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Top 5 Machines To Avoid In The Gym

Walk into most any typical gym or health club today and you’ll undoubtedly find a large variety of exercise equipment to work every body part imaginable.

When I go to the gym it always amazes me when I see the majority of people spending all their time simply moving from one machine to the next.

I know most of them think (or at least hope) they’re getting a workout but the reality is some of the machines they’re using could actually be doing more harm than good. Let me explain.It’s getting harder and harder in most  facilities to find room to actually move while you’re working out. The free weights are discouraged from being used and are now pushed into a corner, or out of the gym altogether in some cases.

Health clubs have tried to convince people that using specialized exercise equipment is safer and easier to use than free weights. And why not?

They’re not interested in delivering you results…please, they’re simply interested in reducing wear and tear on their equipment, keeping costs down, and maximizing their return on investment from leasing real estate to people to come in and exercise on their own.

Now I normally wouldn’t have a problem with this as it’s good business. The problem lies when people are being pitched a solution to their problems (by the gym) but then don’t see the solutions become reality.

I’d rather the gyms just say “hey we’ve got some equipment in here for you to use, you’re happy to have you come in and use our space and our stuff for a monthly fee but we can’t assure you that you’ll see any benefits from it.”

Yeah right. Although that would be the right thing to do I don’t see it happening any time soon. Alright the health club owners know most people don’t have a clue about how to workout so they figure the easiest, safest, and best strategy is to just throw a bunch of equipment in a room and let people figure it out by reading the instruction placards.

I’ve got fundamental problems with most all of this equipment for one reason. 99% of the exercises are all done while sitting down! That’s right; we’ve succumbed to the idea that exercise can be done simple and easy while sitting on our behind.

Think about that for a minute. What’s the one problem that contributes to the majority of muscles imbalances and low back pain in individuals? You guessed it…sitting too much.

So one of the main problems (sitting too much) with why people don’t have optimal function, health, and movement in their life is part of the health club’s solution to you. Makes me laugh.

Common sense tells me if a big part of our society’s problem stems from sedentary lifestyles and sitting too much, that physical activity should be done on your feet and include as much movement as possible. Hello, anybody home?

While I believe that the majority of these machines are a total waste of your time for a host a reasons (which I detail later in another post) the purpose of this article is to educate you on the top 5 machines you should avoid at all costs when in the gym.

Being ineffective is one thing, being counterproductive or potentially harmful is something altogether different. My top 5 machines to avoid made the list because their design and function can make common muscle imbalances worse and do more harm than good. Let’s get right to the list.

#1 Hip abduction machine

This is the machine where you sit down and put your legs straight out on rails (like the machine at the gynecologists office) and push away from your body. You’re in essence spreading your legs against weighted resistance.

The premise is that you’re working on toning, firming, and sculpted your hips. The machine even shows on the instruction placard these “mystery muscles” you’re supposedly working along the side of your legs. This is a joke.

The main muscle that gets worked in this exercise is not a muscle at all but a band of connective tissue called the iliotibial band. The problem is that the iliotibial band is commonly very tight to begin with due to muscle imbalances resulting from sitting too much or being on your feet too much.

This exercise only makes it worse! There is no such thing as spot reduction in the first place. If you want to burn fat from your hips you need to work the major muscle groups with intensity and thereby call on your body to release the fat stored in those areas.

Better Choices: squats, lunges, and multi-planar reaches

#2. Hip Adduction Machine

This is very similar to the hip abduction machine only now you’re pushing your legs in together against weighted resistance. The idea is that you’ll be toning, firming, and sculpting your inner thighs.

Once again you’ve been duped by the myth of spot reduction. This machine does a poor job of working the adductor muscle groups because you’re sitting down. The muscles in the human body work with integration of one another and NEVER in isolation.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a human movement pattern that requires you to sit down and squeeze your legs together. It’s an unnatural movement pattern by design and therefore not recommended.

Failing to work on strengthening the gluteal muscles (the muscles in your butt) while isolating the adductors can result in harmful muscle imbalances and lead to hip and knee problems.

Better Choices: Lateral Lunges, Lateral Reaches, Mini Band Crossover Walks

#3 Seated Torso Rotation

This is the machine where you sit down and rotate side to side against weighted resistance. The idea is that you’re strengthening your abdominal muscles and firming those love handles. Looks good on paper but the reality is this exercise stinks.

For starters your body was not designed to rotate from side to side while sitting down. Think about when this happens in every day life? This can result in flexing of the spine and cause back problems.

The role of the abdominal and core muscles are to stabilize the pelvic-lumbar region and control acceleration/deceleration of the spine in human movement. This is best accomplished while on your feet, just like it will happen in everyday life.

Better Choices: cable wood chop, resistance band rotations, medicine ball chops

#4 Seated Abdominal Crunch

This is the machine where you sit down and place a padded bar across your chest to crunch forward against weighted resistance. The idea is once again to strengthen your abdominals and flatten your stomach.

Well crunches are an extremely ineffective movement for burning fat from your stomach anyway but that’s not the real reason why this machine is worthless. The crunch movement you perform on this machine against weighted resistance is done once again while sitting down. Bad idea.

The main muscle that gets worked in this exercise is the rectus abdominus. Because the movement is done while sitting down it doesn’t hit the deeper core muscles. Believe it or not, this exercise can actually make the appearance of the dreaded “pooch belly” even worse. Why?

Because it’s the deeper core and pelvic muscles that actually function to hold your stomach in naturally. If you neglect those muscles and over-strengthen the rectus abdominus you’ll wind up not being able to hold your stomach in! Workout on your feet and you can build the best girdle of all, a strong core.

Better choices: 1 Leg Medicine Ball Chop, Resistance Band Chops, 1 Leg Medicine Ball Knee Tuck

#5 Lying Hamstring Curl

This is the machine where you lay face down and curl your legs up towards your butt against weighted resistance. The idea is to firm, tone, and strengthen the hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your leg).

While the machine does isolate the hamstrings it is rarely a good idea to do so. Many people who sit too much or are on their feet all day suffer from muscle imbalances related to low back problems.

One of those imbalances is commonly tight hamstrings. By isolating this muscle group you’ll only make it tighter and make the condition worse. Remember the idea is to work all the muscle groups with integration and NOT isolation (the way you were designed to move).

Think of a time today when you’ll need to lay on your stomach and curl your legs up against some weighted resistance. If you can’t think of a time (I know I can’t) then it’s probably a good idea to leave this one out of our routine.

Better choices: squats, lunges, multi-planar reaches

Shane Doll is a Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. You can learn more about how you can receive a no obligations, totally free trial of his personal training programs and access a variety of informative articles at

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Category: Fitness Training.