Ever since man started using external resistance to improve strength, he has tried to improve the methods. More direct, more comfortable, simpler and effective. The use of “machines”, to improve effectiveness is actually pretty old. However even though cables, benches, leg extension/curl apparatus existed along with Universal Machines, etc, no one had the impact that Arthur Jones and Nautilus had.  When you combined a fundamental knowledge of mechanics, some basic logic, a flamboyant image and PT Barnum-like sales ability, you had a force to be reckoned with. You could say that Steve Reeves caught our attention, the Weiders published it in media and Arnold soared it to amazing heights. But the person that made us pissed off, made us think, made us question,.. was Arthur Jones. Imagine a big game hunter, surrounded by crocodiles, alligators, airplanes and exercise machines in that heartless savannah called Central Florida. It wasn’t on the beach in Venice, CA, nor at the gym. It was about imagery, mechanics, theory and pissing  you off. It was also a huge act. It also worked. Weider publications ran a series of articles in the early 70’s called, “Nautilus Machines: A Critical Analysis. They interviewed Arnold, Franco, Bill Pearl and Vince Gironda. The charismatic Nautilus inventor was seen as a threat to bodybuilding. I have NO idea why. Perhaps it was a knee jerk thing like Weider throwing contests that didn’t require bodybuilders to perform Olympic Weightlifting then get up on stage at 1 AM after the REAL lifters were done. The York Empire was not happy. Arthur Jones however introduced a tool AND a method. So he was going against the grain. His machines, he said, were better and you could improve in less time. You just had to work harder and be more efficient. You, because of the efficiency of machines, do as little as one set of, “outright hard work”, to accomplish what 20 sets would do. He was willing to back it up as well. He invited bodybuilders, including Arnold and Franco, down to train in Florida. The rest is history.

The point that most in the whole Nautilus vs Free Weights debate fail to mention is that Arthur Jones was promoting a training method AND his machines. So he was bold enough to say that he invented something better than a barbell or cable, and he invented a training method BETTER than anything currently available. Once again. Bold claims, flamboyant source, PT Barnum and that brashness. Besides “This vs That” is avoiding middle ground, a logical fallacy. Why can’t you use any effective tool at your disposal?

The debate of whether HIGH INTENSITY TRAINING is equal to any other method is not the point of this article. The point of the article is that the popularity of Nautilus/Hammer/MedX declined as Arthur Jones slowly faded into that big Safari in the sky. What did we lose? Some GREAT hardware.

So rather than argue with HIT Jedi’s about leg work, why not just do your squats and finish off with a Nautilus Duo Squat Machine? Your spine is protected and the range of motion is great for hip/leg health. Shearing forces are reduced as well. Resistance is EASY to change. These features can safely address leg strength even when fatigued or sporting an injury.

The Nautilus Duosymmetric, Polycontractile, Squat Machine.

Range of motion in the shoulder girdle can be a limiting factor. NO tool addresses it better than some of the original Nautilus Pullover machines. I believe there was a 290 degree, range of motion in the machines. I had several clients capable of this back in the 1980’s.

A very rare, Poly-Duo Pullover

So your pressing, both overhead and supine is weak? What about a machine that could help you through a sticking point or allow you to SAFELY load eccentrics in those movements?

A foot pedal to lift the weight stack in the Omni Shoulder. Next to it is the Omni Bench Press.

How about one tool that can be used for belt squats, stiff legged deadlifts [with an optional platform], weighted pull ups, weighted dips, negative pull ups, negative dips, standing calf raise, donkey calf raise, wrist curls and probably a few more?

The Nautilus Multiexercise machine. Adjustable height and with a weight stack.

What if your low back is ”tweaked” or hands are torn? Perhaps stimulate strength and a healthy range of motion with a lumbar machine that applies force on the upper torso? You can start with hardly any weight and safely isolate it with one of these.

A later version of the lower back machine by Nautilus.

Oh, suffering from gluteal amnesia? Why not trade in your pelvic smashing hip thrusts with some work on the old Nautilus Hip and Back machine? By keeping one leg contracted and working the other through a full range of motion, West Point cadets had a higher vertical leap than their peers who trained both legs together.

Poly-Duo Hip and Back

Lastly, other than grapplers, few work their neck. The original Nautilus machines had a, Neck and Shoulder unit [shrug], a Rotary neck [seen below] and a 4 Way Neck. These machines were refined over the years until they disappeared in most gyms around the turn of the century. A strong neck is no less important now than 40 years ago.

Rotary neck. Resistance is through self applied negative loading with arm levers.

The point of this parade of metal is that some excellent tools were discarded. Remember when your martial arts instructor wanted to teach throws and groundwork back in the 70’s when everyone was “Kung Fu Fighting”? Then came the Gracies. So now it’s functional, dynamic, max effort, plyometric, Olympic, prehab, rehab, assistance, anaerobic, aerobic, lactate threshold, heart rate variable, hormone and GMO free. So much variety, so much information and we still have obese people and injured people. That last group may well do better on machines initially. Why start a de-trained 300lb woman on squatting when her knees or hips are barely strong enough to walk?

For that matter, what if you are so beat up during your season of rugby, football, soccer or baseball that the thought deadlifting or squatting makes your back hurt from the layers of injuries and fatigue? Wouldn’t it be safer or saner to sit on a machine IN season to protect your carcass and focus on the powerlifts AFTER the season was over? The 70’s Steelers under strength coach Lou Rieke did just that. He designed some of the earliest machines to maintain in season strength. Who could argue with their success? Too often the ego gets in the way of the concept of, “do no harm”.

So coming back around to training styles and NOT debating HIT vs THAT. What can you do with those older machines?

  • Training to failure

  • Training not to failure

  • Training full range of motion

  • Training limited range of motion

  • Pyramid up

  • Descending sets

  • Pre exhaustion

  • Post exhaustion

  • Single limb

  • Poly Contractile, Duo Symmetric 

  • Alternating

  • Varying Speed

  • Positive/Negative

  • Negative only

  • Negative accentuated

  • Infimetric 

  • Infitonic 

  • Forced reps

  • Metabolic Conditioning

  • Static Contraction

Of course you could do this on some other machines, but the design of these machines allowed for ease of operation, alignment and safety. The drawback is some of the earlier machines had lots of friction and their design used lots of floor space with exposed cams and chains. This has been modernized although some of the other features have been eliminated or minimized. 

So if you have an opportunity to strap in and take one of these antiques for a ride, try it. Don’t limit yourself. Do some research and use the right tool for the right purpose. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.