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Types ;  Choosing the Right Machine ;  Reviews

Strength Training Machines

Several types of Strength Training Machines (Home Gyms) are commercially available:

  1. Traditional home gyms
  2. Gliding board machines using body gravity as resistance (e.g., Total Gym)
  3. Power rod/cord machines (e.g., Bowflex)
  4. Other - usually targeting specific body areas (e.g., Ab Machines, Thigh Machines, etc)

Traditional Home Gyms:

Such machines consist of several pieces of equipment which are all part of a single steel frame. A weight stack is included, consisting of several metal plates stacked on top of each other. The amount of weight you lift can be adjusted by moving a steel pin, so as to include or exclude more plates from your load.

Overall, traditional machines allow for a fairly decent workout of the arms, chest and legs. Still, certain drawbacks exist, including:
  • lack of flexibility during the workout
  • limited number of moves
  • a rather cramped feel due to multiple pieces of training equipment crowded in a limited space

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Gliding Board Machines:

These strength training machines work by using body gravity as resistance. The most popular example is the Total Gym, which you have probably seen on TV advertised by Chuck Norris and Christy Brinkley. This type of machine consists of a gliding board on a steel frame of adjustable incline. You sit or lie on the board, and pull at cables which make the board glide up and down on the steel frame. While doing so, you are using your own body weight as resistance.

Gliding Board Machines offer a total body workout with plenty of flexibility (perhaps too much at times, which carries some risk of injury if improperly done). Working out different body parts requires changing your position on the gliding board, as well as changing/handling various attachments.

Gliding Board Machines are usually light weight and can be folded away for storage.

Follow this link for an in-depth Total Gym Review.

Power Rod & Cord Machines:

The best-known among these is Bowflex, with its multitude of models. These machines use as load a semi-rigid power rod, connected to a cord which you are pulling against during the workout. As you pull against the cord, the power rod is bent creating resistance. You can increase or decrease resistance by grouping a certain number of power rods together as your load.

Newer Bowflex models (i.e., 'Bowflex Revolution' and 'Bowflex Revolution XP') use the SpiraFlex resistance device instead of power rods. As you pull against the cord during your workout, resistance is created internally inside the SpiraFlex device by elastic bands and rotating resistance plates. Additional plates can be added to increase resistance. The advantage of the newer Bowflex models is that resistance can easily be set at the desired level, without manipulating cables or power rods.

Bowflex strength training machines are expensive (over $1,000 and often over $2,000, depending on the model), require assembly, and necessitate a large exercise area. Overall, they offer a pretty good workout of the entire body, with decent muscle toning and muscle sculpting results.

Follow this link for an in-depth Bowflex Review.

Strength Training Machines targeting specific body areas:

A multitude of strength training machines targeting limited body areas are widely available, especially via online offers. Generally, such machines should be used as part of a broader strength training routine, plus/minus aerobic exercise. A word of warning, though: Be aware that many of these machines are rather flimsy and may break easily. Moreover, their muscle toning and weight loss benefits are often questionable.

Strength Training Machines
Choosing the Right Machine:

So, if you are considering a Strength Training Machine, which type is right for you?
This decision should not be taken lightly, since purchasing a machine is costly, and owning one may take up valuable space in your home. Here are several criteria to consider prior to embarking on a purchase:

  1. From the point of view of muscle toning:
    • If you are looking for a lighter muscle toning workout with more flexibility, the Total Gym may suit your purposes.
    • If, on the other hand, you desire more muscle sculpting, a Traditional Home Gym or Bowflex may be right for you.
    • And if you like to have plenty of room during your workout, you may want to choose the Bowflex over the Traditional Home Gym.

  2. From the point of view of space and need for assembly:
    • The Total Gym is light-weight, folds away for storage, and does not require assembly.
    • Bowflex is heavier, folds for storage (most models), but requires a large exercise area during active use. It does require assembly.
      Note: The upright Bowflex models (Xtreme and Xtreme 2) do not fold for storage, but occupy less room than the horizontal models.
    • A Traditional Home Gym is usually bulky, partially folds, but nevertheless occupies a good chunk of space. It also requires assembly.

  3. From the point of view of cost:
    • Generally speaking, a Total Gym should be less expensive than a Traditional Home Gym, which in turn should be somewhat less expensive than a Bowflex. Keep in mind, however, there may be a large price variation between different brands, as well as between different models of the same brand.

  4. From the point of view of exercise convenience:
    • The later Bowflex models - Bowflex Revolution and Bowflex Revolution XP (featuring SpiraFlex technology that creates internal resistance) - are the most convenient ones as far as setting the desired level of resistance (i.e., no power rods to link together or other equipment to manipulate).
    • The earlier Bowflex models require a number of power rods to be grouped together in order to create resistance, while the Traditional Home Gym requires a steel pin to be moved along the a stack of metal plates.
    • The Total Gym requires various changes in body position on the gliding board, as well as changing several attachments in view of different moves.

The above being said, here's what I recommend: Prior to making a decision, take a trip to the gym and try out the machine of your choice. Complete at least one workout on this machine, and see how the two of you 'get along'. This is invaluable first-hand experience, which can save you trouble and disappointment later on.

Once you have settled on a certain machine, make sure to shop around for a good price. Price variations can be huge, and cheaper models oftentimes deliver similar results to more expensive models.

Note: It is prudent to consult with your doctor prior to starting an exercise program, especially if you are new to exercise, suffer from any medical conditions, or are a woman over the age of 50 or a man over the age of 40.


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