Exercise machines take up the greatest area of virtually every modern gym. The majority of these machines are usually the cardio stations – treadmills, cross-trainers and rowing machines.
These machines are perfectly safe, and can work well for cardio fitness, particularly in climates where it is often cold and wet outside.
Then you get into the realms of the static resistance machines. Those monstrous looking devices with arms, legs, pulleys, straps, and so-on.
Gyms are full of them – basically to fill the space and make it look like a busy gym with lots of high tech equipment. It’s what people expect to see in gyms these days.
Unfortunately some of these ‘filler’ exercise machines are useless at best, and could even be dangerous if you’re not careful.
As you’ll discover in my ‘top 7 list’, there are pieces of gym equipment that you may not have suspected as being a waste of space.
1. Shoulder Press Machine
The shoulder muscles are designed to move in various directions – not straight up and down. The shoulder press machine locks your grip and movement in place, forcing it into an unnatural, single line of movement.
It also isolates other muscles that would normally come into play, and the fixed position can place undue stress on the shoulder joints.
Better Alternative: Dumbbell shoulder press, side dumbbell raises
2. Hip Abductor Machine
These machines are really popular with the ladies to tone the inner and outer thigh muscles, as women they are more prone to store fat in these areas than men.
Unfortunately they don’t do the job. They won’t tone or reduce fat from the entire inner and outer thigh as hoped for because they only work the small stabilizer muscles.
These machines are useful for rehab purposes or sports performance, but the majority of people that use them in gyms don’t fall into those categories.
You can’t ‘spot reduce’ certain areas of your body – which is what many people believe this exercise machine does.
Better Alternative: Compound exercises that target larger leg muscle groups such as squats and lunges.
3. The 45 Degree Leg Press
This is another popular piece of equipment in the gym. Mainly because it gives people an excuse to sit on their arse and believe they are working their legs real hard because they are able to push a lot of weight. (Yea I used to love this one too!)
The reason this machine should be condemned to ‘Room 101’ is because like the overhead shoulder press, it has no functionality benefits.
How often in real life do you anchor your back against a wall or similar, and push as hard as you can with your legs? It just doesn’t happen.
Your leg muscles aren’t designed to work that way. They are meant for walking, running, climbing and jumping. All of which involve multiple muscle groups, including your core.
So by stacking a whole load of weights on this machine may make you feel good, but it achieves nothing in terms of functional strength.
The angle of this exercise puts extreme pressure on the lower lumbar discs and continual use may eventually lead to a serious back injury.
Better Alternative: The squat comes up trumps yet again. Even a bodyweight squat (without rounding your back) is a better alternative.
4. Ab Crunch Machine
This exercise machine really is a joke! I mean, come-on. It’s just another piece of equipment for someone to sit down on.
Despite the various body shapes and sizes we come in, the ab crunch machine fixes your body into a set position.
To perform the exercise you use your arms and shoulders to pull the contraption down, and your legs to pull it up!
The abs get ‘sod-all’ of a workout, whilst putting unnecessary pressure on the lower back.
Better Alternative: The plank and compound exercises that engage your core muscles.
I used to spend hours doing sit-ups, crunches and anything else to try and develop the elusive six-pack – to no avail!
I’ve learnt that eating the right food and performing compound exercises will do more to develop and strengthen your abs than anything else.
Apart from my Pilates class, I rarely do any specific ab exercises. If I do, it tends to be the plank – front and sides.
Although I’ve not got a six-pack, my abs are certainly more defined than they used to be.
5. Butt Blaster
Another favorite with the ladies (sorry to pick on you girls!), this machine is supposed to isolate and work the glutes (your ass).
Like so many of these useless machines, the reverse kick or donkey kick needed to perform it, doesn’t mimic real life. (Unless I’m missing something!)
Your muscles aren’t designed to work in this way and you won’t experience any functional benefits by doing them.
Apart from the somewhat pleasing aspects to the video, 😀 don’t bother with this exercise!
Better Alternative: Deadlift, squats and lunges.
These 3 exercises will do more to firm up your butt that any machine could. Plus you’ll benefit from a number of other muscle groups being worked.
6. Smith Machine
The Smith Machine can usually be found in the free weight area, and is designed so that you can perform heavy weight exercises without a ‘spotter’.
You can use it for flat/incline bench press, upright rows, squats and calf raises.
Good in theory, but bad in practice. Just like some of the other gym exercise equipment, the Smith Machine forces your muscles through an unnatural range of motion – straight up and down.
Continual use of this machine could result in deformed muscle growth and possible injury.
The only thing I use the Smith machine for is to perform inverted rows.
Better Alternative: Any compound exercise that targets the area you want to work.
7. Roman chair sit-ups
This piece of equipment, or any other similar contraption that you hook your feet under in order to perform a sit up, is wasting your time.
Instead of developing your abs, all the work is being done by the hip-flexors. It also stresses the lower back.
Better Alternative: If you want to work on your abs in isolation, perform the front and side plank to work your abs and core.
There are lots of variations to the plank, so you can alter the intensity according to your fitness.
I’m not a big fan of machines (you may have noticed). However, not all weight machines are useless, and if it means using them or doing nothing at all, then they have a place in the gym. Just avoid the 7 exercises above.
If you’ve not experienced the world of ‘free weights’ and compound exercises yet, give them a try. You will get far more benefits, in less time.
And girls – don’t be afraid or intimidated from using free weights. It is the ‘norm’ to see ladies in the weight-bay area these days, and the trend is only set to continue.
You’ll tone-up faster, (don’t worry, you won’t get muscles: ‘why women don’t get muscles’) and benefit from having greater functional strength.
Guys – if you want a better physique, using free-weights will help you achieve your goals better than any other activity.
Have I missed any machines out that you think should be included in the list? Let me know..