Popular Gym Machines That Aren't Doing As Much As People Think

The hip abduction machine, the pec deck, the leg press, and other popular gym machines have emerged as a safer, more convenient alternative to free weights. For example, many gym-goers prefer the hack squat machine over barbell squats, saying that it takes some of the pressure off the back and knees. The leg press, on the other hand, allows you to lift heavier weights compared to squats and deadlifts.

Unfortunately, few gym machines live up to the hype. Some are just plain useless, while others can increase your risk of injury. Sometimes, it's best to stick to free weights or use your body weight to get things done. Just think about how you feel after doing four or five sets of pushups or running five miles. "When you go to the gym, the equipment you see people on most is often a waste of time because they avoid the things that take hard work," explains personal trainer Blake Worrall-Thompson (via Mamamia).

So, if you want to maximize your workout, avoid these useless gym machines and seek more effective alternatives. 

Hip abduction/adduction machine

The abductors and adductors work together to move your legs sideways. These muscles stabilize your hips and glutes, protect your knees, and may reduce injury risk, explains sports scientist Pete Gaffney (via 220 Triathlon). They play both an aesthetic and functional role, contributing to the shape of your legs and glutes. 

Many gym-goers use the hip abduction/adduction machine to isolate and strengthen these muscles. But this piece of equipment is pretty much useless, says personal trainer Phil Sims. "People often use this isolation exercise as they believe it will help melt the fat off their thighs, but compound moves will engage more muscles and burn calories faster," he told Men's Health. The hip abduction/adduction machine can also cause injuries to the hip and IT band, warns Men's Journal.

A better option is to do single-leg squats, lateral squats, barbell lunges, or single-leg Romanian deadlifts. These movements engage multiple muscles, including your abductors, adductors, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Plus, your core will work hard to keep you in balance. Resistance bands can be a great choice, too. These accessories elicit greater muscle recruitment compared to the hip abduction/adduction machine, reports a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy

To reap the benefits, wrap one end of the band around your ankle. Attach the other end to a stationary object and then slowly bring your leg to the right or left side, depending on the muscles targeted. Return to the starting position and repeat.  

Ab crunch machine

Tired of crunches and sit-ups? Then you might be tempted to use the ab crunch machine, as it allows you to work your core muscles from every angle and add weights to the mix. Unfortunately, this piece of gym equipment has its drawbacks. First of all, it puts stress on the lower back and can lead to disc injury. Second, it allows your arms, legs, and shoulders to assist with the movement. Therefore, it's not challenging enough to activate the deep core muscles.

"You can use the machine correctly by opting for a lower weight level and also focusing the movement on your abdominal muscles instead of your arms," said personal trainer Boaz Roche in a 2016 interview with Prevention. "But it's better to just do planks," he added.

Fitness expert Yuri Elkaim warns that most gym machines targeting the abs are just plain dangerous. The seated twist machine, for instance, puts your body in an unnatural position and may cause lower back pain. Similarly, incline sit-ups increase stress on the hip flexors and lumbar spine, which can lead to injuries. Stability ball push-ups, side planks, and renegade rows combined with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are far more effective at shaping your abs, says Elkaim. 

Pec deck

The pec deck, one of the most popular gym machines, is often perceived as a safer alternative to dumbbell chest flies. When used correctly, it isolates your chest muscles and builds upper body strength. The downside is that it can place unnecessary stress on your shoulders, warns certified strength and conditioning specialist Anthony J. Yeung (via Men's Journal). Dumbbell chest flies are superior to the pec deck, but you may also use a slide board or suspension trainer for bodyweight flies.

At the end of the day, all gym machines have pros and cons. The back extension bench, for instance, can lead to disc herniation in the long run. The leg extension machine can hurt your knee joints, while the leg curl machines may cause hamstring strains. Overusing the treadmill or other cardio machines is just as bad.

To stay on the safe side, focus on functional movements, such as the squat and deadlift. Avoid any machines that put your body in an awkward position or stress your spine and joints. Always consider your fitness level and overall conditioning. Start with light weights, see how it feels, and increase the load gradually, especially when trying a new machine.