Should you use machines in the gym? (Part two)

If you didn’t catch part one of this installment on whether or not using machines is the best choice for fitness, you can catch it here.

The short version is no. The short-ish version is, well, it depends. Today we're going to talk about a few exercises you can do in place of the machines. Because if you are ready to strength train, you might as well get the most bang for your buck. 

And you might be pleasantly surprised to note that you don’t necessarily need any equipment to add a weight bearing alternative to your fitness routine. (And I just started a sentence with a preposition. Apologies to you Dr. Minot, if you're reading.)

Because don’t forget about body weight.

But let's say you are using some machines. Below is a list of exercises you can use in place of machines. 

1. Chest press machine


It's rare that I make statements as firm as this one, but here goes nothing.

If you can't do a push up with good form from the floor, then you have no business on this machine. Ok? Ok. Whew. There, I said it. While this machine above is just an arm exercise, the actual push up itself is so much more. So. Much. More. 

That's right. A good old fashioned, boring, push up. Why? So many reasons. First of all, a push up eliminates the sitting of the machine above. It engages the core. And it leads to shoulders like this:


Can’t do a push up from the floor yet? That’s ok. There are several modifications but FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY DO NOT DO PUSH UPS FROM YOUR KNEES LIKE WE DID IN HIGH SCHOOL. I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again, but doing push ups from your knees only gets you better at doing push ups from your knees. 

Elevated push ups are a great way to build strength and work your way to a push up from the floor. And if you don't have the option to do an elevated push up, you can also do an eccentric push up, meaning that you begin in a plank position and lower yourself down to the floor as slowly as possible. 



2. Tricep machine


This machine always seemed weird to me. As a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan, it reminds me very much of the torture that was watching the 1992 National League Championship series with the Atlanta Braves and being exposed to the non-stop chants known then as the Tomahawk Chop. Aside from the recurring nightmare I have that is Sid Bream chugging home from second base to score the winning run and send the Braves, not the Pirates, to the World Series, skip this exercise and try this one instead. 

Pick up a pair of dumbbells and do some tricep extensions. You'll still be working the triceps, but you'll also get a significant stretch in the lats and triceps with these extensions, and yes, you are engaging more of your body than using the machine. 



3. Ab machine

This is the machine that likely gets the most use in my gym. And I understand why. We're all working to reduce belly fat, love handles, get a six pack, you name it. And the collective wisdom of our culture has often said that doing sets of 100 ab machine crunches will take you there. For anyone who has spent 20 minutes on the ab machine, there's no doubt you feel it the next day. But as I've talked about before, this kind of motion (flexion), bending your spine back and forth and back and forth can take a toll. The analogy that Dr. Stuart McGill uses is that of a coat hanger. if you bend that coat hanger back and forth enough over time, it will deteriorate. And the spine is no different. I've posted different core exercises here over the last year and you could choose from any of them. But let's go with this one. Replace the ab machine with Stir the Pot, which is one of the four major exercises Dr. McGill recommends.



4. Leg Press

Can you squat? Not unlike replacing the chest press machine with a push up, the leg press could be replaced by a squat variation. I understand that in some cases, the leg press is appealing because you can control the range of motion. But the squat is a pattern that you'll need for life, so avoiding it isn't doing yourself any favors. 

5. Adductor Machine

Just…I mean…no. I’m going to take a brief minute here to address a common myth in the fitness industry. You can’t use exercises like a Tide pen for fat spot removal. THERE'S NO TIDE PEN FOR FAT REMOVAL. Wow. I've used a lot of capital letters today. Bold. I'm getting bold here. But seriously, this is not a functional movement. Also, when would you perform this movement outside of the gym? Unless you pull out the thighmaster that you rescued from your grandmother's house. Still. Let's just not. 

Many folks come in to their first session and want to remove fat from certain areas. Love handles, inner thighs; the goal is to get rid of fat here and here and here. I'm sorry to say that it doesn’t work that way. Building muscle and reducing overall body fat will help with that. But if your reason for choosing this machine is that you’re trying to shed weight on your inner thighs, let’s just say your time could be better spent elsewhere.

So how about choosing an exercise that will hammer the glutes? How about these? Lateral steps. Yes, I know I trot this exercise out often. But I do it for a reason. 


So those are just some thoughts on exercises that you can use to get a little more out of your time at the gym. And while I haven't necessarily asked in the past, I'd love to know if you love the post, or hate the post, or if there's something you'd like to see more of.