much more potential for bodyweight growth.

Pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, dips, handstand push-ups…all of these will be sticky for most people at first because arms aren't naturally weight bearing structures.

But there will come a point when scaling these bodyweight movements is tricksy, precious.

One-arm chin-ups need to follow progression. Easier to roll into weighted chin-ups for quicker (muscular) results. One-arm push-ups rarely held back by arm strength, more like torso strength.

Gymnastics strength training fun and good, but veers away from supergravity flavor. Straight-arm strength exercises (levers and planches) at the mercy of torque. Torque is lethal.

Not saying these are worthless pursuits. I love them. But not same effect as barbell training. Qualify ethos (load the body with supergravity stress) because barbell not the end all be all.

There are no Capsule Corp. inspired supergravity chambers to apply constant supergravity stress across entire body. Have to use some kind of external resistance. The barbell makes this happen.

But barbell confines movement by nature of application, have to contort self to this linear straight object. Being stuck in a linear plane is fine…if you’re only out to build muscle.

Body can move lots of ways beyond barbell. Wrist, ankles — need work from many different positions. Mobility also important.

Now, go any further would take us into weeds of my training and programming philosophy. Not the point of this, even though it may be (will be) necessary…in the future.

Questions still may linger –

  • Toning
  • Rest between sets
  • Tempo

But I've already went on so long even I want to stab myself in the eye with a fork. And need/want to start clean w/ programming.

Point for past two articles = importance of supergravity stress for muscle mass and improving system as a whole.

And, when you see through fluff, muscle mass merely a side effect of moving your body through space and overcoming certain flavor of stress. Don't really train for muscle growth. Move body certain way, muscle mass is byproduct.


I also realize this is incomplete. Without the right hormones, muscle building tough even with supergravity stress. But good enough…

And general idea being…

As skinny-fat guy (or skinny guy for that matter), body not convinced it needs much muscle. So you have to use powerful ways of convincing.

Barbell and bodyweight do better job.

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

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