Why do gyms have 10 versions of the chest press machine, 8 variations of the leg press, 6 handles for pull-ups, 12 different ways to do rows / pulling exercises, and so on? It’s because no two people are built exactly the same. An exercise that might feel perfect for your body might make mine feel achy. Here we’ll talk about how differences in human anatomy affect your training, and the Top 5 benefits of using moveable grip attachments for machine, barbell, bodyweight, and cable exercises.
The Evolution of Training Equipment
Whether you’re training for sports, weight lifting, or general fitness, there’s no doubt that our training practices and equipment evolve over time. One of the best examples of this is when you walk into a gym, you instantly know if the equipment is old and outdated or if it’s modern and updated. As equipment evolves, training evolves. Even though equipment might not always change what your workout looks like on paper (although it does have that capacity), better equipment can greatly change how you feel with the same workout without making any other changes, and that’s significant.
Variations in Anatomy Require Variability of Exercise
Since humans come in various shapes and sizes, our joints also come in various shapes and sizes. This is called anatomical variability and is well-documented worldwide.
This variance in human bone structure directly affects your individual lifting biomechanics.
For example, some people have relatively long arms and short legs, which gives mechanical advantage to deadlifting. Other people might have short arms and broad shoulders, which gives mechanical advantage to bench pressing.
Since your structure inherently affects how your muscles attach to and move your joints, training longevity relies on optimizing lifting mechanics for your body. We can’t change our skeletal structure, but we can change how we train.
Using dynamic, moveable grips instead of static, immoveable handles is one of the single-best things you can do from an exercise setup perspective to optimize exercise positioning, movement path, and joint protection.
Here are the top 5 reasons to use dynamic, moveable grips to optimize your training:
Benefits of Moveable Grip Attachments
1) Customization of Exercises for YOUR Body.
Moveable grips allow you to customize the grip width, position, and corresponding movement path for a large number of exercises. The movable grips also offer an adjustable length, which provides versatility for those with various arm or torso ratios. Adjusting how your hand interacts with a bar or machine has the potential to completely change how the exercise feels to you. Sometimes the exercise isn’t the problem, it’s that your body doesn’t agree with how the exercise is being done.
The strength curve (how “hard” an exercise feels at any point in the range of motion) even has the potential to change when you change the grip's position or orientation. One of the best examples of this is the neutral grip deadlift (trap bar) vs the supinated or pronated grip (straight bar). This seemingly small adjustment can be the difference between pain-free deadlifts and no deadlifts at all.
“One size fits all” doesn’t apply to training, so finding the ideal setup that allows you to sustainably train pain-free is worth pursuing, as long as the movement modifications are safe. I see a good number of runners and lifters in the clinic where I work. It's interesting how not many people disagree that 2 runners can have different running techniques and both have good form. But in the gym, many people don't apply the same logic. While we should pursue picture perfect form, we should also accept that different bodies need to move differently.
2) Joint Protection
If you go to a grassy, outdoor park, you can tell where people walk because the grass is worn into a rut. These trampled ruts are especially apparent on a college campus where the students are in a hurry, so they want to take the fastest route to class without any deviations.
Using exercise variety in the gym prevents “ruts” in your joint cartilage by allowing the joint surface to spread the load evenly - instead of loading the same movement path over and over. Even though repetitive loading isn’t inherently injurious (in fact, it’s a central tenet of strength training), variety is key if you want to train for a long time and do everything you can to protect your joints.
Moveable grips also allow you to set up with better body alignment which protects the exercising joints as well as your spine. Let’s use the deadlift for another example. As the bar or your hands get further away from your shins, demand on the spine increases because the biomechanical lever becomes longer. So if you want to reduce the demand on the spine, a good option is to use moveable grips that allow your hands to be parallel to your shins, close to your base of support.
3) Muscle Activation
Plenty of research studies support the benefit of the mind-muscle connection for hypertrophy. In these studies, subjects in different groups perform the same exercises, but one group is told to think about the muscle they are trying to activate. The group that thought about activating the target muscle saw better gains than the control group. A possible mechanism of action for the better gains is the enhanced neurologic drive from the brain helps stimulate a stronger, more focused contraction.
Machine handles aren’t always the ideal grip width and position for your body frame. Moveable grips help you find the optimal movement path that maximally stimulates your contractile tissue (muscles and tendons). Plus, your body may need a very slight adjustment in grip position or rotation to maximally recruit the target muscle that static grips just can’t offer.
For example, the rotator cuff gets more involved with stabilizing your shoulder when you don’t have to start the movement with compensatory momentum because you’re starting in an awkward position. Simply change the position, and feel how you no longer need that compensatory momentum starter.
4) More Range of Motion.
To optimally train for strength and hypertrophy, muscles should be trained through their full range of motion from fully shortened to mildly stretched when the exercise is appropriate. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but training the muscle to control its full range of motion is the best way to improve your functional mobility, recruit all of your muscle fibers, and maximize mechanical tension on your muscles.
Moveable grips allows more range of motion than immovable grips. For example, the range of motion for barbell rows usually stops when the bar contacts your body. When you use movable grips, the movement is stopped by its natural stopping point based on your available shoulder range of motion because the hands are allowed to extend by your sides past your ribs.
If you’re not training your joints through their full range of motion, you actually lose the flexibility to access the full range of motion because your body operates on the motto “use it or lose it”. However, this doesn’t mean you should force a new range of motion. To reduce risk for injury, you have to earn access to a new range of motion and learn how to control it BEFORE you load it.
5) Greater Athletic Carryover
Strength training makes you a better athlete because it develops many of the key components of athleticism: strength, speed, force output, body control, and power. The athleticism that you build in the gym needs to be transferable to improve athletic performance. You can improve athletic carryover by using dynamic, moveable grips because it exposes you to more angles, exercise variations, and planes of rotation.
The exposure to different joint positions, forces, and angles improves body control and builds experience in various planes of motion required for athletic performance.
Research even supports strength training as one of the best ways to reduce injury risk. Well-rounded strength training develops well-rounded muscles. Muscular capacity and skill are the foundation for sport-specific skills.
I’ve worked with athletes who are really strong and skilled when they’re moving forward or backward (also referred to as sagittal plane motion), but they break down when you ask them to move side-to-side (also referred to as frontal plane motion). If you want to be a better athlete, you need to be strong in all directions. To be strong in all directions, you need to train and practice in various directions.
Dr. Justin Kirk, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist in the USA. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. Justin is passionate about treating athletes of all levels from weekend warriors to collegiate athletes. He writes and shares content on injury prevention, training smarter, running, and athletics on Instagram @theliftingPT.