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The Fit 5: Fitness Equipment

Resistance bands, Smith machines, medicine balls—your training equipment questions, answered.

For all of our fans who shoot us questions on our Facebook page, this one is for you. Each week, we will tap into our pool of editors and experts to help with any questions or challenges you are having with your fitness regimen.

This week, Sean Hyson C.S.C.S., Group Training Director for Muscle & Fitness and Men's Fitness magazines, answers questions about working with different exercise equipment.

Be sure to read up on all of Sean’s articles here on MensFitness.com or in Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness magazines each month.

You can also catch Sean on Twitter

1) Medicine Balls — asked by Edbeard Wiseley

What are the advantages of ab training with a medicine ball?

“A medicine ball allows you to do explosive exercises you can’t do with free weights. Throwing it teaches your body to develop power without “putting on the brakes” like you do when you lift weights fast (you can’t help but slow down the movement at the end to control the lift). Catching the ball trains you to absorb force and redirect it. Both kinds of exercises work the abs hard and differently than conventional sit-ups and leg raises.”

2) Smith Machine vs. Free Weights — asked by Joshua Gan

How effective is the Smith machine for doing flat and inclined bench presses compared to using free weights?

"Unless you’re an advanced-level bodybuilder, you should avoid the Smith machine. Free weights work muscles harder and train the body for real-world performance. You have to balance the loads you’re lifting yourself. The Smith machine determines the movement for you, taking much of the challenge out of the lift. The only advantage to Smith machine pressing is the way it isolates the pecs. You can use it toward the end of workouts to finish off your chest, or if you have shoulder injuries (advanced bodybuilders find it most useful for these reasons). But for most of us who want to be big and functionally strong, free weights are better."

3) The P90X Hype — asked by
Jerry Lozano

What do you think about the P90X program?

"It certainly has enough satisfied customers to testify that it works, but I don’t see how it’s any more special than what a smart trainer could come up with if he worked with you for 90 days. The idea behind P90X is simply periodization—making planned changes to a routine over time to prevent plateaus and ensure continued gains. You can get the same results following one of our long-term programs. The trouble is, most people don’t follow plans or know how to program their training. P90X fills this need, and that’s why it’s so popular. One drawback I see in P90X is that, if being strong on big lifts like the squat or bench press is important to you, you probably won’t make progress on them. If all you want is to be in shape and see your abs, it’s fine. If you want to be big and strong like a bodybuilder or football player, you’ll need to train with heavier weights on old-school barbell exercises."

4) Bowflex Dumbbells — asked by William Ramos

What do you all think about the Bowflex dumbbells? I am looking to buy the heavier set.

"Any selectorized dumbbell set can be a great addition to a home gym. It will save you space (as opposed to installing a wall-length rack with several dumbbells). The only real downside to selectorized dumbbells is that the length of the handle is long. This can make heavier curls, rows, and presses more cumbersome. You might want to get a selectorized set for lower weight increments (go up to about 60 pounds or so), and then buy regular, fixed-weight dumbbells for your heavier loads."

5) Resistance Band Training — asked by Kevin Huerta

What are some examples of good exercises using resistance bands?

“The options are limitless, and depend on what kind of bands you have. If you have a continuous loop style of band (the kind that looks like a big rubber band), you can use it to assist your chin-ups. Loop the band over a bar and stand on the other end—let the elastic unload your body weight so you can do reps more easily. You can also attach it to a chin-up bar or the top of a rack and do high-rep push-downs for the triceps. If you have the surgical tubing style of band, you can easily do rows, presses and curls. Try band pull-aparts, where you hold the band with straight arms in front of you and stretch it by pulling your arms back until they’re in line with your body (like a reverse fly, or rear lateral raise). This is good for keeping the muscles in your upper back balanced with your chest and shoulders."

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