Machines get no love. Judging by Instagram feeds and equipment-shunning videos, we would rather heave kettlebells, flip tires and burpee until we barf. But here’s the thing: While machines may feel like relics from longago lifting days, they’re actually pretty darn effective when it comes to muscle growth and fat burning.
“I almost always include machines with [those] just starting a resistance program,” says Darlene Kalina Salvador, a California-based certified personal trainer and registered yoga teacher. “Machines help clients maintain correct form, learn movement patterns and assist in warming up the stabilizing muscles. People new to training are also less intimidated by machines and are more likely to use them on days when they train on their own.”
Machines also can help when it comes to rehabbing an injury. “For things like ACL injuries or runner’s knee rehab, you can strengthen the quadriceps muscle far more precisely and safely on a leg extension or leg press machine than you could doing a lunge or a squat,” says Dan Roberts, U.K. strength and conditioning coach and founder of The Dan Roberts Group.
So if you’re finally back at your health club, give those rows of gleaming (and newly disinfected!) machines another go. Not sure where to start? Read through our experts’ top 10 picks for the most effective machines and their tips on how to use each one like a pro. As an added bonus, they give recommendations for a secondary move to pair with each machine to maximize intensity. Happy machinations!
TOP 10 COUNTDOWN
MIX AND MATCH
A STUDY PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING RESEARCH FOUND THAT MIXING FREE WEIGHTS WITH MACHINE MOVEMENTS WAS THE BEST WAY TO PROMPT MUSCLE GROWTH.
NO. 10 | SEATED TRICEPS EXTENSION
Dumbbell triceps kickbacks are all fine and good — if you do them properly. This machine takes all the guesswork out of isolating your triceps by stabilizing your upper arms so the only movement occurs at your elbows.
position the seat so your entire upper arm, from your elbow to your armpit, rests on the pad. This completely supports your humerus to help maximize isolation.
hyperextend your wrists. Keep them strong and locked in place to prevent injury and maximize power.
Picture a metal rod running horizontally through your elbows holding your arms in place.
Pair this machine with triceps or sphinx pushups to failure.
NO. 9 |SEATED SHOULDER PRESS
Though there are many free-weight variations of the overhead press, a shoulder press machine can be especially helpful for building the strength (and confidence) to push and hold a load overhead.
draw your shoulder blades down and back. “Maintain that tension [throughout] so your shoulder joints and upper-back muscles are fully supported, especially when returning to the start,” Salvador says.
hold your breath. “Exhale as you extend your arms up and overhead and inhale as you slowly lower the weight,” she says.
It may be counterintuitive since it’s a shoulder exercise but think about engaging your lats as you lower the weight. This helps stabilize your core and allows you to maintain control on the descent. It also will help keep you upright, focusing the work on your shoulders so your chest doesn’t step in to assist.
Salvador recommends supersetting a seated machine press with a lateral exercise-band shoulder raise to increase your time under tension, effectively building muscle without negative impact to your joints.
NO. 8 | LYING LEG CURL
This is arguably the most challenging of the hamstring-targeting machines — and thus the most beneficial — but you’ll need to be extra cognizant of your form to optimize results and prevent injury.
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