During a recent Facebook conversation with a friend about his workouts another person suggested he try Bikram or “Hot” Yoga, a method performed in rooms heated to over 100 degrees as an alternative to his high intensity training workouts. I replied,
The technology of exercise has advanced tremendously over the past century (mostly thanks to Arthur Jones and Nautilus in the 1970’s) in terms of both methods and equipment. To still be doing a method like yoga that is over 5,000 years old when more advanced and more effective methods are available makes no sense from a purely physical standpoint. Just like it would make no sense for us to send our soldiers into battle with spears and shields instead of modern rifles and body armor.
Some people enjoy doing historical reenactments, though, and if they’re doing it for the enjoyment, that’s great and I’m not going to discourage it, whether it is exercise or warfare.
The same could be said about many other popular exercise trends or the belief that barbells or other types of free weight equipment are superior to Nautilus machines for building general muscular strength and size. The appeal of some of these ancient or “old timey” methods and equipment is often more a matter of the image they evoke or an association with a particular group than with their relative effectiveness.
If your primary concern is the image associated with a particular training method, or the social or recreational aspects of it, then the level of the technology involved is irrelevant. However, if your primary concern is results you should use the most technologically advanced methods and equipment available to you that is appropriate for your goals.
A couple things to consider:
Just because something is newer does not mean it is more technologically advanced. Technology is the practical application of knowledge, and the design of many exercise machines being produced today exhibits far less knowledge of the subject than those being made by Nautilus in the 1970’s.
A Nautilus machine is superior to a barbell in many ways, but a barbell is superior to an improperly designed machine.
It is important to distinguish between older methods and tools that are still being used or have been “rediscovered” because of their relative effectiveness as opposed to tradition or trendiness.
If your specific goals involve the skill of using less technologically advanced tools (barbells in powerlifting and weight lifting, stones in strong man competition, etc.) then those are the most appropriate tools for that aspect of your training. For example, although a Nautilus machine will increase the strength of the muscles involved in the barbell bench press only bench pressing will improve your skill in that specific movement, which makes a large contribution to performance.
Technology has as much to do with how a tool is used as the tool itself. Improper use of a tool can nullify any technological advantage it might provide. Proper training with nothing but heavy stones and other odd objects will produce far superior results to improper training with the most technologically advanced equipment in the world. Proper training and technologically advanced equipment will produce the best possible results.