Top 5 Bodybuilding Workout Mistakes (Part 3): Avoiding Machines

At Performance U, we’re not into the whole “never use machines” thought process that many other personal trainers have, and we feel it’s huge mistake to avoid using strength training machines (especially) when your goal is to gain muscle size.

Why (we feel) it’s a mistake to Avoid Machines for Muscle-building

We’ve found that our clients have the most success in making gains in muscle hypertrophy (getting bigger) when our personal training programs incorporate BOTH free weights and machines. This is because, contrary to popular misconception, machines offer unique muscle-building benefits to free weights.

 The Unique Benefits Machines Offer over Free Weights

All free weights (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.) involve a single load vector, which is gravity, to create resistance. And, if you’re using a Cable column, you’re also working against a single load vector, which is the line of the cable itself.

Anytime you are working against a single force vector, you’re going to have ranges within the exercise where the lever arm is long (creating high levels of muscle activation) and you’re going to have ranges where the lever arm is short (resulting in very little activation).

On the other hand, machines are designed with a CAM set up, which isn’t dependent on a single load vector (like free weights or cables). Instead, the CAM system is designed to provide you with a more consistent resistance throughout the entire range of motion, which translates into increased time under tension (i.e. more overload on your muscles) because you don’t get a chance to rest at the bottom or top position like to you can with most free weights exercises.

Think of a biceps curl or triceps rope press – As you bring the weight closer to the end ranges of those exercises, you get much less work (sometimes almost zero work) because the lever arm is very short (or non-existent) relative the the direction of the force vector.

The Barbell or Dumbbell Biceps curl is most difficult in the mid-range (when the lever arm is the longest) when your elbow is bent to 90 degrees. The curls gets easier as your arms get closer to you (at the top and bottom positions) because they become more in-line with gravity (i.e. the force vector), which creates a short lever arm and gives you a mechanical advantage.

On the other hand, the Biceps curls machine (because it works on a CAM system) enables it to adjust the force vector accordingly to create high-levels of muscle activation through the entire ROM.

It’s because of this advantage ALL CAM machines have over free-weights that we feel strongly that these style machines should be regularly included (as a staple) in comprehensive bodybuilding programs or by athletes looking to gain muscle size.

How We Use Machines At Performance U

It’s very simple – In our programs (for both physique and performance oriented athletes), we use free weights for most our compound lifts, and we like to mix and match CAM machines, free weights and cables exercises applications when we’re doing less complex, single joint type movements.

To see sample bodybuilding programs of how we integrate machines and free-weight exercises, check out my Full Spectrum Bodybuilding article series here at

Also be sure you also check my two previous installments to this Top 5 Bodybuilding Workout Mistakes series:

Part 1: Resting Too Long Between Sets

Part 2: Not Doing Enough Sets Per Muscle Group

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