The gym is full of all kinds of crazy machines for you to use for your strength training. You probably have no idea how to use most of them, but the truth is that many of the machines are worse than useless. Check out our rankings below to see which machines are the ones to use, and which should be avoided.
#1: Free Weights
Whenever you train at the gym, it’s best to use free weights as much as possible. Free weights are ideal for building the largest amount of muscle with the least amount of effort, as they force secondary muscles to support the weight as you curl, bench press, shrug and lift.
In almost all cases, the barbell is your best friend. Using both arms for an exercise balances out the load recruits the most amount of muscle and gives the best results. Dumbbells, while not as good, are still far better than most weight machines!
#2: Cable Machine
With cables, you can do a wide variety of exercises for almost all of the muscles in your body. Cable pushdowns work your triceps. Cable pulldowns work your lats. Cable side extensions work your shoulders. Cable curls are great for your biceps, and cable flys are excellent for your chest. Substituting cable exercises for free weights can help to change up the workout, without decreasing the intensity of the exercise.
#3: Leg Press
For your legs, the leg press machine is one of the best. Sure, you can do squats, lunges, wall squats, and burpees, but leg presses give you the most focused workout for your thighs. With the other exercises, you recruit more than just the thigh muscles. For those who want to build big thighs without putting too much stress on their knees, the leg press machine is the way to go.
#4: Leg Curls
This is one of the only machines that will work out your hamstrings, so it’s helpful for finishing up leg day. You only need to do two or three sets each time, so the strain placed on your knees isn’t too bad.
#5: Chest Machines
The chest machines are nowhere near as good as free weights when it comes to shredding your chest muscles. They don’t recruit the stabilizer muscles, but instead, they isolate the chest and triceps. They’re a good alternative if you can’t quite master the form with a barbell or dumbbells, but they’re just not good enough for a hardcore workout.
#6: Smith Press
The smith press is great for doing calf raises, but that’s about it. If you squat or lunge with the smith press, you are putting a lot of extra strain on the tops of your knees. The smith press is very limited in what it can do, and you’re better off without it.
#7: Squat Machine
The squat machine is just like the smith press, except it’s less useful. The squat machine allows you to do squats at an angle, but the fact that you’re pushing up and back means the tops of your knees are strained. It’s better to do free squats with dumbbells or barbells.
#8: Leg Extensions
This machine is super popular, as it isolates the thigh muscles and makes them feel very sore once you’re done. However, the machine is very hard on both your knees and your shins, and isolating your leg muscles isn’t necessary. It’s best to avoid these machines in favor of lunges or squats.
Some people get lucky and are born with fit, toned bodies. Andy Peloquin is not one of those people… Fitness has come hard for him, and he’s had to work for it. His trials have led him to become a martial artist, an NFPT-certified fitness trainer, and a man passionate about exercise, diet and healthy living. He loves to exercise — he does so six days a week — and loves to share his passion for fitness and health with others.