In general, the exercise machines have received lot of bad comments and people often tend to shy away from using them. Usually, criticized for being non-functional and single joint, they are often considered as waste of time. However, it is not completely true. Some of the gym machines add a lot of value to your general workout. In fact, they are great for the beginners who aren’t strong enough to lift free weight. For example, it is always better to build strength on a chest press machine before doing bench presses.
Plus, there are some machines that are vital for the workout. Without these machines, you can’t complete the workout. For example, there is no way you can complete a chest workout without using pec-deck fly machine or a back workout without pull down machine or ground pulley.
But, there are some machines that just cause more trouble than they are worth. From increased risk of injury to wasted time and efforts with no or little results, some machines are truly useless. Below, are five exercise machines without which your workout would be better off.
Adductor / Abductor Machines
First of all, let me clarify that making your adductor and an abductor muscle stronger is very important. Not only it will improve your range of motion while doing lower body exercises such as squats and lunges, but will also minimize the risk of any muscular injury while doing the aforementioned exercises. However, there are better ways to work them than the famous adductor and abductor machines.
Not only the range and type of movement feels awkward in the gym, the efficiency and effectiveness in developing intended muscles isn’t great as well. The biggest flaw in the basic working of this machine is that it trains the inner and outer thigh muscles in isolation. However, the fitness experts point out that they should be worked in coordination with rest of the body to stabilize the legs. This machine exercise doesn’t develops the functional strength, which is main purpose of training these muscles because aesthetically these muscles aren’t noticed that much.
The best way to develop these muscles is to include frontal plane movement in your workout, which in simple terms means side to side movement. The side lunges and skater jumps are perfect examples of this kind of exercise.
I especially love the skater jumps exercise. Not only it builds stronger adductor and abductor muscles, but also builds explosive lower body power. Also, it eliminates lower body imbalances, enhances your balance and coordination, and improves athletic performance.
With knees and hips slightly bent, stand on your left leg. Now, extend your left hip, knee and ankle to jump forward and to the right at a 45 degree angle. Land on the ball of the right foot and bend your knees and hips slightly to prepare for the next repetition and to absorb the impact. Immediately jump in the opposite direction and keep on jumping in this pattern for the specified distance.
Seated Rotation Machine
Have you ever watched anyone swing a baseball bat or complete a hammer throw? You would notice that the hips and upper body twists together. This is natural movement and our body is made to move in these ways only. But, when you move your body in an unnatural way, you are inviting lot of problems including injuries and muscle sprain. Due to this very reason, the seated rotation machine exercise should be avoided. While doing exercise on the seated rotation machine, your hips get locked into place while the upper body twists sideways. This immobilization of the hips while doing the exercise puts a lot of stress on your lower back. As this exercise doesn’t add functional strength and there is an additional risk of lower body injury, it will be better if you avoid it next time.
Instead of mimicking a human corkscrew with seated rotating exercise, add rotational exercises that have natural movement. Not only these exercises will build core strength, but won’t put you at an injury risk as well. One of the best exercises in this category is cable wood chops.
The cable wood chop is a multi-joint explosive exercise that develops power and strength in all the core muscles and also improves hip and shoulder stability and strength. And, as we all know, having multi-joint exercises in the workout is always a good thing.
Move the cable to the highest pulley position on the tower and connect a standard handle. With your side to the cable, grab the handle and step away from the tower. Your body should be about arm’s length away from the pulley and your outstretched arm should be in line with the cable. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and grab the handle with both your hands, your arms should be fully extended. Now, in a smooth and controlled motion, while rotating your torso, pull the handle down and across your body to your front knee. You have to keep your back straight and core tight while executing this movement. While keeping your arms straight, slowly return to the starting position.
The smith machine is often used as a substitute for a barbell work like squats and deadlifts. It is also used for exercises such as bench press and barbell military press. With a bar locked into set path of motion, it is believed that the smith machine can decrease the risk of injury by giving assistance in moving the weight. However, the truth is that the smith machine, in fact, increases the risk of serious injury. The problem with this machine is the fixed path of movement, which is supposed to decrease the risk of injury. You are forced to move with the machine rather than your natural movement. And, there is a massive difference in the natural path of movement and the path of movement, smith machine forces you to use. Especially when you are lifting heavier weights, the chance of injury increases manifold.
However, the smith machine isn’t completely useless. You can use it for hurdle drills that will increase your hip mobility and flexibility. Another great use of the smith machine is to do inverted rows with it.
The inverted rows are an excellent bodyweight exercise that works your back muscles in a wonderful way. Not only it enhances your back strength, but can also make a marked difference to the back musculature. Another important benefit of the inverted row is that it addresses imbalances of strength and power in your body. And, don’t make a mistake of thinking that this is an easy exercise that won’t work your back muscles as intensely as lifting weight can.
Lock the bar in the smith machine at about hips’ height. Get underneath it and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your hands should be placed a bit wider that the shoulder width and the arms should be fully extended. Now, brace your core and extend your legs in front of you. Remember, your body from head to toe should be held in a straight line. Pull your body towards the bar until your chest is about three to four inches off it. Squeeze your back muscles and pause for a second. Now, slowly and in a controlled movement, lower your body back to the starting position. You have to keep your body straight throughout the exercise.
Leg Extension Machine
Okay, now you might argue that the leg extension machine gives your quads an excellent burn. Yes, I agree and won’t argue with that point. However, the leg extension machine can lead to niggling aches and pains. The reason is that the load (which is the shin pad) is far from the hinge (which is your knee). As a result, the exercise movement places lot of stress on your knee joint. Another problem with leg extension machine exercise is that it is an open chain exercise, which means the body is held in a fixed position while the foot moves. And, such open chain exercises have comparatively higher risk of injury.
The problem with open chain exercises is that only one body part has to shoulder the entire burden, which can put undue stress on it. In contrast, the weight is dispersed throughout the body in the closed chain exercises, thus reducing the risk of injury. Yes, all open chain exercises might not lead to injury in all cases, but such things take toll in the long run.
The Bulgarian split squat is an excellent closed chain exercise that can give you a wonderful quads burn. Another great thing is that you don’t have to go heavy with split squats, which means your back won’t be under too much stress. And, in terms of execution, the Bulgarian split squats are simple as well.
Place your front foot about three feet away from the bench. You can do this exercise with barbell as well as dumbbells. For the beginners, the better option is dumbbell as you would find it difficult to maintain balance with the barbell. So hold the dumbbells by your side and place your rear foot on top of the bench. This is the starting position. If you are uncomfortable with the stance, you can place your front foot further ahead. Remember your front shin should be almost vertical when you are at the bottom of the squat.
Slowly and in a controlled movement, bend your knee and lower yourself, until your rear knee lightly touches the floor. Remember the knee shouldn’t hit the floor or rest on it. Now, pushing through the heel of the front foot, raise yourself to the starting position. Throughout, the exercise you have to keep your back straight and core firmly braced.
Seated Crunch Machine
Everyone wants to sculpt the sexy six pack abs which is considered the epitome of athletic physique and ultimate girl magnet. So, the pursuit of the washer board abs might lead to the seated crunch machine. In theory and on paper, this machine can give you an excellent core workout. You can pile on weight that will make your abs work harder and as we all know working hard is a key to building stronger muscles.
But, this exercise isn’t suitable for the modern lifestyle. Most of us have to spend hours in office hunched in front of computers, which can lead to a shortening of back muscles and this exercise might exacerbate your back problems. And, more importantly, the new researches are hinting that the crunches might not be the best exercise for your lower back. And, the effectiveness of crunches in sculpting all round midsection has also been questioned.
Include exercises in your core workout that can hit multiple abs muscles. The crunches are good, but they only target the upper abs. So, instead of doing countless crunches, consider doing the v-ups, which along with working your lower and upper abs also engages the oblique muscles.
With your lower back pressed into the ground, lie flat on the floor. Your legs should be extended straight ahead, while your arms should be extended behind. The palms should be turned towards the ceiling and back of your shoulders should touch the floor. Also, keep your feet together, and your toes should be pointing upwards. Now, in one movement, raise your legs and upper body off the floor, and bring them towards each other. If your fitness permits, try to touch the toes with your fingertips. And, as you reach for your toes, squeeze and contract your abs. Then, slowly lower your body back to the starting position.
Another great exercise that you should include in your core workout at all costs is planks. This simple exercise along with improving your core strength and stability will also work your rectus abdominus (the elusive six-pack muscle). It will also strengthen your lower back as well.