From traditional “Nautilus-style” machines to TRX and kettlebells, fitness centers and gyms are now full with various types of strength training equipment to meet everyone’s taste. But just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it’s effective.
As I have been choosing what types of machines and equipment to purchase for the new fitness club, I am reminded of how many machines I don’t like. Mostly because they are awkward, ineffective, or simply aren’t designed with proper kinesthetics in mind. So I decided to come up with a list of my favorites, and least favorites, as well as the benefits of the different modalities. If you’re going to take time for exercise, make it time well spent!
The Best Stationary Machines
1. Seated Chest Press
I like this machine because it is a multi-joint, multi-muscle exercise. You’re working your chest, front shoulders, biceps, triceps, and some core, all at once. In proper form, and preferably one where you are parallel to the floor (I’m not a fan of inclines), this can be a great upper body exercise that will stabilize you and also be comfortable.
2. Seated Back Row
For the same reasons, but with some opposing muscle groups to the seated chest press, I like this exercise. Strengthens the upper back and mid-back (lats, traps, rhomboids and rear delts), as well as the biceps and triceps. Do this one in good form with a tall back, shoulders down and back, and neck in neutral alignment.
3. 45-Degree Leg Press
Though you need a sturdy back for this machine, it has always been one of my favorites. It is versatile in that you can do wide or narrow presses, even one-leg presses. In addition, you can use it for calf raises. The downside to this machine is that it can cause some pressure on the low back (as with any exercise where you use your legs to push away weight), however, I like it better than hack squats where the weight is on your shoulders. It is a good machine for working the entire lower body, including gluteals, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
The Worst Stationary Machines
1. Lateral Raise
This machine, like many, were made for a man’s body. Anytime I’ve tried to use one, as soon as I start raising my arms, my elbows slip out. If you’re a woman, you’re better off using free weights or cables for this exercise.
2. Pec Deck
Same reasons as above. Too much stretching for a woman’s body. There is also a greater risk of tearing the rotator cuff muscles if the machine doesn’t have a foot lever to bring the pads to the front before inserting your arms.
3. Abdominal Curl
This machine is not only ineffective for working the abdominal muscles, but it can put too much pressure on the neck and back. This machine encourages bending at the neck or spine, without engaging the abdominal muscles. If done properly, it isn’t a terrible machine, and it can work your abdominals. The problem is that it is too easy to choose excessive weight amounts and not engage the muscles properly. (Seriously, this picture says a thousand words).Coming soon, The Best and Worst Cable Exercises (Part II) and Bodyweight Exercises (Part III).