One of the most frustrating aspects of staying fit is having my workout impaired not by my own lethargy, but by problems with equipment in the gym. I’ve often wondered about a gym’s process for selecting its equipment. Does anyone with fitness experience actually try out the equipment first, or do they engage in catalogue purchasing akin to picking a doctor out of the phone book? And even more fundamentally, what goes on exactly at the companies that manufacture gym equipment? Do the engineers and designers have any personal history pushing, pulling and squeezing in the gym? Does anyone actually sit in the prototype and blast out a few reps before it gets mass produced and shipped out the door?
A machine’s “action” – the way the resistance rises and falls with the movement – should, I think, simulate the feel of an oar pulling through the water: smooth, constant, uniform. What you often get, however, are machines that force you to fight against the resistance as much as the weights themselves. Almost every gym comes equipped with a Smith machine that sticks and snags all the way down and all the way up; a fly machine with tension that appears and disappears throughout the range of motion; and a plain wacky cable machine that must have a gremlin inside playing with the weight stack. This issue extends to even some of the cheaper treadmills that have the feel of running under water.
Equally frustrating, but more dangerous, is the lack of stability plaguing so much equipment. Too often I can grab the top of an incline bench’s pad and rock it side to side with just my hand; what do you think might happen when I’m lying on the same bench pushing hard against two monster dumbbells? I’ve actually dropped a dime in between a preacher bench’s support beam and shaft to secure the arm pad in place. And I can’t tell you how many shims I’ve made from folded up paper towels in a desperate attempt to steady the legs on some bench or machine.
Note to gyms: ever notice how the feet on the base of every machine has holes in it? That’s so you can take a drill and a screw and secure the equipment to the floor. I have worked out in gyms that care enough to bolt down their equipment, and let me tell you: it’s incredible. There is no better feeling in the gym than pushing up against some massive weight with exclusive focus on completing the rep.
Now back to the factory. What is so complicated about the padding for your basic flat bench? I’ve been forced to bench press on pads so cushy they should be sold as mattresses. I’ve done presses on pads so wide they stop my arms from reaching a full stretch at the bottom of my lift. And this: Why did you guys make a calf raise machine that forces my feet so far forward of the shoulder pads that I have no leverage to perform the lift at all? Why did you build the barbell supports on your preacher curl bench in a place that blocks a full extension of my arms? And … really … why are your dumbbells so easily bent out of shape when dropped hard against the floor? I used a gym once where each dumbbell seemed to be forged as one solid piece of iron – that’s how you make your dumbbells indestructible.
In fairness, there is a huge expense associated with quality gym equipment. Between the cost of raw metal and the chunk set aside for the lawyers, it’s amazing the economics of fitness work at all. Nevertheless, I declare myself available to any gym equipment manufacturer as an official machine tester. Who knows, if the stuff actually works, folks might be more inclined to buy it.