By Laura Stevenson and Dominic Pharand, PSP Ottawa Fitness and Reconditioning –
In the past decades, the fitness world has evolved significantly. People want to train for longevity and pain-free living, but also adapt their training routine to allow them to perform everyday activities like playing sports, playing with their kids, and even just picking up something from the ground without getting injured or needing days to recuperate. Adding to this, Personnel Support Program (PSP) Fitness wants to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel meet the operational requirements and are functionally ready to perform the FORCE Evaluation every year.
In order to move well and do everything listed above, you need to learn the proper movement patterns, and ensure that your body is capable of moving in different planes of motions. To do so, we strongly recommend free weight exercises rather than machine exercises.
The Smith Machine serves as a good example of how a machine can restrict planes of movement in exercise. It consists of a bar fixed within steel rails, allowing only vertical or near-vertical movement. The bar does not move naturally, going only up and down in a straight line. A natural squat or bench press pattern is never straight up and down, but always has some horizontal movement.
According to Shane Schwanbeck’s article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, there is 43% higher muscle activation during the free weight squat compared to the Smith machine squat. This difference means free weight squat is superior to the Smith machine squat for training the major muscle groups of the legs, and leads to greater strength development and hypertrophy of these muscle groups with long-term training. Similar findings came from Evan Swick in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, confirming the results. Not only is muscle activation impacted, a Smith machine makes it is easy to overestimate the load and overloading the muscle in an improper pathway, opening the door to possible injury.
The Leg Press machine is another good example of outdated exercise equipment. The machine’s incline puts a lot of strain on the back, flexing the spine without engaging any other stabilization muscles in the hips, glutes or core. This poor positioning and lack of stability makes it easy to overload the body’s movement pattern.
The main injuries leading to medical chits come from the lower back and knees. The Leg Press puts individuals in positions that lack internal tension and lead to lumbar flexion, which is the quickest route towards lumbar issues like bulged discs and herniation.
Finally, the leg extension can be an effective way to strengthen the quadriceps, but it puts stress on both the knee joint and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). That extra risk means that it will always be more dangerous than bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges.
With all this said, we want to use our muscles as efficiently and as practically as possible. That’s why PSP Ottawa is modernizing the NCR gyms, replacing outdated machinery like the Smith machine and the Leg Press machine with brand-new turf, allowing for more bodyweight and free weight exercises. With these new changes, PSP Ottawa is making its next step towards creating a safe and effective exercise environment for all CAF members.
 A Comparison of Free Weight Squat to Smith Machine Squat Using Electromyography, Schwanbeck, Shane; Chilibeck, Philip D; Binsted, Gordon
 A Comparison of Muscle Activation Between a Smith Machine and Free Weight Bench Press Schick, Evan E; Coburn, Jared W; Brown, Lee E; Judelson, Daniel A; Khamoui, Andy V; Tran, Tai T; Uribe, Brandon P
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