For the most part, I’m team free weights. If you’re going to do resistance training beyond bodyweight exercises, I think kettlebell, dumbbell, and barbell exercises ought to make up the bulk of your workout. Workout machines do have their place, though.
When to Use Workout Machines
There are definite benefits to using machines, especially if you’re trying to target and isolate a specific muscle group. If you’re going to incorporate some machine work into your workout routine, there are a couple of different ways you can go about it.
The first is to use machines to do isolation work after doing compound exercises.
For example, use the hamstring curl machine to give your hamstrings a little extra attention after you’ve finished barbell deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts. It takes more energy to do the latter exercises than the former, so you’re going to be less likely to injure yourself and you’ll get more out of them.
The second way I like to use them is as a warm-up or activation exercise prior to a compound exercise.
For example, if you don’t feel your hamstrings working during deadlifts as much as you’d like, it might help to do a set or two of light curls on the hamstring curl machine to get them firing a bit more. The key here is to keep the weight light. You’re warming up the muscle at this point — now is not the time for drop sets and tons of reps.
Which Machines Should I Use?
You can definitely experience some benefits from using workout machines, and almost every machine out there has value to someone and their specific workout goals. I, personally, think that some machines are better than others and will give you more bang for your buck, though.
Listed below are three workout machines I recommend using.
1. Lat Pull Down
Lat pull downs are a great exercise for your back and are a good substitute for or compliment to pull-ups.
You can use this machine in a lot of different ways — traditional pull-downs, close-grip pull-downs, neutral pull-downs, straight-arm pull-downs, etc. — to target various back muscles. This machine offers a lot of great ways to give a specific part of the back more attention after doing other back exercises like rows and deadlifts.
2. Hamstring Curl Machine
I’ve already talked about some different ways you can use the hamstring curl machine, so it would feel like a missed opportunity not to highlight it in this list.
Now, there are lots of ways to target your hamstrings that don’t include a machine. This one definitely can be useful, though, especially for people who tend to let their quads take over during lower body exercises.
I like this machine, too, because you can use it to do regular hamstring curls and single-leg hamstrings curls. Single-leg curls are great for when you have muscle imbalances (like most of us) and need to work on strengthening one leg more than the other.
3. Hip Thrust Machine
If you’re lucky enough to go to a gym that has a hip thrust machine, you owe it to the rest of us to use that thing. Setting up to do hip thrusts is in a pain in the ass, but the hip thrust machine makes it so easy! If your gym doesn’t have a hip thrust machine, you can use the leg extension machine for the same effect, but a hip thrust machine truly is a luxury worth taking advantage of.
Top 3 Least Favorite Workout Machines
Id on’t want to spend too much time focusing on the negative in this post, but I do want to highlight a few machines I think you’re better off not using. Now, before you attack me for including your favorite machine in this list, hear me out. I’m not saying these machiens don’t have value. I just think there are other machines (if you’re going to use machiens at all) that are better.
Anyway, here are three machines I recommend skipping during your workouts:
- Seated twist machine: Instead of cranking yourself side to side on a machine, why not just grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and do some Russian twists?
- Smith machine: If you don’t have a squat rack in your gym, I think you’re better off sticking to dumbbell or kettlebell squats instead of using this machine; it causes you to move in an unnatural way and isn’t the same as a traditional barbell squat — check out this video to learn more about why the Smith machine is not ideal.
- Leg extension machine: Unless you’re using it for hip thrusts, I think this is one worth avoiding. I just feel like it’s a knee injury waiting to happen.
What are your favorite workout machines? Which ones do you skip? Comment below and let me know!