Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
19 Aug

Dear Mark: Cable Machine Weights, Plaque Regression, Lab Grown Meat, and Swiss Ball Chairs

machineweightsFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a four-parter. First up is a question about using the cable weights at the gym to build strength. Should they be discarded by the serious trainee in favor of exclusive barbell work, or do they offer something unique and worthwhile? Next, I discuss potential strategies for the reversal of arterial plaque. It’s not guaranteed, but there are some promising leads. After that, I give my take on stem cell meat. Am I opposed? Am I intrigued? Finally, I give my take on replacing your desk chair with a Swiss ball for a reader who can’t get a treadmill desk and wants the next best thing.

Let’s go:

Hi Mark,

I have been a victim of chronic cardio for a few years now, but I am starting to see that it is not working out so well. I want to start strength training so I can build muscle (I am borderline underweight, but skinny-fat) but I have no idea what kind of strength training will be both good for my health and effective for looking lean and muscular. I found a program by Jamie Eason on bodybuilding.com that uses lots of machines like cables and I have heard that those exercises simply add useless muscle that is good to look at. I was wondering what your thoughts are on these mostly machine workouts. Will they be ideal for health and actual strength too?

Thanks

Carrie

The arguments in favor of free weights over machines are compelling, and, save for a few exceptions, I agree with them for the most part, but cable machines are a different beast altogether and thus deserve a more nuanced look.

Consider why people eschew machines:

  1. They eliminate the need to stabilize and balance the load.
  2. They force you into unnatural movement patterns. Free weights conform to your body, your dimensions, while with the machine, you must conform to it. They only allow a fixed, linear path of movement. The real world, on the other hand, is not linear. You can be really strong on the overhead press machine, strong enough to lift your bodyweight’s worth, but be unable to do a handstand pushup against the wall.
  3. They work individual muscles, rather than multiple body parts.

Even though cables are a kind of machine, those three reasons are not valid for avoiding cables (nor are they necessarily valid for avoiding all machines at all times in every instance, but that’s another post), because cables:

  1. Can be used in such a way that requires stabilization and balance.
  2. Are non-linear without a fixed, predetermined path of movement.
  3. Can be used to work multiple body parts, not just muscles in isolation (although that’s possible, too).

Free weights are great because they pit you directly against gravity as we encounter it in the real world, along the vertical plane. One unique feature of the cable is the ability to load the horizontal plane. So, instead of lying down to push a weight horizontally (bench press or pushup), you can do it standing up. Instead of awkwardly flopping down on your side and using a dumbbell to do external rotational rehab, you can do so standing up with the cables. Since you’re more likely to be pushing horizontally from a standing position anyway (in sports and other physical encounters), cables offer a “functional” way to train that movement.

Are free weights superior for general strength and fitness? Yeah. If I could only choose one between the two, I’d pick free weights every time. But, since we don’t have to choose just one way to exercise, we should consider availing ourselves of all the options that make sense, and that probably includes cables.

If you do go with the cable workout, I’d consider supplementing with weighted lower body movements, as cables aren’t very effective for the lower body. Get a knee flexion exercise (squats, lunges, split squats) and a hip extension exercise (deadlifts, romanian deadlifts) and you’ll be good to go.

Hi Mark,

I was wondering if it is possible to reverse plaque buildup in our arteries through a primal lifestyle?

All the articles I’ve read only seem to explain how to prevent it, but I assume it is likely that years of poor nutritional habits have already left some marks.

Thanks in advance,

Nicholas

Yes, there are several lifestyle and dietary modifications that seem to offer not just protection from plaque progression, but hope for plaque regression. It may come down to activation of a mouthful known as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma, or PPAR gamma, which helps regulate lipid metabolism. Basically, when PPAR gamma agonists – or drugs that activate PPAR gamma – are used in animal models, we see a regression of atherosclerotic plaque. Unfortunately, many drugs that activate PPAR gamma, like statins, often have unintended, unwanted, and even disastrous side effects. What we’re interested in are lifestyle and dietary modifications, which tend to have beneficial side effects.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids, already strongly linked to protection from heart disease (even when marine contaminants are considered), are also PPAR gamma agonists.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D may play a role in plaque regression by reversing atherogenic lipid metabolism and inhibiting migration of macrophages (the cells that initiate the formation of plaque).

Vitamin K2

High intakes of vitamin K2 are associated with low rates of arterial calcification. Meanwhile, groups of rats given large doses of either vitamin K1 or vitamin K2 both reversed arterial calcification by around 40%. It should be noted that the only reason vitamin K1 was effective is that rats are great at turning K1 into K2; humans are terrible at it. When the rats were dosed with enough warfarin to interfere with K1 to K2 conversion, the K1 group no longer saw plaque regression.

Exercise

Low intensity exercise activates PPAR gamma and triggers an increase in serum oxLDL. On the surface, an increase in oxidized LDL – long suspected to be a causal agent in the progression of atherosclerosis – sounds bad. The authors propose an interesting plaque regression mechanism, however. Exercise by way of PPAR gamma activation is pulling oxidized LDL from the atherosclerotic plaque to be disposed of by oxLDL scavenger receptors, which have also been upregulated by exercise. Pretty cool, eh? This jibes with the already established and widely known negative association between exercise and atherosclerosis.

Meditation/Stress Relief

A transcendental meditation/stress relief program consisting of twice daily 20 minute meditation sessions was able to modestly reduce plaque in human subjects with hypertension. Meanwhile, the control group experienced modest progression of plaque.

There’s no magic bullet, of course. Just popping some fish oil without making other changes won’t reduce atherosclerotic plaque. It requires an entire lifestyle shift, and even then it isn’t guaranteed.

What are your thoughts on the recent development of a stem-cell beef hamburger patty? Although it is a wider gap from Grok than other options, it eliminates the industrial agriculture model of meat production and therefore the ethical dilemma is reduced, antibiotics eliminated, and it has the potential to give millions of people access to animal protein. It may become the great dietary equalizer.

It’s bizarre, yes. But what do you think? I’ve heard so many say we can’t feed the future world on meat, could this be a game-changer? Would you eat one?

Thea

You know, I would be open to it. I have no ethical hangups with consuming something created in a lab simply because it’s created in a lab. If they can perfect the stuff, I’d try it. And if I liked it, I’d probably eat it regularly. I’m just skeptical they can get it right.

After all, stem cell beef isn’t some grand gesture by benevolent scientists. It won’t be disseminated to open mouths and empty bellies as a charitable donation, but rather as a product. It will be sold, and marketed, and designed to appeal to as many people as possible. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that like all other processed foods, its composition will be painstakingly designed to increase consumption and lessen satiety – only with stem cell meat, food scientists will have an unprecedented level of control over its physiological allure. Could nutritiousness and flavor coincide? In theory, sure, especially if you’re starting with a nutrient-dense, delicious food like meat (stem cells), though scientists have a long road to go if they want to recreate the complex and varied dietary and environmental inputs that determine the nutritional content of grass-fed beef. But it won’t be their proximate goal to save the world.

Also, I wouldn’t be so sure lab grown meat will eliminate the need for antibiotics. They’re already using them. In order to keep this most recent stem-cell burger “alive,” scientists had to bathe it in antibiotics to maintain a sterile growth environment. Will that change? Does it make it into the finished “meat”? I’m not sure, but they’re always going to require a sterile environment and that means using prophylactic antibiotics.

I won’t hold my breath.

So, I would love to work while on a treadmill desk, but that is not allowed at my office. I have just gotten it approved to sit on a bosu ball if I can give some information on the benefits. While looking around, I read that sitting on it long term could possibly cause more issues. So my question to you is, if I must sit at a desk, what would you suggest sitting in? Thanks so much! =)

Michelle

Do you mean you’re considering a Swiss ball? A bosu ball looks like this and might be a little low to the ground for desk work.

You’re right. The evidence in favor of Swiss balls for sitting is inconclusive and mixed. Short bouts appear to help some people manage and reduce their back pain and improve their posture, while spending all day sitting, whether it’s on a Swiss ball or an office chair, just isn’t very good for you.

That said, I think the studies are inherently limited. When you’re involved in a study researching the effects of different types of chairs on posture, you’re going to pay close attention to how you sit. They put you in a rocking chair and you’ll be on your best postural behavior for the duration of the study. White-coated clipboard-wielding researchers tend to have that effect on people. However, the differences come out over days, weeks, months. You might not slump in your chair with people watching and recording you, but when it’s Monday morning three months down the line and you’re struggling to wrap your brain around the load of mind-numbing busy work that just got dropped on your desk, your posture is going to be the last thing you worry about. If your chair allows slumping, you’re gonna slump. If your chair is a bouncy ball that rewards slumping with a quick deposition of your body onto the ground, you’re not going to slump as readily.

I don’t use balls myself, but I have on occasion and can vouch for the fact that sitting on them is very different than sitting on a chair. It’s a lot more active. All those normally imperceptible shifts in weight distribution that occur as we sit, stand, and just exist become suddenly perceptible on the ball, and you have to account for them. Even once you eventually get the hang of things and stop having to consciously balance yourself, your core musculature stays turned on. Swiss balls, then, require core musculature to work right. If you don’t have that musculature, you might not benefit until you do.

Plus, the Swiss ball isn’t magic. One study showed that people still manage to slump on an exercise ball; you can’t just sit on the ball and keep up your bad habits.

All in all, I don’t think the ball is necessary to get a good sitting experience. The main advantage of a treadmill desk lies in the absence of long periods of sitting and immobility. It’s not so important that you move constantly, but that you don’t sit for for long stretches of time. It’s a small but important distinction to make, and it makes choosing a sitting implement much easier because all you have to do is stand up every fifteen minutes or so to realign your body and move around a bit. You don’t actually need a treadmill desk, or even a standup desk, to get the benefits associated with them. You just have to remember to take regular walking/movement breaks!

That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to chime in with your comments, suggestions, and input below!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. That was a great piece of info on plaque reduction.

    As for me, I don’t know if I’ll be trying the lab grown burger anytime soon…..

    Matt wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I’m with you on the meat. There’s more to meat than straight up muscle cells. The fatty acids and phyto-nutrients from the animal’s own diet are important too. Lab grown meat is likely to resemble petro-fertilizers, that focus on a few primary nutrients and leave everything else out.

      paleohuntress wrote on August 24th, 2013
  2. I alternate between working in the corporate office and working from home. At home I use a treadmill desk, and found that all that sitting in the office made my back hurt. Plus I want to avoid “sitting disease”. I found that a simple, inexpensive platform converted my desk at the office to a standing desk, and that I can easily move my keyboard and mouse up and down from the platform to switch it up between standing and sitting.

    I stand over half the day now, and my back pain is gone.

    Tina wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I made myself a stand up desk using IKEA parts (<$30 for everything) and I can't rave about it enough. I've had it for about a year, and I'm nearly 9 mos pregnant. I credit my desk with how good I've felt for this pregnancy. It's amazing.

      AustinGirl wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • I’d love to see a video or diagram showing what you used for this.

        Beccolina wrote on August 19th, 2013
        • Check out the diy standing desks on lifehacker.com. There’s heaps of good ideas to get you started. I built mine by attaching a standard desk to a small bookcase on one side, and the wall on the other side, absolutely love it.

          Jarryd wrote on August 19th, 2013
        • I took a case of computer paper, placed 5 reams under my monitor, 3 under my mouse, and four under my keyboard. I used the box the papers came in as a “work area”. I started standing for a few hours at a time just before Christmas 2012, then bought a $30 mat from Amazon (the concrete floors were very tiring on my legs!). By January I was standing for most of the day. I sit down while eating lunch (a “Not-So Big A** Salad”), but otherwise I’ve been standing while at work for nearly 9 months and I love it. My colleagues think I’m crazy, but I don’t think I can go back to sitting…

          defrog wrote on August 20th, 2013
  3. In vitro meat = Satan.

    Finnegans Wake wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Seitan?

      Nocona wrote on August 19th, 2013
  4. That’s funny, I emailed my brother a thought I had on machines (not specifically cables) about 2 hours ago –

    “On machines you can push those muscles to full failure, because it’s safe to do so, and you start from the bottom of the motion, rather than the top (for example imagine the free weight squat versus the squat machine – on the free weight squat, you’ve got to be sure you’ll be able to get up again before you dare go right down. On the machine, you start at the bottom, and try your best to push up, so you can load it as much as you like).”

    I alternate between machines and free weights. While the free weights are clearly better for developing functional strength, machines let me push targeted muscles further. I wonder if that helps increase strength faster? I.e, is the limiting factor in ‘real world’ strength the major muscle group being used, or the supporting muscles that only free weights properly develop?

    Matt wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I suppose. But I’d much rather use a spotter than a machine to safe-alize a lift.

      Julie wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Also, places with extensive free weights offer safety devices without the need for spotters. A squat can be done in squat cage, etc.

      Amy wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Deadlift, or go home. Hahahaha

      Mark P wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Don’t ever listen to him about anything fitness related again. Everything he said was ridiculous.

      Jamie S wrote on August 19th, 2013
  5. I like the idea of being able to create food for those who would otherwise do without. But meat grown in a lab? I would have to agree the people behind it are in it for providing themselves with money, not providing consumers with affordable protien. So would I buy it? NO!

    Lauri wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Affordable protein = insects

      Primal-V wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • “I would have to agree the people behind it are in it for providing themselves with money, not providing consumers with affordable protien”.

      With out profits no business can stay in business. That includes my local farmers and ranchers that provide me with pastured animal products. Making money via legitimate profits is not inherently evil. Legit profits are a signal that a business model is successfully working. Customers are willingly being serviced through voluntary exchange.

      Using economic or physical force via policy and regulations purchased via political officials is a REAL problem in every major US industry. To me that is crony capitalism, like Monsanto affecting the “Farm Act” due to the revolving door between Monsanto and the USDA. Or the similar revolving door between Goldman Sachs and the SEC and Treasury Department. That is equivalent to playing dirty pool and is the antithesis of capitalism.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • +1

        Amy wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • Bravo. Vote with your dollars.

        Mark P wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I forgot to include that I applaud your decision to not purchase a product/service you do not believe in. IMO, voting with your money or your feet are the only types of votes that make a difference.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I would if the science on it was sound, and they released enough information about its regulations and it being completely safe/healthy to consume.

      Like Mark said, none of which is likely considering where we are at with things like GMO’s on the above as well.

      I’d put synthetic meat in the same category until they prove otherwise.

      Kevin wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • How do you propose they do it without money? What if they are doing it for the curiousity of it and not for providing affordable protein? What if they are doing it for providing affordable protein? What difference does it make if the result is affordable protein?

      Joshua wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • The source of the money is a big difference. One of the co-founders of Google is funding the synthetic meat research. That is private money. Private money tends to be a better steward of capital than public money. Public money is a whole different story.

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on August 20th, 2013
  6. I’m waiting for the first brilliant but foolish person to 3D print a hamburger :)

    Groktimus Primal wrote on August 19th, 2013
  7. I don’t favor cable machines, but they’re definitely better than nothing. Art DeVany does a lot of bodybuilding, machine exercises and he certainly seems to be in good shape (although he’s a genetic freak). They obviously don’t really translate that well to moving in real life, but I think they’re still good for your overall health and your bone health.

    Brendan Coburn wrote on August 19th, 2013
  8. I’ve been sitting on a Swiss ball for 12 years now. I’m not sure it’s significantly better for your posture than a chair, but I like it. I can move around more and practice balancing from time to time. It’s not so great on the days I wear skirts and heels to work. When I first started sitting on a ball, I would become quite fatigued after a few hours, so it must be doing something. I can’t have a standing desk where I work, so I figure this is the best option under the circumstances.

    Nicholle wrote on August 19th, 2013
  9. I occasionally bring a ball up from the company gym and sit on it for a few hours. I “perch” on it rather than fully sit the same way I do when I used it for exercising and it really engages my core and leg muscles.

    I also stand at my standard desk quite regularly when doing routine tasks. I have nothing fancy, just two paper boxes with my keyboard and mouse on top. I kick off my shoes and tip my monitors back. I get some funny looks and comments but really, no one cares. When I’ve had enough, I put the paper boxes back and sit back down.

    I also have changed my thinking about time management being the top priority and send my printing down the hall to the copy room instead of using my own printer and then go and get every single item as I print it. Waste of time OR good use of time because it keeps me active and alert?

    As Mark says, it is changing positions, getting up and moving and NOT sitting all day that’s the key.

    Ravey wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I agree, going back down the hall to pick up something I forgot is the best exercise I get some days.

      Vanessa wrote on August 22nd, 2013
  10. I use both a standing desk & occasionally a Swiss ball (be sure you get one large enough– don’t go by the height of your chair seat because the ball squishes a bit). I like both much better than ordinary chairs. But the best change I’ve made is, as Mark says, breaking up desk time with brief bouts of exercise (stretches, squats, leg-lifts, desk push-ups, stair-climbing & such). I find I’m more alert, less fidgety & less stiff at the end of the day. I use the Pomodoro method, 25 minutes working, then 3-5 moving about.

    Paleo-curious wrote on August 19th, 2013
  11. Thanks for answering my question, I really appreciate it.

    Any thoughts on pomegranate juice? Because it’s one of the few foods that I read about, which (purportedly) possesses the ability to reverse atherosclerosis. (http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2008/oct2008_Natural-Methods-for-Reversing-Atherosclerosis_01.htm).

    Nicholas wrote on August 19th, 2013
  12. I just started weight training a few months ago and have been using machines almost exclusively to build some base strength. I’m 48 and still have about 30 lbs to lose (I haven’t lost any weight for over a year). My body composition has changed for the better, though I’m sure most people who post here would be unimpressed :-) I’m considering moving on to free weights, but that area of my gym is filled with mostly young guys who lift heavy, toss the weights down, and often scream loudly and menacingly while doing so. I’m no shriking violet, but it’s pretty intimidating. Also, I’m concerned that I will hurt myself without the proper instruction, and personal training is not in my budget right now. I have been looking at bodyweight training, but I’m worried I’ll lose the gains I’ve made with the machines. Any advice?

    Mary Mac wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • You don’t need to be intimidated. My mom is 76. She started lifting weights when she was 40. She just loves asking buff young men to help her change weight plates. They are always happy to help out. Of course, when the gym is empty she has no trouble moving them herself.

      Stella B wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Start small (light), and work your way up. If you’re wanting to do squats (and I definitely think you should!), start by doing some bodyweight workouts. This will help you get the form down before trying to add the weight, with the possibility of hurting yourself, and I don’t think you’ll lose any strength by going this route. Mark had someone guest post a while about that does all bodyweight stuff, and holy smokes he is ripped!

      And dont’ be intimidated, most of those guys are too busy checking themselves out in the mirrors to pay attention to anyone else ;) Plus, I’ve always found it kind of fun be the only chick in the free weights section. As far as getting a trainer, start asking people you know if they lift, and see if there’s anyone that would be willing to help you out and get you started.

      Stacie wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I want Stella’s mom to train me! She sounds like a badass!

      Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve been looking at the You are Your Own Gym book and app by Mark Lauren. I do squats, planks, and some (heavily assisted) pullups. I like the idea of working out entirely with bodyweight exercises, but I have to find some kind of lower bodyweight bar in order to do all movements as described. I just don’t have the right furniture in my house–and I worry about putting all my weight on a doorknob or door hinge.

      Mary Mac wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Give the bodyweight exercises a shot-you shouldn’t lose muscle mass or strength as long as you do them correctly and push yourself. I used to lift weights quite a bit, along with a few pushups and situps. I was at a plateau for years until I got into bodyweight calisthenics. After doing BW for several months, I broke through all of my plateaus and became stronger and fitter than ever. For this reason I have gone to strictly BW and no longer do anything with weights or machines. A great book is “convict conditioning” as well as “you are your own gym’ which was mentioned above.

      Shawn wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • A big +1 on that!

        Nocona wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • Do you generally work out at home, a gym, a park? If at home, may I ask what equipment, if any, you use? I have a pullup bar and a mat and am thinking about buying some straps to hang from my pullup bar. I really haven’t liked working with resistance bands in the past. They feel too springy and weird.

        Also, when you mentioned breaking through plateaus, were you referring just to conditioning plateaus or also to a weight plateau. I realize weight loss isn’t the primary goal for most, but with 30 lbs or so of fat weight left, I would like to shed lbs in addition to putting on muscle.

        Mary Mac wrote on August 19th, 2013
        • I work out at home usually, but anywhere with open floor space would work. I do use a pullup bar frequently, but wouldn’t need to have it to get a full workout. I was also thinking about getting rings to hang from my pullup bar…never used them, but hear they make pushups much more difficult.
          I was referring to strength and conditioning plateaus. Especially after following the progressions in convict conditioning, my pushups increased noticeably after remaining stagnant for years. Diet would have a larger effect on weight loss than any kind of strength training program.

          Shawn wrote on August 20th, 2013
    • yes don’t be intimidated most of them will be decent folk and happy to help im 54 and the young guys in the free weights area are always respectful to the more mature folk and generally appreciate that we are not just cardio junkies .on the free weights/machines I like to train on my own and find a combined freeweights machine bodyweight regime works best .for example the leg press Is safer for my dodgy knees plus body squats as finisher .then after 3 sets moderate bench(no spotter) I finish with pushups with elevated feet (I love inverted rows,bent over rows followed by facepulls )cheers from Maroochydore queensland thanks to mark,robbwolf and gary taubes ive lost 35 kilos banished metabolic syndrome and regained my youth,still like good quality beer on occasion and don’t ever feel deprived just love life

      par white wrote on August 20th, 2013
    • Find a Les Mills Body Pump class.

      Janet wrote on August 23rd, 2013
  13. Regarding synthetic meat, in addition to the antibiotic bath the meat stem cells have to be nourished with bovine calf blood. That is like cutting of your nose to spite your face. Besides, how will I get my suet, beef bones, marrow, and offal? Not to mention leather jackets are always in style.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I actually heard somewhere that cultured leather will most likely be one of the first commercially available products of this technology. Cultured liver, I’m guessing not a priority!

      Paleo-curious wrote on August 19th, 2013
  14. The type of weight that you lift is far, far less important than the manner in which you do it (slow, controlled, and to muscular fatigue), but because of that machines are superior to free weights. The purpose of weight lifting is to change body composition, plain and simple. Increase muscle and/or lose fat (a byproduct of muscular growth) – and the only way to do that is to fatigue the muscle. Machines allow for muscular isolation, require truly repetitive motion (ie: you can’t as easily subtly cheat by “throwing your back into it” on the final few reps), and are safer than free weights because, should muscular fatigue occur during a rep, the weight can be disengaged in a controlled way.

    It is true that some machines cause the body to be moved in unnatural and unhealthy ways, but that only indicts those machines, and not machines per se. There are properly designed machines on the market that respect the human physiology. Also, while it is true that machines – because they are more oriented towards the isolation of specific muscles – do not actually teach “natural movements” (ie: movements that one would have to do in the real world), this doesn’t indict machines either. Being able to perform natural movements is a skill, not an exercise, and should be practiced as such. Yes, there is an (unavoidable) strength training component to practicing such movements, but for the most part the strength one needs to do them at the level one desires should already be present. If, for example, one needs to be able to do handstand pushups for some professional or recreational reason, and handstand pushups require adequately strong trapezius muscles and tricep muscles, then that person should strengthen his trapezius and his triceps – and just because a machine that is designed to strengthen the traps doesn’t also strengthen the triceps doesn’t make machines inferior to free weights! It simply means that he should use a machine that strengthens his triceps in addition to using the trap machine (and doing this – as opposed to using free weights to do a compound movement that strengthens both muscles simultaneously – is actually superior because both muscles will be allowed to reach their maximum state of fatigue without being dependent – even just partially – upon other, smaller, necessarily weaker muscles to complete the movement).

    Machines over free weights every day – but only if they are properly designed, and – as with all weight lifting – are being used with proper technique.

    Hank wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I lift weights because I want to be strong, and the changed body comp is welcomed side effect from that. I find that I get stronger, faster, when using free weights. Always.

      Stacie wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • Okay…???

        Hank wrote on August 19th, 2013
        • I think Stacy is making the point that she lifts weights for functional fitness, and not merely “to change body composition, plain and simple.” If you are purely after an aesthetic goal, then perhaps machines are superior, I have no idea. But that isn’t the goal of most of Mark’s readers. We want to be healthy, strong, and feel great. And we want to be able to DO things with our muscles, not just look pretty. Moreover, there are many effective styles of exercise that use natural movements to train muscles, so I do not think your exercise/skill distinction is accurate.

          tkm wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • What Hank said!

      mrfreddy wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • or better yet, if you want to strengthen muscles to do handstand pushups…do handstand pushups! :-)

      Shawn wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • I started lifting to get stronger, but I continue because it’s fun. And free weights are a lot more fun for me. ymmv, and have at the machines if that’s what floats your boat. But be aware that it’s a little arrogant to assume you know what motivates me and what’s best for me. When you come off as arrogant instead of helpful, people won’t hear your message because they’re too busy being mad at you.

      Julie wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • “Machines allow for muscular isolation, require truly repetitive motion”

      Outside of pro bodybuilders, no one needs to isolate any muscles.

      I recently switched to free weights after 15 years of lifting mostly with machines & cables. There’s no comparison. I have more muscle after 6 weeks of heavy 5×5 barbell workouts than I ever had from machines, and I’m spending less time lifting. I’m 10 pounds heavier with the same body fat, mainly thanks to the squats & weighted pull-ups.

      Michael wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • The reason for your improvement is the increase in the intensity of your workouts, not the fact that they are now being done with free weights. Intensity is by far the biggest factor in successful (and efficient) weight training (which, as I said earlier, is why – ceritus paribus – machines are superior to free weights: they allow for more intensity).

        Hank wrote on August 20th, 2013
        • So, after 15 years of lifting with machines, he switches to free weights and suddenly the intensity of his workouts went up? Riiggghhhttt….

          The strongest people in the world, powerlifters, olympic weightlifters, strongman contests… they got that way from machine training? I think not.

          Machines have their place. The physical therapy room. Building real, functional strenght requires barbells. Hank, why don’t you take your theory to the Stronglifts or Starting Strenght forums and see how well received they are. I’m sure Mark Riptoe would be very interested.

          Piper A R wrote on August 20th, 2013
      • Why not just drop the weights altogether and do bodyweight exercises? bw exercises can be incredibly difficult if you change up your body position and leverage. Ask half the bodybuilders in the gym to do a pistol and they would probably fall flat on their back.
        And you drastically reduce your chance of injury by not putting extra loads on the joints in unnatural ways. I had major shoulder pain and biceps tendonitis from doing barbell shoulder exercises. once I switched to pure bw, the pain actually healed itself while becoming stronger at the same time

        Shawn wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • “The purpose of weight lifting is to change body composition, plain and simple.”

      It’s not my purpose. I spent most of my childhood weak and sick. I love *feeling* strong. When bad *ss teenagers/young adults walk by, I love feeling like if I had to, there might be actually be a contest in a physical tussle. Looking good, naked or otherwise is a serious bonus, but not the reason I’m there.

      ” and just because a machine that is designed to strengthen the traps doesn’t also strengthen the triceps doesn’t make machines inferior to free weights! ”

      If the only goal is pretty traps or triceps or find out what 1 particular muscle group is capable of then, yes. In the real world, many muscles work together to create stability and strength. But why waste time on 2 machines if one movement strengthens both and more closely replicates the situation when I might need them?

      I don’t have time to waste at gym, unfortunately. I only have 2 1-hour sessions scheduled weekly for the gym. I need to be super efficient there and about 95% of the machines don’t cut it.

      Amy wrote on August 19th, 2013
      • agree with amy for max efficiency freeweights are more functional and you get the most bang for your time buck .some finishing exercises are difficult to do with freeweights(facepulls for example)where I do agree with hank Is maximum effort and going close to failure is sometimes abit dangerous without a training partner bench and squats for example(go for max performance freeweights and bodyweight and health/defininition/body composition will follow forget most individual isolation exercises unless you are training to look like a freak)

        par white wrote on August 20th, 2013
  15. Supplementing Vitamin D has been at the top of my to do list. Especially when the only sun I get for more then 20 minutes is on the weekends.

    I have first hand experience with swiss ball desks and standing desks. Going from training clients 1 on 1 full time to more of a management position I tend to sit way more then I ever have. I did the swiss ball for about a month and had great results. It really does a great job at forcing proper position.

    My most recent venture has been a standing desk. It took some time for my feet to get used to it but it has really been great for my lower back. My IT bands and hip flexors would get super tight after sitting so much before I made the switch. I will never go back!

    William wrote on August 19th, 2013
  16. Another great standing desk alternative for those who aren’t trying to break the bank.

    Phil wrote on August 19th, 2013
  17. @Carrie

    Personally, I think free-weights are more fun!
    I like supplementing my training (that is mostly free-weights) with machine exercises. I found that when I started to plateau, isolating certain muscles with a machine helped me increase my weight in all my main lifts.

    My experience is similar; coming from the perspective of trying to build muscle and gain healthy weight.

    Whatever you decide to do, you will most likely have fun and increase your overall health, especially if you live within the primal blueprint.

    -Tay

    Taylor Rearick wrote on August 19th, 2013
  18. I’m sad to admit I’m one of those people that figured how to slump while sitting on a Swiss ball after two minutes…

    My body is very efficient at finding the easiest road.

    Bjjcaveman wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • Me, too. Swiss balls don’t feel much different to a chair to me after a while.

      Amy wrote on August 19th, 2013
  19. Mark,
    Thank you for all you do, your advice and recommendations continues to be right on the money. I wanted to drop a quick message in support of your responses/answers regarding exercise on the cable machines, as well as sitting on the swiss ball. You hit the nail on the head with both responses. To add to the cable machine discussion-2 of the best exercises most people can do on the cable machines (also ‘free motion’ ‘functional trainer’ etc-other names, similar machines): 1: Chops and 2: Lifts from a ‘Half kneel’ or ‘Tall kneel’ position. The Half kneel position is especially good for those that sit excessively (many people) and have limited functional hip extension and inhibited/’turned off’ core musculature (‘Lower Crossed Syndrome’-Vladmir Janda). The chop and lift also really helps to expose Left-Right asymmetries in core stability/upper body strength. See this link for the chop and lift as well as many other awesome ‘Functional Exercises’ that I use a lot: http://graycook.com/?page_id=41
    I see a lot of patients that sit excessively, and a few of my main strategies with these people are to just get them up and moving more. I do think the standing desks are great (not so fond of the TM desks as walking is a dynamic movement) and encourage those that have to be in 1 place for long periods to consider a standing desk (I share your post months back regarding the standing desks). Sitting on a swiss ball still has you in the sitting position with hips flexed which will lead to the lower crossed issues that we see so much in the clinic-have to get up! Keep up the great work and God Bless!

    Andy wrote on August 19th, 2013
  20. Alternative to standing desk/swiss ball, etc: I use the Pomodoro method to increase my productivity. Before starting work and at every 25 minute break, I stand or squat or walk for 5 minutes. I clean my desk, do other filing, etc. By changing position every 25 minutes I seem to be getting many of the benefits of standing desks. It certainly keeps a clean desk and would attract no attention to your desk whatsoever.

    Amy wrote on August 19th, 2013
  21. pushups, pull-up/chin-ups, squats, planks, and variations of the above, included with primal living = RIPPED.

    oh yeah, and NO GYM MEMBERSHIP needed! i haven’t been ripped up like this since high school (actually more so now) and more than twice that age at the moment, i can thank Mark’s primal fitness program for that. the most efficient routine i’ve seen out.

    forget the cables… hit the floor son!

    ATM wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • great for you agree totally re primal movement but I like my me time in the gym combined with lots of hiking and mountainbiking this blog rocks grok on

      par white wrote on August 20th, 2013
  22. @Carrie- the Jamie Eason Livefit program is great, I completed it last fall. I don’t think there is as much cable work as you think, hardly anything on nautilus. Lots of deadlifts, squats, and the like. But a word of caution- if you do it, make sure you are super healthy, your adrenals are rockin, and you don’t follow calorie restriction. I did it, got cut for about a week, and then had a terrible rebound that left me with high cortisol, screwed up female hormones, and a 12 pound weight gain inside of 3 months. Some people can take that intensity; I couldn’t and I didn’t listen when my body told me to stop. If I had to do it over I would make sure I was eating enough to support my exercise, start a little more slowly (like lifting a 3 day split instead of a 6), and then work into the Livefit. That said, I probably never will do it again because I am seeing more strength gains lifting only 3 days a week than I ever did on the program. I will cut eventually but for now my adrenals can’t handle much cardio so I have to make sure my diet is really dialed in. Let me tell you, that brief moment of time when I looked like a fitness model has not been worth the 6 month journey I’ve been on to recover. You can lift and get strong without that kind of program.

    Keri wrote on August 19th, 2013
  23. Grok would have never eaten lab food. How many times do we need to hear about fake food replacements coming out of a lab. I am shocked at your response on this Mark.

    Paul Rowan wrote on August 19th, 2013
    • He would if he was hungry enough. We didn’t get this far as a species, ironically, by being purists about our food sources.

      At any rate, he was pretty skeptical that it could be done successfully on a commercial level (at least no without literal vasts of antibiotics). I share that as well.

      (I’m not holding my breath waiting for driverless car either. I say show me which airplanes have gone pilotless (or train or even monorail) and I’ll consider it as a possibility. Anyway, not everything under current research is the wave of the future.)

      Amy wrote on August 19th, 2013
  24. Carrie-
    see if you can track down the books Convict Conditioning 1&2, they are put together really well and are probably the best system of functional bodyweight training around. As well, get yourself a kettlebell and learn the swing, one handed and two handed. By following a kettlebell bodyweight regime you will have it all: strength, cardio, and functional fitness.

    chess wrote on August 19th, 2013
  25. I’ve never been a big fan of the swiss ball. Love standing treadmill desks though boom :)

    Samantha wrote on August 20th, 2013
  26. Sitting on a Swiss Ball doesn’t mean you have good posture – just like sitting on a horse doesn’t mean you’re a cowboy!

    I wrote a blog post recently about what I perceive the be the myth of the swiss ball. I’ve found that the Swiss Ball tends to perpetuate postural problems, not fix them.
    http://www.areyouergo.com/ergonomics-swiss-ball/

    Matt G. wrote on August 20th, 2013
  27. I sit on a ball when I am using the computer (I am a gamer, so I use it a LOT). and I find it helps….
    I am a lot more concious of my posture, and I don’t slump simply because I am more aware.
    Plus it is good for the core muscles… you are using them constantly while sitting on the ball.

    salixisme wrote on August 20th, 2013
  28. I have been for years (5+) alternating between a standing workstation and a swiss ball at work. Best thing I have done. While standing I do leg stretches, arms crossing (front and back) and some yoga equilibrium poses. While on the ball plenty of hip rotations.

    wildgrok wrote on August 20th, 2013
  29. I can vouch for plaque buildup regression. I convinced my stepfather to start on a primal/paleo diet last year. After never having seen a cholesterol reading below 250 he is now in the 170 range. Plus all of his inflammation markers have improved, as well as his blood pressure. He’s gone from taking a handful of pills every day to taking a few vitamins. And of course the most important thing to him is that his golf swing has improved dramatically because the inflammation in his joints has practically been eliminated.

    Jason wrote on August 20th, 2013
  30. Mark,
    You forgot to mention oral chelation containing EDTA for plaque regression. I am not sure whether it would be considered Primal but it surely is touted as a miracle for improving blood flow and cleaning plaque out of arteries. If anyone is interested in learning more, check out http://www.oralchelation.com. I am not in any way associated with the company. I am just a user of the oral chelation product and think it is fantastic. I am passionate about alternative/natural medicine. Mark, are you against using oral chelation?

    Brian Smith wrote on August 21st, 2013
  31. In regards to plaque buildup reduction, it might be worth researching what appears to be a very powerful enzyme that could help: serrapeptase.

    George wrote on August 21st, 2013
  32. Sitting: Given that your company doesn’t allow standing desks (time to look for a new job), try the following, with the understanding that if you must sit, you need to be changing positions, with good posture, as much as possible. Here we go:

    1. I took an office chair, removed the entire seat/top, put on a large 3/4″ plywood square (maybe 2.5×2.5 ft), foam, a cover, then a bolster for my ass, and now I can sit cross legged (indian style as some call it). Which is at least better for the hips.

    2. Take the bolster or foam pad and put it on the floor, and kneel in front of your desk. Now your hip flexors aren’t bent unnaturally; and you get that psoas and friends as well as your pelvis a bit more naturally aligned.

    3. Kneel on one knee, and sit the ass cheek from your other leg on the side of the chair that you made. You’re basically doing a lunge. Same benefits as #2 above, but just a different position. Remember, it’s being immobile that’s the main problem.

    Lastly, here’s a good video for organizing your body if you do have to sit.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfg_e6YG37U

    KenZ wrote on August 23rd, 2013
  33. I think you have to make a conscious decision to have a good posture if over the years it has become slack, just sitting on a swiss ball will not make your posture improve but it will not allow you to slouch as much as a chair but you still need to follow the right instructions.

    Jill Waterfall wrote on August 25th, 2013

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