The Best Exercise Equipment for your Fitness Goals is...

All Resistance Training can be Effective

What type of training is the best? What forms of exercise will transform your body from flabby and pear-shaped to broad-shouldered, tight-bunned god or goddess in a matter of weeks?  Well, probably nothing short of plastic surgery will produce your ideal body that fast. However, if you are willing to put in long term dedication to a hotter, healthier you, a few weeks of dedicated training and proper nutrition can make a big difference.

So what type of training is best for a lean (or stacked) muscular physique? Should you be doing different forms of cardio combined with some type of resistance training? Will a few pushups and situps provide enough stimulation for your muscles? Or should you be hitting the free weights and/or machines hard and heavy? The answer depends on your fitness or performance goals, but also your preference.

Wait a minute-did he say I can do what I prefer?

 Yup, that is what I am saying.  If you like Nautilus machines, go for it. Prefer the feeling of moving heavy barbells and dumbbells? Godspeed. Would you rather focus on manipulating your body like a gymnast? That’s a tough, and equally effective goal.

Now I know what you might be thinking, ‘but the Crossfit website says machines are ineffective!’ or maybe ‘those guys who get huge didn’t do it with pushups and a leg extension machine!’  Maybe you are a runner who feels resistance training interferes with your running schedule. Whatever the case, the biggest factor in determining your success is YOU.  Granted, some goals require specific tools; powerlifting, Olympic lifting and gymnastics for instance.

To get in the best shape of your life, though, no special equipment is necessary-unless you want to use it. Looking at the examples above, each is effective to the dedicated trainee.

Bodyweight training
Sure bodyweight training only uses your own body’s weight. However it also uses angles to reduce leverage, making the exercise harder. Basic pushups and situps too boring or easy? Try the following:

-Staggered, walking pushups.
-Plyo pushups (explode off the ground.)
-One arm roaming pushups (one arm traces a slow circle, pushing off the ground at different locations as you continue exercising.)
-Situps with a full twist. (sit up to 90 degrees and twist left, then right at the top, Rocky style!)
-Star Side Planks
-Bridges on your hands or head.

The list of bodyweight exercises is staggering. Ever heard of the Tabletop exercise? How about the Caterpillar or Gorilla Walk? 

If you have ever seen Rocky IV,  where Sylvester Stallone leverages his entire body off of a bench while holding on to the end with his hands, you have definitely seen the Dragon Flag in action.

This mode of exercise also helps develop body awareness and balance, as well as strength, muscle and endurance. While your own body weight is not classified as ‘free’ weight, similar principles are at play. The body needs to be stabilized throughout any movement, which means more muscle groups are recruited in any given exercise.

For an added challenge, buy a suspension trainer from Monkey Bar gymnasium or TRX. These tools add a whole new dimension to your bodyweight training, and you can take them anywhere you go. There are lots of progressive exercises you can do with suspension trainers that will build muscle and strength. For example:

-Inverted rows
-Horizontal or steep angle pull-to’s (like an inverted rear lateral or ‘T’ exercise.)
-Suspended Dips
-Steep angle pushups, with hands on the handles
-Reach under planks
With the right form, intensity and continually progressing difficulty, these exercises will build muscle and strength as well as machines or free weights.

Not an easy exercise.


Machines have developed a bad reputation amidst the sea of ‘functional fitness’ hype that has surfaced over the past several years. Many fitness experts have pushed them into the background as tools suitable for little more than rehabilitation. Ironically, top bodybuilders are still seen using them extensively in their routines; alongside free weights and bodyweight exercises of course.

There may be exercises that are better to do with barbells and dumbbells, but again, training dedication and intensity is the largest determining factor in individual success. Besides, if you load up a hack squat or leg press machine with 500 pounds (or whatever is heavy for you,) your legs won’t care if they are using a machine or not.

Yeah, this machine will build your leg muscles.
Good form is important in all resistance training, but especially with free weights. If you slip, try to lift too much weight or simply fail without a spotter, serious problems are likely the result. With a machine, this isn’t an issue, which makes them a good addition to anyone’s program, but especially for rehabilitating trainees or people who have weak stabilizing musculature.

Free Weights

Today’s free weights include barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, Clubbells (also known as Indian clubs,) the Gada or Macebell, Atlas stones and just about anything else a person can lift with two hands. 

Free weight lifting dominates the strength and muscle building world because it works so well. Exercises require the support of stabilizing muscles, and compound movements (that stimulate multiple large muscle groups) are the staples of muscle builders everywhere.

As mentioned above, certain activities simply must be done with free weights. Olympic lifting is the perfect example, and also demonstrates another point. Training with free weight can develop balance, agility and coordination as well. 

In particular, the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk are two exercises requiring good timing, ability to generate power and good balance to catch the weight at different stages.

Sorry, but you can’t do these effectively with machines. However, they are still excellent moves to do with dumbbells and kettlebells. Be sure to study these movements with care before attempting to do them with any real weight. Start with the bar only until you have learned timing and coordination.

Balance, coordination, guts...

Pick Your Favorites

So what is the best form of training? Is it machines for their built-in safety? Is it bodyweight for the high degree of neuromuscular stimulation and convenience? Or is it free weights for their flexibility and simulation of real life lifting?

If you guessed all three, you are on the right track. A good exercise program will not be afraid to implement any modality as long as it is effective, and serves the goal of the individual athlete. Whichever mode you choose, be sure to incorporate elements of at least two of the three modalities on a regular basis. So pick your favorites, set your training goals and get started!