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Rich Weil, MEd, CDE: Fall Into Fitness

How to get up and moving

Free Weights or Machines?

Member question: Do you recommend free weights or machines, especially for women?

Weil: I recommend both. Body builders always use both. The advantage of free weights is that you can be very creative. They also require more balance and stabilization of the body when you lift. For instance, if you do a standing biceps curl with dumbbells, you have to use your legs and your abdominal muscles to hold your body up. If you do a seated biceps curl on the machine, you won't use all the muscles.

On the other hand, certain machines are terrific. The lat pull down, the cable row machine, the cable crossover machine, and some of the others are all excellent, and you can be creative in terms of the angle and whether you use one arm or two arms.

So both free weights and machine are useful, and furthermore, there has never been a study to show that one is superior to the other. It's a matter of trying them out and seeing which exercises give you the most benefit.

Women tend to like to use the lower body machines like the leg press, adduction and abduction machines, and then you can also use free weight lunges and squats and even side lunges to work the same muscles. So you can get equal workouts with both. A new and popular exercise plan is the Curves program, which, in essence, is circuit training, where you go from one machine to the next. The research shows clearly that this type of training is effective for building strength, improving endurance and stamina, and improving health. You also will get very toned with this type of routine and for the most part, it's all machines, and it is effective.

So the muscles sort of will feel the difference between a machine and free weights, whether you're male or female, but they all will work.

Member question: I have started doing abdominal and back crunches in order to reduce my tummy. I find that every other morning my upper abdomen feels tight for some time and then the feeling goes away. Does this mean any improvement? (I am doing 50 forward crunches and 25 backward)

Weil: Yes. The muscle tightness means that the muscle is responding; it is getting stronger, and if you continue, you will probably notice that your clothes will fit looser as your torso tightens up. This tightening may occur even if you don't lose weight or fat. The reason the clothes fit tighter is that the muscles have tightened and pulled in the abdomen, even if there was no weight loss.

Unfortunately, you cannot spot reduce, so even if you did 1,000 sit-ups per day, the fat on top of the muscle is not going to disappear. Basically, our abdominal muscles look no different than pieces of steak from the butcher. The meat is the muscle and the fat around the meat is the fat. The only thing missing is the skin. You can work that muscle all you like, but it won't eliminate the fat.

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