By Kim Duke

NETA & AFFA Certified Trainer

Present day fitness centers look nothing like they did when I first walked into one back in the ‘80s. Gone and outdated are the machines for each isolated muscle group:  one chest press, one shoulder press, one leg press and so on. Instead what you will find are plyo boxes, TRX bands, medicine balls, kettlebells, battle ropes and sandbags just to name a few.

Strength training has long evolved from targeting just one muscle group at a time, as fixed path machines do. Now, strength training incorporates functional moves — that is, moves that require all your muscles to work together, as they do in real life.

However, with all the fads in fitness, is this exercise trend here to stay? In a landmark 2008 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, research found that exercisers using free-form cable machines become 58 percent stronger that those doing similar moves on fixed-path equipment. The cable-machine group also had greater improvements in balance.

Just like cable machines, functional strength equipment like free weights and kettlebells require you to move in all sorts of directions, which means your body, must recruit both primary muscles and stabilizer muscles to keep the load from traveling in a certain path.  With a more complex movement, you involve more coordination, more body parts and more brainpower to direct all that action.

On the downside, using cable-based systems, or other equipment that is unfamiliar, calls for more know-how on the exerciser’s part. And if you don’t understand what you’re doing, you can up your chances of getting hurt.

Anything that involves more of the body and incorporates more dynamic elements, like waving battle ropes or swinging a kettlebell, may put you at a greater risk for injury if you do not know the proper technique. Your best bet is to build your skills in a small group class or invest in a session with a certified pro.