Although levers have been used in weight training for many years-the T-bar apparatus is essentially a lever arm built into a basic frame structure-it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the first full line of leverage machines was developed. It consisted of approximately 10 machines that simulated mainly compound exercises, such as bench presses, squats and dips. (See definitions of compound and isolation exercises here) The machines were developed for the gym market and were popularized in places like Gold’s Gyms and Bally’s health clubs.
The initial results were extremely positive. Over the next few years a number of commercial strength equipment companies also released lines of leverage machines, and soon hundreds of gyms were incorporating them into their facilities. For over 20 years such machines were only available in commercial gyms. Over the past ten years, however, leverage machines have become available for home use.
Before leverage machines were introduced, there were two traditional methods of strength training. The most common was barbells and dumbbells, otherwise known as free weight training, and the other was conventional weight-stack machines, which moved via cables, belts, pulleys and cams. Both types of weight training equipment can produce gains in strength and muscular development, but they also have their limitations.
Free-weight training exercises, while providing a natural, free-form type of resistance, can also cause an uncontrolled, at times even sloppy, exercise performance through the full range of motion. While you can progress and grow using barbells and dumbbells, the lack of control, balance and stability can be wasteful and even dangerous, especially if you’re using heavy weights without assistance. Another pitfall with free-weight training is the fact that, if you’re working out alone, you can’t push the muscle to true failure, which can only occur on the last few heavy repetitions of a set. In order for real growth to take place, you need to work to that type of maximum level on each set. If you don’t have a spotter, chances are you won’t attempt the last one or two key repetitions needed for growth. If you do and you fail, you may become trapped by the barbell, which can be a serious situation.
While the conventional weight training machine solves some of those problems, it also has shortcomings. The traditional weight training machines used in the circuit-training area of gyms or in typical multistation home gyms generally incorporate a pin-selected weight stack as the resistance, which is driven by a cable-and-pulley operation. Some weight training machines also use a cam or tension arc device. They all tend to limit you because they follow a predetermined, sometimes restricted range of motion that can vary in terms of function and resistance. In addition, any type of cable or belt-driven machine is going to cause some friction and drag that takes away from the natural feel of pure resistance you experience with free weight training, which can limit your gains.
Creating the Perfect Training Tool
The first step in the development of leverage machines was to pick the most effective free weight training exercises. A frame-and-bench structure was engineered to put the user into the correct position, and a lever arm with a fulcrum was built into the frame. The lever arm had a certain length, and the pivot was set at a particular height in order to duplicate the precise arc, or range of motion, that you work through with the barbell. Weight plates were then loaded near the hand grips to re-create the same natural resistance you experience with a barbell or dumbbell. There are no cables, pulleys, cams or friction. The result is quite simple and basic: The lever arm replaces the barbell while ensuring control and safety. It’s the perfect combination of free weight and machine weight training.
Faster Gains With Leverage
Leverage machines have successfully produced accelerated gains in overall muscular size and strength. They can do that because they provide the same natural gravity forces as a barbell or dumbbell. That type of raw, pure resistance is the most effective means of force against the muscle. We know free-weight training works, but, as discussed above, it has limitations. Leverage machines, because they safely control the exercise at all times, allow you to push the muscle to total failure. That’s the reason leverage is the superior form of anaerobic strength training and why thousands of bodybuilders and pro athletes use these machines every day.
This article was written by Ken Domzalski, designer of many products including the Powertec range.