Most gym goers never give much thought to the machines they use, even though the equipment often is designed not by trainers looking to produce functional movement but by marketers looking to squeeze the most into gym space or by bodybuilders seeking one-dimensional isolated movements.
As a result, many people spend valuable time in the gym working on machines that provide limited return and can make them look vain, clueless, or downright embarrassing. Here’s a look at eight machines that fall into one or more of those categories, why you should avoid them, and what you can do instead to produce better results.
Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
Butt Blaster or Donkey Kick machine
This machine is used almost exclusively by women and, not surprisingly, it’s often placed near the men’s locker room or in another area where guys have a great view. The move might look sexy, but it provides little value. Many people believe this isolated hip extension movement will help tone up the rear end, part of the No.1 fitness myth of spot reduction. If anything, the move contributes to tight hamstrings and muscle imbalances. That’s because most of us have weak, inactive glute muscles from sitting at computers all day and with this machine we’re calling upon our already overtaxed hamstrings and little else. Instead of donkey kicking, perform movements such as squats and lunges that require and promote glute activation – and are far more effective at building a sexy rear end.
Seated Ab Crunch Machine
We spend most of our time hunched over a computer, smart phone, or steering wheel. So the last thing we want to do is flex further with crunches, let alone crunches in a machine that does nothing to train our bodies for functional movement. Ab exercises are generally a waste of time and the Holy Grail six-pack is a result more of reducing body fat through diet and an integrated workout that builds muscle and burns fat.
Calf Raise Machine
It’s next to impossible to increase the size of your calves and if you don’t like yours, blame your parents. Calves are crucial to everyday functional movement, to be sure, but better to strengthen them with exercises that mimic those movements such as box jumps, squats, lunges, and single-leg box hops. It’s not that the isolated movements performed on a calf raise machine are totally useless, but loading up the machine and stepping under its shoulder pads makes it look like you’re desperately seeking bulk from a device unlikely to provide it.
45-Degree Leg Press Machine
This is another machine that falls in the not-totally-useless category. But it can place undue pressure on the back and knees and isn’t nearly as effective as a run-of-the-mill barbell or dumbbell squat. Unlike a squat, you’re not training a functional movement with the 45-degree leg press. This machine tends to be popular since you’re going to feel more accomplished leg pressing more weight than you would squatting. The difference is that a squat requires a wide range of motions that train your body for everyday life and sports. Unless your goal is to become the best leg presser you can be, stick with squats.
Inner/Outer Thigh Machine
Not only does this machine look like a gynecologist designed it, the “leg spreader” does little for people, mostly women, who mistakenly turn to it believing it will tone and spot reduce their troublesome thighs. Spot reduction does not occur with any machine, let alone one likely to create muscle imbalances. This machine’s movements belong only in the bedroom or doctor’s office. Focus instead on squats, lunges, and yoga-like moves that will create stability and strength in your hips.
Most commonly done with dumbbells, these also can be done with a low cable machine. Either way they’re a waste of time unless your goal is to have that no-neck, second-set-of-shoulders, bouncer look. If you’re striving to have a V-shaped torso, work instead on producing strong lats and a small waist. The last thing any of need to do is more shrugs since we spend essentially all day in a hunched over, shrugging position at a computer or steering wheel that produces rounded shoulders. To counteract this, rise from your desk several times a day and practice pulling your shoulders back and down, as if you’re trying to pull them into your back pockets. That will bring you to your full height, improve your posture, and counteract the effects of sitting – or shoulder shrugs.
Leg Extension Machine
A charter member machine of the bodybuilding-inspired workouts of the 1970s, this one also for years came attached to many home bench presses and still can be found in gyms today. If you’re seeking massive quads for a bodybuilding show, knock yourself out. Otherwise you’re wasting time on a machine that only works your quads, stresses the knees, and contributes to muscle imbalances. Instead, choose a move that strengthens and stabilizes the hips, promotes functional movement - and also hits the quads - such as lunges or squats.
Leg Curl Machine
Often the same as a leg extension machine, people flip over and use it for curls as well. Knee flexion is important, but why spend time on a one-dimensional machine that does little to target the hamstrings, which also are the key to hip extension? Most of us have tight hamstrings from sitting on our glutes all day. Better to spend some time on yoga or other active stretching routines than leg curl/extension machines.