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Your Tewksbury Today

Instruction From a Personal Trainer Much More Than 'Showing You The Machines'

Apr 04, 2016 08:07AM ● By Kait Taylor

“I just want someone to show me the machines.”

It’s the first thing I hear from a beginner when they come into a gym. And I used to wonder, what do they mean by “machines?”

Are they thinking about the cardio machines (the elliptical, bike or treadmill)? Or are they talking about the seated strength circuit, or maybe the cable stations? In a gym full of tools to use in a variety of ways, there are so many “machines” they could be referring to.

But, from my experience of over a decade of working in gyms, I can usually pinpoint what this person is asking for.

Usually, this person has a plan to start out on the cardio machines for some time, and then move on to the seated weight equipment, usually arranged in some kind of circle indicating a circuit. The abductor and adductor machine to get rid of jiggly thighs, the crunch machine to reduce belly fat, and the preacher curl for strong, muscular arms. Maybe they’ll follow up with some sit-ups on the floor. A lot of the time,this person will become comfortable with the same machines and continue with the same routine for years.

And it doesn’t work.

You can do a hundred crunches a day and use the “thighmaster” machine all you want, but it will not give you a lean six pack and slimmer legs. You cannot “spot-reduce fat.” It’s unfortunate, but true. You need to work your whole body and reduce your overall body fat percentage to look lean and mean, and the only way to achieve that is a combination of  smart cardiovascular training and proper nutrition to create more “lean mass,” aka muscle mass, with the right strength training.

You need to work your legs and arms to see your abs, and vice versa. You need to move in a way that engages more of your body, burning more calories and building more muscle all over. You don’t need me to show you how to turn on the elliptical and change the weight on the adductor. You need to exercise in a way that reflects the way your body is meant to move. You need “functional training.”

Here’s an example: We do it so naturally that we don’t even think about it, but the movement of sitting in a chair (with our hips hingeing backward and our knees behind our toes) is a major lower body exercise that works all the gluteal muscles, your quadriceps and your hamstrings. One simple exercise that takes the place of the “Quad Extension,” the “Hamstring Curl,” and the “Leg Press.

Even if the up-and-down movement is tough on bad knees, there are many ways to modify this exercise, such as the wall sit. In any squat variation, you’ll call on more of your body to work: mo’ muscle used, mo’ calories burned, mo’  muscle-building response.

Here’s something important to consider: with the three exercises I mentioned above, all of them are performed SEATED. You need to STAND UP.

A majority of Americans live a sedentary lifestyle: we sit while we work, drive, eat, relax. Should you be sitting down for a majority of your workout? Maybe you’ve read all the studies about how being seated for a majority of your day can lead to diabetes and other diseases, but it also makes for stiff hips and terrible posture, and not the nicest glutes.

Standing is better for fat loss. It helps you to engage more muscles for better form and a safer workout, like when you engage your core while lifting a weight above your head. Instead of getting up out of a chair to adjust a machine’s seat and weight, only to sit down again, you will  move quickly and fluidly between exercises for a shorter, but more intense workout that keeps your heart rate elevated. You will feel worked, and that’s where your body will start to change.

It’s a popular promise on the magazine stand: “A fitter body in less time!” But it’s not a myth, and it’s actually better for your body and mind because it makes for better habits and less of a chance of burn out —  which means you actually stick to your workout plan.

I’m not saying all seated workouts are bad. I’m not saying exercises that isolate one muscle or muscle group are bad (trust me, they have their place!). As you progress your training (and you SHOULD, because your body will cease to be challenged by the same exercises and you will stop seeing results), you will end up doing seated exercise. But it shouldn’t be your entire workout all the time.

My point is, sitting in one machine to crank out a few reps (hopefully there’s at least a plan for reps and sets), then moving to the next, with no energy or urgency, with no power or any full-body engagement, is  not too fun. With functional training, fun is guaranteed because it’s right in the word! Think throwing a medicine ball, rolling around on the floor and pulling cables from floor-to-ceiling. Think working with the weight of your own body and feeling yourself get stronger.

I see the appeal of the seated circuits. They appear easy to use, and others have told me they find the machines “safe” because they are afraid they will injure themselves using free weights. (Unfortunately, sometimes the opposite is true: Mayo Clinic physiologists recently found that the quad extension machine is terrible with exercisers who have problems with their ACL).

My friends, if you need help, that’s why you have people like me. Find the right personal trainer who won’t just put you through a workout, but will educate you so you can feel confident walking into the gym and performing your exercises. I can promise you it will be one of the best decisions you ever make for yourself. A trainer can also help you work around obstacles like bad joints and underlying conditions. Not everyone should perform the same exercises, but everyone should exercise.

So get out of that chair! Make your own body into a machine. Stop thinking about how the adductor gets rid of thigh fat and get fit in a way that allows you to run after your kids and help your elderly neighbor carry her groceries to her house. Work your whole body together and feel great all over.

And, oh yes, look pretty great too!

Kait Taylor is a full-time personal trainer at Tewksbury Sports Club with more than  a decade of experience working in the fitness industry. To learn more or set up a complimentary fitness consultation, email Kait at

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