Does Hydraulic Exercise Equipment Really Work?

by Jolie Johnson

Hydraulic exercise equipment creates resistance to an exercise using fluids. It is unique to other forms of resistance in that it only allows for concentric muscle contractions. The question as to whether hydraulic exercise equipment is effective depends on your training goals and current fitness level. This type of equipment is more effective for beginners than it is for advanced exercisers.

Hydraulic Equipment

Instead of weight plates, hydraulic equipment has cylinders filled with fluid that provide the resistance to an exercise. The speed with which you push or pull against the cylinders determines the amount of resistance. The harder and faster you push, the more resistance the cylinders create. Most pieces of hydraulic exercise equipment combine two exercises into one machine. For example, on the press/row machine, you perform the press when you push the handles and the row when you pull the handles. Hydraulic equipment only provides a concentric muscle contraction.

Types of Contractions

When you do a standard strength-training exercise, such as a biceps curl, you contract the muscle in two different ways. As you curl the weight, the muscle concentrically contracts, meaning the muscle fibers actively shorten. As you lower the weight, the muscle eccentrically contracts, meaning the muscle fibers lengthen against the resistance. Although the muscle fibers lengthen, they still contract to control the descent of the weight against gravity.

Hydraulic Drawbacks

Hydraulic exercise equipment only allows for a concentric contraction of the muscle. For a biceps curl, you pull the handles, but instead of lowering the weight, you then push the handles, which works your triceps. When you use hydraulic exercise equipment, your muscles miss part of the workload. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, eccentric contractions produce more force and result in more mass and strength gains than concentric contractions alone. Hydraulic exercise equipment also limits the resistance of an exercise. You can only push or pull so fast before you sacrifice form and risk injury.

Hydraulic Advantages

For intermediate or advanced lifters, the lack of an eccentric contraction limits training progress. However, for some populations, the lack of eccentric contraction might be beneficial. Beginner exercisers who have been sedentary for long periods may benefit from the moderate intensity workout that hydraulic equipment provides. Doing two exercises on one machine cuts down your workout time, which is an important consideration for those with a hectic schedule. The eccentric muscle contraction results in more delayed-onset muscle soreness than the concentric contraction, so using hydraulic exercise equipment reduces your soreness. This may be beneficial for those with joint, muscle or other health conditions.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.