The Biomechanics of Resistance Apparatus



Gyms these days are packed with countless types of resistance machines and it is very important to understand the differences among them. The majority of them use gravitational forces, however, there are some that incorporate elastic, hydraulic, or pneumatic resistance. Each type of machine has its own biomechanical properties. It is crucial to understand that some of them are poorly designed resulting in a higher risk of injury. Proper selection of the type of resistance will make your workouts more effective as well as safer. Each of the aforementioned resistances will be discussed.



Using dumbbells in your workout is a good choice and this is why. Their resistance is caused by earth’s gravitational forces and it is always in a downward direction. They allow for full range of motion and there is an increased transfer to real world movements (Wilkins, 2010). Free weights allow you to work in a more functional environment and when done properly you are able to create the proper balance throughout your musculoskeletal system. You are able to recruit more stabilizing muscles since you are required to control the weight through multiple plans of motions. If you compare the electromyographic activity of a free weight squat to a smith machine squat the differences are noticeable. Studies have shown that there is a significantly higher electromyographic activity in the gastrocnemius, biceps femoris, and vastus medialis during a free weight squat versus a Smith machine squat (Schwanbeck, Chilibeck, & Binsted, 2009).  This indicates that free weights are more effective and translate better to daily activities such as getting out of a seated position, grabbing something off the ground, and countless others movements you do throughout the day.


Now don’t get me wrong not all machines are bad. Seated pulldowns, seated cable rows, and other hammer strength type exercises are still viable choices. The machines that have separate arms allow you to have an equal amount of resistance on each side. This results in a balance of muscular adaptations as you are not able to favor one side over the other. It is not unusual to have one side of your body being stronger than the other. If this is the case for you, focus on using equipment that will allow you to equalize both sides of your body. However, if you are new to the gym and consider yourself a beginner don’t think that you are forced to jump right into free weights unless you are confident in your form and technique. Machines can effectively ease you into free weights as long you are recruiting the right muscles. Ask for help from a friend or a trainer and don’t feel the need to go at someone else’s pace. You want to progress in a safe and effective manner.



Like any hydraulic system, there is a hydraulic ram that forces fluid through a small aperture and therefore creates resistance. Resistance machines that have this type of system provide only a concentric phase. This is quite popular in special populations due to the reduced amount of soreness by having no eccentric phase (Brown, 2008). Hydraulic machines are safe and easy to use but it is necessary to have an eccentric phase in your exercise. The eccentric phase causes muscle break down while your muscle lengthens under a load. During your squats for example, really focus on your glutes and hamstrings as you lower your body. If you are feeling a balance between the muscles on the front of your legs and those on the back of your legs then you are reinforcing good neuromuscular control.



The use of elastic bands is quite popular in the fitness world. They are very easy to use and are not intimidating at all. You can add resistance to your exercises in a simple and effective way. However, when using an elastic band, the resistance during the extension phase is lower than during the flexion phase (Wilkins, 2010). The resistance is greater the more you stretch the band. They are a great option to add while performing squats as you can functionally work your abductors. Elastic bands are a great for beginners but they are limited to their max resistance. You can get more resistance from using free weights or other resistance machines.



Pneumatic systems use air pressure to create resistance. Such machines provide both a concentric and eccentric phase (Brown, 2008). The higher the pressure is in the system the more resistance is supplied for the exercise. They are similar to the hydraulic system but the pneumatic system is advantageous since there is an eccentric phase. These types of machines are more geared towards physical therapy and older populations.


It is necessary to understand that the ideal weight training programs consists of a variety of resistance machines. You want to challenge your system in a safe and effective way without creating imbalances throughout your muscles. Perform exercises that are within your capabilities and focus on which muscles should do the moving. If you are not going to perform each repetition correctly, your brain will remember those imbalanced muscle patterns which can increase your chances of having complications down the road. Developing a balanced system takes time as you may be correcting a muscle pattern that you have reinforced for years. If needed seek guidance from a certified professional if you think you are doing something wrong.




Brown, T. J. (2008). Conditioning for Strength and Human Performance. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

Schwanbeck, S., Chilibeck, P. D., & Binsted, G. (2009). A Comparison of Free Weight Squat to Smith Machine Squat Using Electromyography. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research , 2588-2591.

Wilkins, L. W. (2010). ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer 3rd Ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.



How To Choose The Perfect Yoga Class



Many factors go into finding the right yoga class. You need to find one that meets your needs, makes you feel good, and keeps you coming back for more. Everyone is looking for something slightly different in a yoga class, so I would suggest exploring around, and don't write yoga off because of one bad experience. A studio that makes you feel comfortable is a mix of finding the right ambiance, an approachable teacher, and a yoga style that meets your given needs!


Try out as many different studios as possible 
This is one of my favorite things to do when moving to a new city, and it's usually completely free your first class! This is a great way to get a feel for the types of classes that are offered in your city, and also allows a taste of different types of yoga. Trying out different classes allows you to get a feel for studios, classes, and teachers that make you feel comfortable. 


Consider what you want to get out of class
Are you in it to zen out? Maybe try Hatha or Iyengar yoga which allows you to move slower. Are you in it for self-discovery or self-discipline? Then, maybe you should sweat it out in a Bikram class. Get a better feel for some of the different types of yoga I have outlined below. Hopefully, it will help you on your yoga journey! 


Figure out which style of yoga you may be interested in:


Hatha yoga is much slower, and allows you to build heat by slowing down the poses and moving into each posture with correct anatomical alignment. This is perfect for someone who doesn't enjoy the continuous movement of vinyasa style classes, or a perfect class to take on a day where you need some stillness in your life.


Bikram is practiced in an extremely hot room (105 degrees) for 90 minutes. It is an incredibly intense, strange, yet mentally and physically rewarding style of yoga. This was the first yoga class I ever took, and I was immediately hooked. It's not for everyone, but I would strongly suggest trying a class. Expect no music, bright lights, tons of sweat, and a whole body high post-savasana.


This is a word you will hear often, and it basically means linking breath with movement. Any class where you move energetically from one pose to the other using your breath is a form of vinyasa. Vinyasa is the most prevalent form in the western world, and is usually offered at your local gym, and can be heated, cooled, or taken at room temperature.


Ashtanga is a very physically demanding style of yoga that may also be referred to as power yoga. It comprises a precise series of poses brought together through breath in a specific sequential order. Ashtanga is a great blend of powerful, grounding poses that you hold for about 5 breaths each, paired with a vinyasa in-between.


Iyengar yoga uses many props such as belts, blocks, blankets, and bolsters to position yourself into a specific and precise anatomical position. It is a type of hatha yoga that allows you to hold poses for longer periods of time focusing on specific alignments. This is a great class for those who feel over-worked, and need to put their muscles and body through a relaxing re-set.


Other types
There are so many different types of yoga now, form stand-up paddle board yoga to Buti yoga, an African dance-like yoga style to Acro or Partner yoga. There truly are so many different options which make the practice approachable to everybody! Have fun with it, explore what makes you feel the best, and keep innovating and trying new styles of yoga!