Get more out of each minute by replacing ineffective and risky exercises (looking at you, hip abduction machine) with smarter alternatives. Here’s a list of exercises and machines to avoid completely, as well as some more advantageous exercises to replace them.
Hip Abduction Machine and Hip Adduction Machine
You may have heard rumors that using a hip abduction machine is good for the glutes. Additionally, using one feels amazing — you can use a substantial amount of weight, so you feel powerful and experience an intense sensation. However, hip abduction and adduction machines are perilous because your body is not designed for those movements, as stated by Nick Tumminello, a NCSA-certified trainer and owner of Performance University in Baltimore.
“There’s nothing remotely similar to these movements in real life,” says Tumminello. The muscles targeted by the hip abduction machine “primarily act as stabilizers when you’re standing or moving around. When you perform a step-up or lunge, you engage these muscles, along with others,” he adds.
Completely eliminate the use of the hip abduction machine and choose standing exercises instead, suggests Aaron Brooks, a biomechanics expert and owner of Perfect Postures in Auburndale, Massachusetts. You can achieve similar benefits from exercises using a cable machine.
What to Do Instead: Cable Hip Abduction
A. Attach a band or the handle of a cable machine around the right ankle and stand with the machine (or fixed point of the band) on the left side.
B. Maintain an upright posture and lift the weighted leg out and away from the body to the 3 o’clock position. Return the leg to the starting position to complete the repetition. Finish the set, then repeat on the other side.
What to Do Instead: Cable Hip Adduction
A. Attach a band or the handle of a cable machine around the right ankle and stand with the machine (or fixed point of the band) on the right side.
B. Maintain an upright posture and lift the weighted leg in front of the planted leg to the 9 o’clock position. Return the leg to the starting position to complete the repetition. Finish the set, then repeat on the other side.
(Also better than the hip abduction machine? Performing these effective thigh exercises instead.)
The Smith Machine
According to Brooks, the Smith machine — where the bar is locked into a sliding vertical plane — may be the most versatile detrimental piece of equipment in the gym.
Let’s suppose you’re performing a bench press. If someone elongates their arms in front of them, one may be lengthier than the other. The apparatus doesn’t take this into consideration. So you exert excessive effort and fortify a pre-existing malfunction,” explains Brooks.
The fixed trajectory of the weight “compels the joint to move in a manner that it may not desire to move,” he adds. This can result in harm to the principal muscles, or it may lead to feebleness in the minuscule muscles that guard you when you’re executing movements in the tangible world — such as stooping to lift a box or jogging in a congested park.
Almost all the exercises you can perform on the Smith machine (such as squats, bench presses, or overhead presses) are better executed with barbells or dumbbells instead. However, the machine is not without value: Utilize the fixed bar at lower positions to execute inverted rows or as your support for incline pushups.
Wall Squats with a Swiss Ball
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When you execute a squat with a Swiss ball pressed between your back and the wall, you’re deceiving yourself — and your buttocks.
“It takes the glutes entirely out of the squat,” says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. And like many of the movements on this list (and equipment such as the hip abduction machine), it’s unnatural. “You’re dependent on the ball. If I remove it, you’ll probably collapse,” adds Wunsch.
Obtain the comprehensive strengthening effect of the squat — working your quadriceps, hamstrings, core, calves, and buttocks — with a goblet squat.
What to Do Instead: Goblet Squat
A. Grasp a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of the chest with elbows close together.
B. Thrust hips back and flex knees to descend into a squat, maintaining bodyweight in the heels.
C. Propel back through the heels to return to the initial position, and repeat. (Not observing progress? Here’s why it appears as though your glute workouts aren’t working.)
Kickbacks and Overhead Extensions
Although not the most detrimental actions you can perform at the gym, kickbacks and overhead extensions do not effectively engage your triceps. Additionally, they have the potential to cause harm to your elbows and shoulders, putting them in the same category as the hip abduction machine and the Smith machine on this list.
“You should never engage in ‘arms’ exercises,” declares Jeremy Frisch, C.S.C.S., the proprietor and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts. Aside from the risk of injury, he explains, “you will attain far greater results by performing compound exercises [such as push-ups and overhead presses].”
For your triceps, Frisch recommends trying the close-grip bench press and incline push-ups. However, it is crucial to maintain proper form for both exercises. He notes, “You should not feel any strain in your shoulders. A majority of individuals perform these exercises incorrectly. They stop midway. Your elbows should almost touch your sides,” and you should descend until your chest is parallel with the step (or the bar touches your chest). If you are unable to do so, adjust the height of the step for your push-ups or reduce the weight on the bar.
Alternative: Close-Grip Bench Press
A. Take a seat on a bench with a moderately heavy dumbbell in each hand, resting them on your thighs. Bring your elbows close to your sides and lower your torso onto the bench, lying face-up. Keep your elbows pulled in tightly, with palms facing inward. Press your feet flat into the floor and engage your core to initiate the movement.
B. Exhale and push the dumbbells away from your chest, straightening your arms overhead so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders.
C. Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, pausing when the dumbbells are slightly above shoulder height.
Alternative: Incline Push-Up
A. Stand facing a bench, and place your hands on the bench. Walk your feet behind your body until your legs are fully extended. This should resemble a plank position with elevated arms.
B. Bend your arms and lower your chest toward the bench to execute a push-up.
Seated Torso Rotation
The seated torso rotation will strengthen your abdominal muscles by means of rotation, “but with the drawback of subjecting your spine to stress,” explains Tumminello. He elaborates, “When you rotate your spine, your hips are also designed to rotate.
Get the core-strengthening advantages of rotation without jeopardizing your back with standing cable chops.
What to Perform Instead: Standing Cable Chops
A. Stand to the right of the high pulley of a cable machine and grasp the handle with straight arms over the left shoulder.
B. Maintaining straight arms, pull the handle down and across the body to the right hip, twisting at the core and hips.
C. Return to the starting position and repeat. Complete the set, then repeat on the other side.
Leg Extension Machine
The leg extension machine links an unnatural movement with a perilous weight placement (similar to the hip abduction machine), says Brooks.
“Because the load is on one end [instead of centered], there’s tremendous strain on the knee — and most times, people aren’t sitting in the chair properly. They’re attempting to generate more force by moving their pelvis,” explains Brooks.
Rather, adhere to functional movements. Even without weights, exercises like lunges and squats (when executed properly, of course) will train your thighs better while working your buttocks and challenging your core.
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