You’ve conquered weight training 101, you know how to use weights at the gym like a boss and you’re practically pumping iron like a pro. Or are you? Integrating weights and strength training into your workout routine can help you lose weight, lower your stress levels and strengthen your heart. But not all machines are created equal. That’s why we asked Jacon C. Chun, a physical therapist and clinical specialist at AlterG, Inc, to break it down for us and tell us which machines we can skip at the gym and which exercises we can do instead to still get all the benefits.
1. Back Extension Machine: Many use this apparatus to strengthen their lower back, but if you have poor technique, your hips will hinge and your lower back will actually round — no bueno. Add to that some weight in your arms, and you could be increasing pressure to your lumbar discs and actually setting yourself up for a low back injury.
Do this instead: kettlebell deadlifts or swings. “You can practice engaging the low back and hinging the hips by adding some kettlebells to your workout. Plus, kettlebell swings and deadlifts are great for your abs and can do some major core strengthening.”
2. Box Jumps: No doubt, plyometrics are a great way to generate lower body power. They’re also commonly used in training because they get your heart rate up, and fast. But for those of us without adequate strength to support our bodies, or who have poor technique, the stress could be too much for your knees and lower leg, potentially bringing a halt to whatever training you’re doing if a lower body injury like knee tendinitis or shin splints walks in your door.
Do this instead: anti-gravity treadmill walking or jogging. “If you are just getting back to fitness, you need to move well first before adding load. Technique is paramount for avoiding injury when weight, speed or other challenges are added to exercises. An anti-gravity treadmill lets users load the lower body safely, progressively working on squatting, walking or running without the harsh impact on the lower body.” No anti-gravity treadmill in sight? Build up your strength and endurance first with light jogging.
3. Seated Hip Abduction Machine: We sit enough during the day with commuting to work, using our computers and watching TV. Do we really need to sit to exercise? Yeah, of course it’s important to improve hip strength, but you can get out of the chair and do it standing, so it carries over to where you need it most with walking, running, jumping and sports.
Do this instead: walk band or shuffle. “Place a small elastic band above your knees or around your ankles. Keep your feet shoulders width apart and start walking. You can also shuffle sideways, but the key here is keeping your knees aligned with your feet, so you feel those hips burning. You can vary the exercise by changing directions, adding speed and even coordinating it with other activities, like catching a ball.”
4. Leg Press Machine: Unless you’re injured or recovering from surgery, it’s best to do leg strengthening activities in the position you’ll most use them. That means with the foot on the floor under you, versus in the air above you. Think of positions similar to when you’re walking, running or zooming up a flight of stairs. By performing an exercise so that it will carry over to daily function, you can get the most bang for your buck in the shortest amount of time.
Do this instead: squats. “There’s a reason the classic moves never die. Squats work all the muscles of the lower body at the same time, in a position that simulates daily activities, like picking up loads of laundry, playing with the kids or getting up out of a chair. To increase the challenge and add variety, you can go to single leg variations, use a kettle bell to challenge the core or incorporate the ever popular BOSU ball to make the exercises more dynamic.”
5. Seated Knee Extension: When you start in higher ranges of flexion for the knee, you can increase stress to the joint — not cool and also usually not recommended by orthopedic physicians for patients after knee surgery. You can modify it to perform in a smaller range, but there are other exercises that do a better job.
Do this instead: single leg step-downs. “Stand to the side of a plyo box or small step. Slowly lower the leg over the side of the box to touch the heel to the floor, then straighten up and return to the starting position again. You can add weight for more of a challenge or change the depth by increasing the height of the box or step. This simulates going down stairs and the landing part of jumping or running. If you can master this move, you’ll protect your knees and maybe even rid yourselves of any nagging knee pain.”
6. Seated or Lying Hamstring Curls: Sitting or lying on your stomach to do these exercises can be helpful if you need to target muscles to heal up from a strain or after surgery. But we never use muscles in isolation when we move throughout the day. You won’t ever just use your hamstrings without bringing in other muscles for stability or for movement. So why take up time on an exercise that only works part of your leg?
Do this instead: deadlifts. “Another classic, this one will help load your posterior chain, bringing functional strength to the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. You can change these up by doing single leg variations, adding a kettlebell or balancing on something unstable. Besides the strength benefits, focusing on technique can help you learn a proper hip hinge for picking things up off the floor or low surfaces.”
Hitting the gym? Tweet us what alternate exercises you added to your workout at @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)