We have our reasons for picking each of these exercises, but with each one you’re just not getting the most bang for your buck when you use exercise machines. Why? For one, you usually end up not using the muscles you want to be targeting as much as you think, because your more dominant, stronger muscles end up doing most of the work. Two, these machines end up doing 30-40% of the work for you, robbing you of your progress! Try these alternatives to engage multiple muscle groups at once, force yourself to engage your core, and make your workout as efficient as possible.
1. Crunches. An improper crunch is the best way to strain your neck and totally ignore your abs. Many people pull from their neck and then curl up in a way that puts needless strain on key points of their spine. And using an exercise machine is no guarantee that you will be doing it correctly.
Try instead: Planks. Get in a push-up position, propping yourself up on your elbows and forearms. Holding yourself up while keeping your back, butt and heels in line with each other works your entire core, without any of the strain of crunches. With planks, you’re working your entire core, making it more effective than a crunch. Try holding the plank position 3 times for 30 seconds each.
2. Thigh Adductor Machine. If you’re fixated on your thighs and think the adductor will help them spot reduce, think again. Here the machine is doing a lot of the work for you and you’ll get much more out of it by doing something else. Without the machine you can work on the thighs you’re after, and you just may be able to reduce knee pain at the same time.
Try instead: Squeeze bridge. Get on your back, feet on the ground and knees bent, holding yourself up so your body is at a 45 degree angle, and hold a yoga block between your knees. You’ll feel your core and your inner thighs burning. If you don’t have a yoga block, try a rectangular tupperware container – just holding it there will do the trick for beginners.
3. Ab Rotation Machine. While you may think twisting your torso on the ab rotator is the way to target obliques, you’ll find that your dominant muscles in your arms and shoulders end up stealing the benefit from your abs. You get all the bad form of twisting your spine, and none of the oblique benefits.
Try instead: Standing side crunch. Stand with your feet wide and hold a weight in each hand. Hold your left weight in front of your chest. You’ll want to lift your right knee and your right arm at the same time, as shown, balancing on your left leg, using your core to stabilize yourself. Return to standing and switch sides. Also, check out moves like the bicycle crunch for an ab workout without the machines.
4. Leg Press. With a leg press, most of that force goes to your knees and hips to deal with, and doesn’t build as much muscle as you think. Leg presses are a huge injury risk. We’re so quad dominant already, try doing an exercise that encompases more of your legs with less pressure on your joints.
Try instead: Bulgarian Split Lunge. You get more for your legs out of a split lunge and engage your core at the same time. Stand with one foot a step or low chair, as pictured. Hold a weight in each hand and try to slowly lower into a 90 degree angle while not moving your torso. Rise and repeat on both sides.
5. Chest press. With the chest press it’s hard to be sure you’re working both sides equally. Lots of machines move both sides at once, so if your left side is stronger, you may be using your dominant side and not working both sides to their full potential.
Try instead: Push up. This simple but effective move really is one of the best ways to work your chest. Just make sure your back is straight, your shoulders are low, and your not “sinking” your chest down. If you’re not strong enough to do a full push up, you can always go on to your knees.
Jennifer Cohen is a leading fitness authority, TV personality, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. With her signature, straight-talking approach to wellness, Jennifer was the featured trainer on The CW’s Shedding for the Wedding, mentoring the contestants’ to lose hundreds of pounds before their big day, and she appears regularly on NBC’s Today Show, Extra, The Doctors and Good Morning America. Connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and on Pinterest.