5 Overrated Strength Machines at Any Gym
Don't get us wrong, strength training machines can be great for building stronger, toned muscles. There are countless stories of people who use them during their regular fitness routine to build stronger lifts, stronger legs and get heavier lifts.
But used incorrectly or sometimes even overuse, can cause injury and waste your precious gym time. The reason? Isolation. Exercise machines are typically designed to work one muscle or muscle group at one time. This lets other supporting muscles take a break. Typically, the supporting muscles are constantly in use during real-life movements like presses, lunges, pulls, and squats. It's a whole-body effort.
We understand isolating each muscle or muscle group enables you to hit harder, add more weight and grow muscle with compound movements. However, the isolation doesn't come without a trade-off. When you zero in on one muscle per exercise, you burn significantly fewer calories and build less overall body tone than you could with free weights.
If your goal is for your workouts to be fast and efficient, then this puts you at a disadvantage.
While strength machines might look beginner-friendly and easy to use, it is all too easy to set up a machine at an improper height or joint angle, use too much weight or have a dangerous level of force on the knees hips or lower back.
We want to avoid injury during your workout at all cost.
Disclaimer: We aren't saying all strength machines are bad. However used incorrectly and without the proper training, they can be harmful and not give you the results you are looking for.
1. Leg Press
What you think it does: Builds your lower-body strength, glutes, and hamstrings without putting undo stress on your spine.
What it actually does: A leg press machine might be useful if you are using the right amount of weight. However, more often than not, people are using this machine to overload the weight than they are actually strong enough to handle. Think about it like this, if you cannot squat with your own body weight, or with weight loaded on your back, then you shouldn't be using this machine incorrectly.
Try this: Stick to weighted squats using dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells. You might find these to be more challenging anyways as you see all the other muscle groups needed to perform a squat correctly and in good form.
2. Seated abs crunch machine
What you think it does: Works your "six-pack" muscles harder than body-weight crunches can.
What it actually does: There are a few different varieties of these seated ab crunch machine but they all pose the same threat. They can cause injury to the lower back or produce unnecessary stress on the back in people with back issues or weak cores. Any machine where a seat belt might be used opens the door of opportunity to cheat and in cheating do you find little result. People also cheat by using their body-weight to throw their torso down, not a good way to grow your six-pack.
Try this: If your goal is to build a six pack using one fluid motion, trying doing body weight sit-ups over an ab mat. Ab mats have a 30-degree arch that allows you to arch your back over the mat and get the full range of motion through a full sit up. It targets your upper, middle and lower abs when done correctly and is a more challenging move than normal crunches. If you are really ready to add some weight, try doing cable rope crunches. But still, make sure to balance your core training with other full body stability exercises such as planks.
3. Leg extensions machine
What you think it does: Strengthen and grow your quads, the muscles on the front of your thighs.
What it actually does: While the leg extension machines can deliver bigger stronger quads, the problem is that most people are already "quad dominant" especially runners. This means their quads are too strong for their glutes in the first place and sort of "take over" the load of a typical workout. Since this machine loads both legs with the same weighted bar, it also allows your stronger, dominate, leg to take on the brunt of the work. Additionally, if not set up correctly, it is infamous for excessive stress on the knees.
Try this: Stairs, step ups, and box jumps are all great alternatives to building strong quads with the added benefits of working the supporting muscle groups. Also, weighted goblet squats and barbell front squats are great because they actually mimic real-life movements and they don't leave out the glutes.
4. The smith machine
What you think it does: The smith machine is intended to promote proper barbell form, whether performing squats, overhead presses, or lifts. Housing a weighted barbell in between vertical fixed rails, this machine prevents any side to side movement, only up and down.
What it actually does: Aside from disengaging your stabilizer muscles, this machine also forces most people to perform their exercises in a fixed position which often is in poor form. This creates bad habits, poor results and leads to injury. Not only that, but it can be misleading. Because of the lack of work in the stabilizing muscles, you can not actually lift the same amount of weight in a free standing barbell squat that you thought you could.
Try this: Stick with natural movements that will engage all of your muscles, including the supporting ones (abductors and adductors). Try free-weight overhead presses and squats, shoulder presses, incline bench presses and back squats.
5. Pec deck flye machine
What you think it does: It trains your pecs' secondary role of pulling the upper arm in towards your torso. This is the machine where you sit and by gripping the handles that are out on each side, you pull them into the center of the chest.
What it actually does: While this machine will get the job done in terms of pec training, it will also place the shoulder in a vulnerable position that can lead to impingement, rotator cuff damage, or muscle tear over time. This is especially true when you consider that most people don't know how to set the machine up properly.
Try this: Go for more free weights like dumbbell bench presses to work your pecs. Keep in mind, no matter which pec exercise you decide to do (machine, cable station, or free weights) ever let your hands extend behind your body.
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