You can have all the will, determination and mental drive in the world, but joint pain can stop anyone from maintaining a steady, effective workout routine. Many workout machines are marketed as low-impact alternatives to free weights and other training methods, but that's not always the case. Whether or not you have preexisting joint injuries or a chronic condition such as arthritis, some machines can help you improve joint health, while some can set you back.
When it comes to joint health and workout machines, it's all about low-impact exercise. Some machines touted for their joint-friendly mechanics include elliptical trainers and stationary bicycles. Both pieces of equipment allow your body to move through a smooth, controlled path without a significant amount of resistance or any of the jarring impact running and weightlifting can have on your joints.
Machines to Avoid
Choosing which exercise machines to use and which ones to avoid is subjective; it depends on what your goals are and the current condition of your joints. "Women's Health" cautions women to avoid several workout machines because of the position they put the joints in, including the seated behind-the-neck lat pull-down and seated chest fly machines. Respectively, incline pull-ups and incline push-ups are suitable replacement exercises.
Machines vs. Free Weights
If you're trying to build muscle, you're going to need to do resistance exercises. The American Council on Exercise cites several disadvantages of machine exercises, such as their inability to build stabilizing muscles and the awkward impact they can have on your joints depending on your height, since most machines are manufactured in a standard size. Though free weights place more resistance on your joints and you need to use them with proper form, they can also build the stabilizing muscles that can help you prevent joint injuries.
Considerations and Alternative Exercises
If you have preexisting injuries or chronic joint conditions, you might want to avoid weight machines altogether. If you do use workout machines, one of the easiest ways to prevent injury is to make sure you're using them correctly. Speak with your physician and a personal trainer to see what kinds of exercises may be beneficial to you and which ones could make any joint problems worse. Alternative exercises such as swimming and body weight resistance training might be more appropriate for you.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.