Fitness machines at the gym offer a wide range of exercises to your (and your clients’) workouts. Some machines, such as the lateral pulldown machine, are extremely good at what they do when used correctly, and can help you see real improvements fairly quickly. On the other hand, this machine can cause serious injury when used incorrectly, such as when you do a behind-the-head pulldown. Never do a behind-the-head pulldown. Other machines are simply a disaster waiting to happen; in my experience, and sadly the experience of some of my clients with their previous trainers, the following machines simply aren’t worth the risk.
The Seated Twist Machine
The spine is a terrific piece of bio-engineering when you think about it. It’s an integral part of the nervous system, it keeps you upright and it’s only designed to bend one way. Picture a clock – your lumbar spine was designed to twist less than the distance between 12 and 1 o’clock. Unfortunately, using the seated twist machine is asking your spine to move in ways it wasn’t designed for, putting massive pressure on the lower back in the process. Instead, the side plank and the Pallof press are both great ways to improve core strength and tone your abs without risking the integrity of your spine.
The Seated Sit-up Machine
Sit-ups have long been a controversial exercise – without proper technique, the risk of injuring your neck, shoulders and spine are all very real. To quote SM McGill’s The mechanics of torso flexion: situps and standing dynamic flexion manoeuvres in the journal Clinical Biomechanics, “the issue of using straight legs or bent knees is probably not as important as the issue of whether or not to prescribe situps at all.” If you’re looking to safely work your core, ab rollouts with a bodysaw or a towel on a wooden floor are the way forward. Failing that, there’s the old favourite, the plank, though your clients will almost never thank you for that one!
The Smith Machine
This isn’t the first time I’ve warned people off the Smith machine, and it probably won’t be the last. Not only does this machine rob you of the ab workout of stabilising your body and the bar, but it forces your back and shoulders through a set of awkward moves. There’s no excuse to let your clients use this machine when you’re there – be their spotter instead.
The Seated Military Press
When was the last time you ever pushed a weight directly over your head in straight line as part of your daily life? Unless you’re Shrek trying to lift a portcullis, there is absolutely zero reason why you would ever perform this movement outside of the gym, so why do it in the gym? The seated military press can add muscle to the shoulders, true, but it’s equally likely to strain your joints and cause injury. If you want to work your shoulders, go for a pike push-up or, if you really want to use weights, a dumbbell overhead press.
Seated Abductor/Adductor Machines
As with the seated military press, when do you ever use your legs to force something open or shut? Your hips were not designed for this exercise, and neither were your IT bands. You can quite literally strengthen your abductors and adductors just by standing on one leg, so using this machine shouldn’t even cross your client’s mind. Instead, get your clients working on the Romanian deadlift and single leg squats. They’re more fun, far more beneficial and a lot less dangerous in the long run.