Why You Should Do More of Your Workout on Your Feet

3 Dec

exm3000lpshomegympic[2]This one is for my friend, Jim Smith.  Last night we were working a charity fund-raising event and we got to talking about fitness.  As we discussed different exercises and exercise strategies, our dialog gravitated toward the topics of free weights vs. machines and standing exercises vs. sitting/supine (lying down) exercises.

According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the simple act of standing up instead of sitting may help you burn as many as 50 more calories per hour, depending on your size. Although 50 calories may not seem like a lot in a 2,000-calorie day, making the standing adjustment for four hours out of the day can burn an extra 200 calories a day — leading to a 20 lb. weight loss over the course of a year.  When you factor weight-bearing exercise (strength training) into the equation, these results become multiplicative.

Functional Exercise

Typically, free weight exercises tend to be more functional than machine exercises, and standing exercises more so than sitting or lying down exercises.  Comparatively speaking, exercises become more functional when they incorporate elements of balance, coordination, and stability, in addition to strength.  There are some very good machine exercises — like the leg press (sitting) — that are not very high on functionality.  The bench press is an example of a terrific free-weight exercise that is performed lying down.  My point is, you can’t be too rigid about your strength training “rules” and guidelines.  The strategies that work best for you are the ones that are aligned with your goals.

Core Stability

Standing exercises elicit greater muscle activation than either sitting or lying down exercises.  They help you improve your core stability by making the muscles of your trunk work harder (and become stronger) to keep your spine and body stable.  This helps you stay balanced when you move.  Core stability benefits everyone, from older people to top professional athletes.  Your core musculature (shoulders through hips) supports the rest of your muscles when you move.  Ultimately, the greater the muscle involvement, the greater the strength and fitness benefit.

Machines vs. Free Weights

While I’m not a big fan of machines, they certainly have their collective place in the world of strength and fitness training.  On one hand, almost all machine exercises are performed “off your feet.”  Additionally, they tend to “lock” you into a single range of motion, isolating muscles and eliminating the opportunity for multiple muscle groups to work dependently.  In other words, machines tend to train muscles and not movements.  And, since my primary area of focus is performance training for athletes, I believe we should be training movements and not just muscles (ironically, this approach makes sense even if you’re not an athlete).  On the other hand, machines are especially useful for novice exercisers, post-injury rehabilitation, and circuit training; and eliminate the need to change weight plates and dumbbells.  Here a few examples of standing, free weight exercises that can be substituted for seated, machine exercises:

  • Stepup instead of seated leg extension
  • Romanian deadlift instead of seated hamstring curl
  • TRX suspended pushup instead of seated machine chest press
  • Bent-over row instead of seated row
  • Standing push press instead of seated military press
  • Standing weighted twist (or transverse kettlebell twist) instead of seated oblique twist
  • Hanging leg raise instead of supine crunch


Your thoughts?

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