Born in the training rooms of college and pro athletics, plate-loaded equipment has been used by everyone from Shaquille O'Neal to Brian Urlacher to Jennifer Azzi. In fact, some of the earliest visibility of plate-loaded equipment came on the sidelines of the Cincinatti Bengals in the 1980s. Today, college and professional sports teams' training centers are stocked with plate-loaded leg presses, chest presses, lat pulldown machines and other pieces of equipment typically associated with free-weight and selectorized machines.

While its tradition is steeped in the basements and training centers of athletic facilities, an increasing diversity of options has begun to help plate-loaded strength equipment move into more mainstream environments.

“There is definitely more interest in plate-loaded equipment from all types of facilities from health clubs to vertical settings to colleges and universities, where they have their roots,” says Frank Bentkowski, owner of Fitness Equipment Source, which specializes in laying out and furnishing new or existing fitness centers. “There is more realization that this type of equipment is very useful when members are taught how to use it properly, so they get the results they are looking for.”

Part of the acceptance and usage growth has come from the ranks of personal trainers who incorporate plate-loaded equipment into the routines of clients — even the ones not training for a competitive sport. Most members can benefit from using plate-loaded equipment, says David Laycock, sergeant major, U.S. Army (retired), fitness director at Madison Heights, MI-based Madison Athletic Club.

“The equipment allows for a lot of versatility, can be safer than free-weights and is often bio-mechanically very sound,” Laycock says. “The biggest thing for new users is that it takes some education to really get the safest and best use of the machines. It is really the job of the club's trainers to teach users about the benefits and proper use of the machines.”

Thanks to improved design and functionality of the equipment throughout the years, plate-loaded equipment translates well from competitive athletes training for a title to a mom looking to improve her strength to carry a growing child. Many of the machines designed by a growing number of companies offer low starting resistance levels, independent moving arms and the ability to safely focus on training muscle groups. Plate-loaded equipment is convenient to use, the need for coordination is minimal and the amount of resistance can be narrowly defined, says Michael Barnes, CSCS, NSCA-CPT and NSCA director of education.

“There is a real range of users that this kind of machine can serve from building base strength to doing safe, ergonomically and bio-mechanically sound functional training,” he says.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., C.S.C.S, fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA, and author of several books on strength training, has used plate-loaded equipment in several studies, although he has not performed tests specifically on this type of equipment.

“Plate-loaded equipment affords many populations the opportunity to train with weights safely, soundly and with success,” Wescott says. “We have seen professional football players and older people train with it and get great benefits.”

Despite the increased versatility and usability of plate-loaded equipment, many users — and some professionals — still think of the bulky equipment as only for the more experienced weightlifter. The need for plate-loaded equipment depends on the type of facility you are operating, to a degree, Bentkowski says.

“If your club is targeting strictly an elderly population or marketing that members can get a full workout in 10, 20 or 30 minutes, then plate-loaded equipment may not be the most cost-effective equipment for you. But if you're more of a traditional facility with a mix of demographics or a sports-training facility, a college, etc., then it makes perfect sense to invest in plate-loaded equipment,” he says.

As the larger pieces of plate-loaded equipment occupy an increasing number of facility floors, that investment may have additional benefits for facilities. From increased memberships to increased personal training revenue to a reduction in costs, plate-loaded equipment can help bulk up a bottom line as well as an athlete's arms.

“Members are interested in plate-loaded equipment, and those who aren't that experienced will often ask one of our trainers about it, and that starts dialogue that may lead to personal training,” says Laycock. “We also have a philosophy here to not duplicate an exercise with our clients, so we incorporate all of our equipment into all of our clients' training sessions. This allows other members to see us work with plate-loaded equipment as part of the mix, and that also leads to interest from the members.”

Perhaps one of the most hidden benefits of plate-loaded equipment is its durability, despite the harshest conditions.

“There were times when I was working in the industry that we beat up on these types of machines and never had a problem. That means a lot to facility owners,” says Barnes. “There is less down time and less maintenance costs than selectorized equipment, and anytime you can lower these areas it keeps members — and accountants — happy.”

Part of that durability and the equipment's improved ergonomics and biomechanics over the past 20 years can be attributed, in part, to the expectations of those purchasing the equipment. Buyers of plate-loaded equipment are discerning, Bentkowski says.

“They really often are the most sophisticated of buyers as they see the benefits of having plate-loaded equipment in their facilities such as increased revenues, increased retention and more successful members,” Bentkowski says. “Having to meet the standards of this level of buyer has motivated the manufacturers to produce better and better plate-loaded equipment.”

While plate-loaded equipment may not be for everyone, it is apparent that with some education and guidance, this effective training tool is becoming a staple of weight rooms regardless of the type of facility.

Plate-Loaded Equipment Manufacturers

Atlantis Inc. www.atlantis-fit.com
Body Masters www.body-masters.com
Cybex www.ecybex.com
DIESEL Fitness Equipment www.dieselfitnessequipment.com
Fitness Equipment Source www.fitnessequipmentsource.com
Flex Fitness Inc. www.flexfitness.com
Global Fitness www.globalfitness.com
Gym Source www.gymsource.com
Hampton Fitness Products www.hamptonfit.com
HOIST Fitness Systems Inc. www.hoistfitness.com
Iron Grip Barbell Co. www.irongrip.com
Ivanko Barbell Co. www.ivankobarbell.com
Life Fitness www.lifefitness.com
Magnum Fitness Systems www.magnumfitness.com
MedX www.medxonline.com
Muscle Dynamics www.muscledynamics.com
Nebula Fitness www.nebula-fitness.com
Paramount Fitness Corp. www.paramountfitness.com
Perform Better www.performbetter.com
Precor Inc. www.precor.com
Pro Elite Strength System www.pro-elite.com
Pro Maxima Fitness Mfg. www.promaximamfg.com
Southern Xercise Inc. TRU-LINE Equipment www.southernxercise.com
Streamline Fitness Equipment www.streamlinefitness.com
Strive Smart Strength www.strivefit.com
True Fitness - Hospitality www.truehospitality.com
Tuff Stuff www.tuffstuff.net
Universal Gym Equipment www.universalgym.com