Weight training machines can help build muscle when used properly.
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Although free weights are commonly used by advanced weight trainers to maintain and improve upon an already established base of strength, weight machines can provide a thorough workout as well. In fact, weight machines can help those new to strength training to become familiar with the basics; the form of each exercise, your initial weight capacity for that exercise, and how to improve your performance with that exercise over time. However, not all weight-training machines are equal. Different types provide different experiences, and each variation is intended for a particular type of user.
Weight-training machines come in many different configurations, but there are a few notable differences that stand out. The type of resistance offered is usually the biggest difference, as some use stacked weight that is raised and lowered through the use of pulleys and cables. Other types of resistance include free-weight plates raised and lowered through a static lever attached to a pad or handle, or stacked weight manipulated using a similar style of lever. The other main difference is between fixed-configuration machines and cable machines. Fixed-configuration machines can only perform a single exercise with a form that cannot be altered. Cable machines let you perform many exercises using your own form.
If you have no experience with strength training, or with weightlifting, fixed-configuration machines can help teach you the correct way to do each exercise in a safe way without having to use a spotter. Look for machines that clearly detail what the form of the exercise is, the muscles it targets, and minimum and maximum weight capacity. Most commercial gyms will have numerous machines that provide a single exercise that closely correlates to the form of a free-weight exercise. For example, the lever seated biceps curl will guide you through a similar form to the seated barbell biceps curl.
If you have some familiarity with strength training, cable machines that use a pulley attached to stacked weight provide a good platform for a thorough workout. On this type of machine, you can work the upper and lower body. You can perform leg curls, leg extensions, biceps curls, triceps pushdowns, chest flyes, rows, shoulder presses and a variety of other exercises. However, using this type of machine, you need a basic familiarity with the form of each exercise before you begin. The machine will not provide you with any guidance.
Choosing the best weight training machine for building muscle depends on how quickly - if at all - you plan to transition to free-weight training. While either style of machine will develop strength and build lean muscle mass, each exercise targets primary muscles only. Either style of machine provides too much support through your form, which doesn't let the stabilizers in your body engage to keep you steady. Free-weight exercises are the most effective way to engage these muscles, which will go a long way to developing increased muscle mass.