Exercise Machines You Don’t Need

A man using a weight machineWalking into the gym and expecting a great workout is like walking into the grocery store and expecting a fancy gourmet meal. Sure, the basics you need are there, but you also need a little knowledge and dedication to enjoy a perfect entree.

To help you make the most of every workout, we’re “weighing in” on what you shouldn’t bother with at the gym…as well as more reliable exercise alternatives.

1. Leg-Curl Machine

What it should do: Train the quadriceps.

What it actually does: Your hamstrings move in two ways – knee flexion and hip extension. The leg curl machine works knee flexion, it strengthens a motion your legs aren’t actually designed to do, and can put undue strain on the ligaments and tendons surrounding the kneecaps.

A better way: One-legged body-weight squats. Lift one leg up and bend the opposite knee, dipping as far as you can, with control, while flexing at the hip, knee, and ankle. Use a rail for support until you develop requisite leg strength and balance. Aim for five to 10 reps on each leg. (If you are susceptible to knee pain, do the Bulgarian split squat instead, resting the top of one foot on a bench positioned two to three feet behind you. Descend until your thigh is parallel to the ground and then stand back up. Do five to 10 reps per leg.)

2. Seated Inner & Outer Thigh Machine

What it should do: Train inner and outer thigh muscles.

What it actually does: While this machine should work the inner and outer thigh muscles, it only works the small, stabilizer muscles, and strengthens a movement that has no functional use. If done with excessive weight and jerky technique, it can put undue pressure on the spine.

A better way: Place a heavy, short, looped resistance band around your legs (at your ankles); sidestep out 20 paces and back with control. This is much harder than it sounds.

3. Seated Leg Press

What it should do: Train quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

What it actually does: It often forces the spine to flex without engaging any of the necessary stabilization muscles of the hips, glutes, shoulders, and lower back.

A better way: Body-weight squats. Focus on descending with control as far as you can without rounding your lower back. Aim for 15 to 20 for a set and increase sets as you develop strength.

4. Smith Machine For Rows

What it should do: This is a multi-purpose machine using a bar attached to a sliding sled, is used for upright rows.

What it actually does: Pulling the bar up and under the chin in this way compresses nerves in the shoulder area and can lead to inflammation.

A better way: Strengthen the same muscles without the injury risk with dumbbell front raises.

5. Smith Machine For Squats

What it should do: Train your legs.

What it actually does: The alignment of the machine—the bar is attached to a vertical sliding track—makes for linear, not natural, arched movements. This puts stress on the knees and lower back.

A better way: Body-weight or weighted squats.

6. Ab Crunch Machine

What is should do: Strengthen your abs.

What it actually does:  This machine is awkward and can set you up for injuries. People often have a difficult time activating their abdominal muscles correctly.

A better way: Planks build can help build core strength much more effectively and naturally.

7. Shoulder Press 

What it should do: Work shoulder muscles

What it actually does: Because this movement can be very unstable, it can hurt shoulder joints, which are already easy to injure.

A better way: Challenge shoulder muscles with less injury risk by doing lateral dumbbell raises.

8. Seated Lat Pull-Down (Behind the Neck)

What it should do: Train lats, upper back, and biceps.

What it can do: Unless you have very flexible shoulders, it’s difficult to do correctly, so it can cause pinching in the shoulder joint and damage the rotator cuff.

A better way: Incline pull-ups. Place a bar in the squat rack at waist height, grab the bar with both hands, and hang from the bar with your feet stretched out in front of you. Keep your torso stiff, and pull your chest to the bar 10 to 15 times. To make it harder, lower the bar; to make it easier, raise the bar.

9. Leg Extension Machine

What it should do: Train the leg muscles.

What it can do: Extending legs out horizontally position isn’t a functional way to strengthen and sculpt the legs.

A better way: Do lunges, which target multiple leg muscles all at once.