I've been at this for a while, and I'll be the first one to tell you that free weights should be the cornerstone of any workout program designed to maximize muscle size, strength and power.
That said, it's important to understand that machines and cables also have their place in any guy's fitness program. Even if you're a die-hard deadlifter, you can (and should!) take advantage of these machines, since they can isolate target muscles, decrease the need for balance and stabilization, and create a more constant tension through the entire range of motion.
Here are 7 excellent gym machines that will be worthy additions to your regular routine.
This is definitely one of my favorites and I will use it for everything, from presses to squats to lunges to deadlifts and rows. Lots of veteran bodybuilders will knock the Smith machine because it limits your range of motion, but I love the control this machine allows, especially with basic movements and heavy weights.
While lots of guys consider the standard barbell back squat to be the “king” of all quad exercises, I never truly found a groove with it and thus had to find other ways of beefing up my thighs for competition. In this respect, the leg press became my go-to exercise and is certainly responsible for most of my lower body mass. Since day one, I avoided those silly half-reps and always used a full range of motion, burying my quads into my chest on every rep. I also make sure to switch up my foot positions on the platform quite often to focus on different areas of the complex thigh muscles.
While the leg press fulfilled much of my lower-body mass-gaining needs, I knew that I needed some form of squats to manifest complete thigh development. For this, the hack squat works perfectly. I find I can really focus on my quads while performing this movement without worrying about tweaking my lower back (which has been an issue for me), even with weights approaching 500 pounds. As in the leg press, I also enjoy altering foot positions, which hit my quads from a variety of angles.
I think eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman did the most to popularize the “corner T-bar row” done with a basic Olympic bar and V-handle. That said, I prefer machines that are created specifically for this movement. The T-bar row is a great substitution for basic barbell rows on occasion, as it removes some of the need for torso stabilization and balance, allowing one to better focus on the back musculature. Most of these machines are set up for both a narrow parallel grip and a pronated wide grip. Each focuses on different muscles in the back.
Seated Side Lateral Machine
You can't build delts that are too wide—and there's little doubt that side lateral raises are a great exercise for creating that coveted “cannonball” shape, since they target the fibers in the medial deltoid head. But if you still haven't filled out your XXL tee shirts even after years of dumbbell raises, then I'd recommend trying the seated side lateral machine. This exercise places the stress squarely on the lateral delts, and—unlike dumbbells—allows for constant tension from the beginning to the end of the rep. You can go heavy for lower reps, or bang out stinging sets of 20 or more to make sure every motor unit is taxed to the limit.
Seated Flye Machine
I love this contraption for building both chest and rear delts, because (again) it provides control, isolation, and constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. This machine both stretches and contracts your muscles, maximizing your growth.
When it comes to smashing my chest, I prefer basic “free” dips with just my bodyweight or with plates attached around my waist. That said, I love the dips machine when I want to hit my triceps hard and heavy with a compound movement. I face away from the back pad and sit on the edge of the seat so my torso is forward and shoulders are back behind me. I find these hit the tris more intensely than dips between benches.