Monday, December 7, 2009

Stop Using These Exercise Machines

Need more reasons to cancel your gym membership and work out at home? AOL Health (or is it “Aol. Health”?) recently posted a slideshow of six exercise machines to avoid at the gym.

AOL’s website is frustratingly difficult to navigate, so to save you from having to click through seven different screens and wait for dozens of photos and graphics to download, I’m providing a quick and dirty recap after the jump.

The next time you're in a gym (or hotel fitness center), don't waste your time with the following machines:

Seated Leg Extensions. “Physiologists at the Mayo Clinic determined that leg extensions place significantly more stress on your knees than squats” because “the resistance is placed near your ankles, which leads to high amounts of torque being applied to your knee joint every time you lower the weight.” Do squats and lunges instead.

Behind-the-Neck Lat Pull-Downs. “Unless you have very flexible shoulders, this exercise is difficult to do correctly, and can increase your risk for shoulder impingement syndrome -- a painful condition in which the muscles or tendons of your rotator cuff become entrapped in your shoulder joint.” So the bar down in front of your face instead, or do pull-ups.

Chest Fly Machine (the “Pec Deck”). Stick with push-ups or bench presses. The chest fly machine “can overstretch the front of your shoulder and cause the muscles around the rear of your shoulder to stiffen. The result: Doing this movement frequently can lead to shoulder impingement syndrome.” Plus, “researchers found that pectoral muscles are activated for 23 percent less time during the chest fly, compared with the bench press.”

Seated Hip Abductor Machine. “Because you're seated, it trains a movement that has no functional use. And if done with excessive weight and jerky technique, it can put undue pressure on your spine.” Instead, do this move by placing a resistance band around both legs while standing, and then step your legs wide for each rep. Or just do a round of P90X Legs & Back or any of the Insanity workouts.

Seated Rotation Machine. This isn’t going to give you abs of steel. In fact, it’ll “do little to reduce the fat that covers” your ab muscles. Also, “because your pelvis doesn't move as you rotate your upper body, this exercise can put excessive twisting forces on the spine.” Just do your Mason Twists.

The Smith Machine. Some folks think that the Smith Machine (essentially, “a squat rack with a built-in bar that runs on guides”) helps prevent the risk of injury caused by having to support a loaded barbell on your back. But because “the bar runs on guides, you can only move straight up and down as you squat-instead of down and back, as you would in a free-weight squat. The result: An unnatural movement that puts extra stress on your knees and lower back.” Just hold dumbbells at your sides as you perform your squats. And if you do Calf-Raise Squats (from P90X Legs & Back), you’ll work your calves, too.

I still think that exercise machines are useful for beginners who are just starting to resistance train (as well as those with physical limitations). But there’s nothing like the range of motion you can get from body-weight and free-weight exercises, so it’s not surprising to me that the experts are cautioning people against using certain gym equipment. It’s nice to know, though, that the moves that are recommended are staples of P90X and Insanity.

This reminds me: I really need to remember to cancel my gym membership.