For anyone not all that well-versed in the world of exercise and weight-lifting, the gym can be an intimidating place. The modern multiplex is a sea of devices that look confusing and do all sorts of different things to different parts of your body.
In truth though, exercise machines are simple – actually they’re too simple. Designed as a supposedly safer way to exercise, these dumbed down free-weight variants often park you on your backside and isolate a single muscle. They don’t mimic real life movements and can actually be doing you more harm than good.
These are the machines you need to banish from your workout and the more productive and healthier alternatives to replace them with.
Where to start? There’s one in every gym and it’s probably always got somebody waiting to use it. The Smith machine is undeniably popular because it appears to make barbell exercises simpler and safer. In short, it doesn’t. By having the bar fixed in place, yes you can stop easily when the weight gets too heavy, but it also forces you into unnatural movements. Your knees, elbows and shoulders will be pushed into awkward positions. Secondly the bar weight is balanced for you, taking away a significant amount of resistance.
Essentially, if you’re squatting, deadlifting, benching or overhead pressing with a smith machine, you need to stop. You’ll use more muscles, generate real strength, see more size gains and reduce the risk of injury by doing these exercises properly. All of the above can be done with dumbbells if you’re not comfortable with a bar or don’t have a spotter to hand. For squats consider goblet or frontloaded squats as an alternative.
SEATED SHOULDER PRESS
This one goes back to natural movements; you can’t get a proper range of motion with this machine and can lead to lopsided muscles and potential shoulder problems in no time. It’ll strain your joints overtime as you can’t push straight up and down in a rigid straight line naturally, something this forces you to do.
You can mimic this exercise by sitting upright with a bench and using dumbbells, or doing pike push-ups.
LYING LEG PRESS
A favourite among those who don’t want to feel like they’re skipping leg days, in fact you’re doing your body no favours by spending time pushing up kilos upon kilos on this. The machine itself offers little resistance, unless you start loading up serious amounts of weight, and all of that weight will be going straight to your lower back, not what anyone wants. So not only are you barely working the muscles in your legs – as all of the smaller stabiliser muscles aren’t used – but you’re risking some serious disc injuries by using this.
A squat is infinitely better, as are the goblet variants with a kettlebell or dumbbell.
SEATED LEG EXTENSION
Seen as the safer way to work your legs and prevent injuries, this equipment can have some pretty unhealthy consequences. It puts unnatural pressure on your knees and causes further knee issues from muscle imbalances developed through using it. Your quads never move in isolation normally but this machine makes them, opening the door to a lot of leg trouble.
Work your quads in tandem with the rest of your lower body, weighted lunges and front-loaded squats are the best for this kind of movement.
THIGH ABDUCTOR/ADDUCTOR MACHINE
Unless you’re practising spreading your legs as far apart as possible so you can assert your dominance on the tube, there’s no reason to do this exercise. If working on flexibility is the aim, then any number of squat variants or yoga position to do the trick. By opening and closing your legs in a fixed range of motion, you risk damage to your hips, a joint that like your knees will suffer enough wear and tear on its own without your help.
Single leg deadlifts and squats will do a similar job without damaging your capsules.