You Shouldn't Skip these 6 Gym Machines

You Shouldn't Skip these 6 Gym Machines I Nick Rana

Let us say from the start: In most situations, free weights reign. Doing exercises with dumbbells and kettlebells allows for more range of motion than most static exercises machines, a wider variety of exercises, a focus on functional movement, and they require more balance and stability (i.e., your core gets stronger, faster). And while you only need a set of dumbbells and a compound exercise — like a thruster — to get a total-body workout with free weights, using machines may mean hitting up eight or nine stations to target the whole body. But machines aren’t all bad. They can be superior for homing in on specific muscles and perfecting a new movement while gradually adding weight. And, sometimes, they can even offer an equivalent workout —  or at least a good substitute for moments when machines are your only option. Here, a half dozen that you can feel good about using them.

Lat Pulldown Station

While the lat pulldown is not as physically demanding as a pull-up, it is a solid exercise. An added bonus: It helps teach proper mechanics of the shoulder blade, improving the effectiveness of your pull-ups, and activates much needed back tissue.

Seated Row Station

There’s no real way to substitute the motion of a horizontal pull that you can get in a row station. Inverted under-the-bar rows are an option, but they incorporate many more muscles which could help an intermediate lifter, but hurt a beginner after some posture isolation. If you’re looking to keep your upper back healthy, make friends with this machine.

Leg Press Machine

The leg press often gets a bad rap. No able-bodied person should use it as a substitute for the squat or its variations, but it can serve as a great accessory movement — especially if you’re a lifter who’s looking to build some muscle. Whether you’re going single-leg or using both legs, a leg press can provide the constant time under tension that can be useful for a serious pump and trigger sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. On top of this, due to the setup and foot placement, it’s easier for a leg press to get along with a lifter’s knees — especially if he has a history of chronic pain.

Pec Deck Fly Machine

If your goal is to get a bigger chest, cables or a pec deck will always be superior to dumbbells for stimulating the chest muscles due to the force angles the machine creates. The first half of a dumbbell pec fly is what’s most effective, and the most difficult for a lifter to get through. With an upright seated or cable pec deck fly, the force travels outward. That outward force opposes the chest for 100 percent of the movement and gives you more bang for your buck. 

T Bar Row Machine

A T Bar row machine is the best in the gym for isolating the back. If you have lower-back issues, this should become a go-to. The single pivot makes the movement path travel in a very slight arc pattern, meaning you can stand up taller than you normally would in your barbell bentover rows, protect your lower back, and still effectively hit your upper back during the exercise. And if you’re healthy, it’s just as great to load up on for a fixed-path hypertrophy king machine. 

The Smith Machine

Think of the Smith Machine as training wheels for your free weight routine. Need push-up progressions? Set the bar at knee level, and put the hands there instead of the floor for an easier transition to the real thing. Can’t do a chin up yet? Set it higher still and perform rack chins (using one foot on the ground to give just enough assistance to push you through the movement). Forget substituting barbell movements using the Smith machine — use it to make your non-barbell movements more user-friendly.

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