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Most machines in the gym have their place but there are definitely some that I prefer over others. It’s important to keep in mind that the evolution of the gym comes from the bodybuilding era.
Bodybuilding is about isolating a very specific muscle or muscle group, but my preference is always to train the muscles in a more functional and dynamic method.
So with that in mind, next time you hit the gym and go past the following machines, change things up and challenge your body with some of my more functional compound movement suggestions.
Swap smith machine squats for a kettlebell front squat
Smith machines can seem like a really safe, trustworthy starting position for someone learning to squat. However, it doesn’t allow the body to squat through its natural movement pattern or have high engagement of your core muscles.
So I suggest trying a kettlebell front squat instead. Holding the kettlebell at your chest, squat as deep as you can while keeping your chest up, your heels in contact with the floor and knees pushed out. Supporting the weight at the front will ensure your core muscles are activated throughout the whole movement.
Swap cable bicep curls for supinated (palms up) chin ups
This is one of my favourite arm finishers.
Cable bicep curls are great to get a pump in those beach muscles but a supinated chin up will not only be fantastic for your biceps but it’s a more functional movement that is great for your back too.
Swap a seated row machine for TRX rows
You’d be hard pressed to find a gym that doesn’t have a seated row machine. The seated row is definitely effective for working your back and biceps however I love a TRX row as it requires extra stability and supporting your own body weight.
The TRX row not only works your back muscles but is great for grip strength and further activation through your glutes and hamstrings.
Swap seated hamstring curl for deadlifts
Like the leg extension, the hamstring curl is great for working one muscle- the hammies. However, if you truly want strong glutes, hamstrings and lower back you can’t go past a deadlift.
The important thing with this movement is to ensure you are doing it with correct technique and through a range of motion that your mobility and strength capability can handle. I like teaching deadlifts with kettlebells as it’s technically easier than using a bar and a great stepping stone for beginners. Give this a try.
Swap seated leg extension for split squats
The seated leg extension is great for getting a pump in your quads or rebuilding strength when coming back from an injury. When I train my legs I prefer to get more bang for my buck, incorporating quads, hamstrings and glutes.
That’s why I will go for a split squat instead. For an even more intense leg burn, elevate your back leg onto a bench and go really slow and deep through the movement.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of the machines above. However, I know that personally I would rather work more muscle groups in one movement than spend hours doing a bunch of exercises that work one muscle in isolation. Swap some of your standard machine exercises for compound movements if you really want to get the most bang for your buck with your training.