Exercise machines tend to get a bad rap. Sure, free weights allow you to reach maximal range of motion, and they tend to be better suited for muscle growth and performance goals. However, you shouldn’t steer clear of the exercise machine section. There are several exercise machines that can support your fitness goals in a safe and secure way, especially if you need to achieve muscle failure.
Let’s take a look at the best exercise machines that can complement your current fitness program.
While the barbell row and deadlift sit comfortably in the top spots for some of the best back exercises, you shouldn’t underestimate the lat pulldown. All you have to do is try a few different angles and attachments and you’ll hit multiple areas of the back, ensuring a better and more well-rounded development.
For the basic lat pulldown, be sure to secure your knees, brace your core, and keep a neutral gaze. Most people will look at the pulley. Before you pull down, engage the back. When done properly, you’ll feel the weight placed upon the lat muscles. All of the movement and energy is coming from the back; your arms are just there as anchors.
As you pull down, be sure to lean back slightly allowing the shoulder blades to come together. Most importantly, once the bar is at your chest, squeeze your lat muscles. Hold this contraction for a few seconds and slowly release. Do not allow the weights to touch the stack. Keep the contraction in your back throughout the exercise.
HOW TO HACK THE LAT PULLDOWN:
The best way to hack the lat pulldown is to use the vertical barbell attachment and the close-grip attachment. The vertical barbell has handles that are not parallel with the floor like the traditional attachment. And the close-grip attachment also has a vertical hand placement, but your hands are close together. Even though you’ll use the same form described above, the difference in angle and hand placement will create a noticeable difference.
If you want your legs to grow, squats and lunges are a requirement. However, leg extensions are an excellent isolation exercise that allow you to burn out your quadriceps, ensuring a higher level of muscle hypertrophy.
When using the leg extension, the most important thing is where you place your knees. Do not put your knees flush with the padding. Instead, move the seat up a bit so that your knees are hanging off the edge and away from the padding.
If you have prior issues with your knees, consider using knee sleeves. The support from the knee sleeve can help you to execute the exercise without any strain or pain. What’s more, the compression from the knee sleeve can emphasize the contraction and pump.
Sit up straight and hold on to the seat handles. Remember that this is a quadriceps exercise so this is where you’ll focus the contraction and the effort. Don’t cheat by swinging or using momentum; you’ll only be cheating yourself.
As you lift the bar, keep your toes pointed forward as this will emphasize the quadriceps activation. Once you reach the top, squeeze the quadriceps muscle and hold this contraction for a few seconds. Slowly lower the bar, but don’t come all the way down.
HOW TO HACK THE LEG EXTENSION
To maximize isolation with the leg extension, we recommend using the single leg variety. Follow the same instructions from above, but use one leg at a time. This will remove the change for muscle overcompensation or one leg pulling more weight than the other.
If it’s leg day, use single leg extensions as the final exercise, and consider following a failure set protocol. In other words, don’t set a repetition limit; do as many as you can until the muscle is on fire and completely fatigued.
Opposite the leg extension, you’ll find the leg curl machine. Keep in mind that Romanian deadlifts are excellent for sculpting and muscle growth, but leg curls can produce fantastic results as well. Seated leg curls are fine, but we prefer the lying leg curl as you can get a better pump.
Assuming you’re using the lying leg curl machine, set the pad so that it rests against your ankle or heel. Make sure your toes are pointing out so that all of the effort is coming from the hamstring muscles, not the calves.
Holding on to the handles, it’s essential that you keep your hips down. We see people make this mistake all of the time in the gym: When they perform a leg curl, their hips move up, taking on some of the workload. Don’t do this. As your legs curl the pad up toward your butt, keep your hips against the padding and focus all of the tension into the hamstrings. This might require lowering the amount of weight that you’re using, which is recommended. We would rather have you perform the exercise correctly and get an amazing pump than puff up your ego with a few extra pounds.
Once you reach the top of the movement, squeeze your hamstrings as hard as you can. The best way to envision this is by thinking about flexing your bicep muscle. If you’re lying down, it will look the same. As you lower the weight, move slowly and don’t let the weight touch the stack.
Again, if you have issues with your knees, consider wearing a knee sleeve to support yourself during leg day workouts.
HOW TO HACK THE LEG CURL
Just like with the leg extension, we recommend performing the single leg version of this exercise. It will provide a far better pump and contraction. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about one leg doing more than the other.
One trick to bring the muscle to complete failure involves the placement of your foot. Complete as many repetitions as you can with the toes pointed straight, but once you reach the point of failure, flex the foot. It’ll take some of the work away from the hamstrings, but it allows you to complete a few more reps and bring the muscle to the point of fatigue.
When it comes to building big biceps, the preacher is a great exercise to put in your routine. It allows you to completely isolate the bicep muscle without the chance of swinging or using momentum to move the weight. We recommend using an EZ-grip barbell for this exercise as a straight barbell can be tough on the wrists.
If you have wrist issues, try using wrist wraps. They will support your wrist and forearm while alleviating any strain.
To perform a preacher curl, you need to first adjust the seat so that your chest is flush with the padding in front of you, but you have enough room to let your arms hang down. Once you have the barbell in your hands, do a quick check and make sure that your arm pits are flush against the padding as well.
Squeeze the barbell tightly as you slowly move it up towards your shoulders. Focus all of the movement into the biceps. It’ll be tempting to shift some of the weight to the front deltoids, but don’t do this. The eccentric or lowering portion of this exercise is the most important. Take your time with lowering the weight. Don’t let the elbows fully straighten. Instead, go immediately into another repetition, but take a few seconds to lower the weight.
HOW TO HACK THE PREACHER CURL
One of the best changes you can make with a preacher curl is by using a dumbbell and one arm at a time. Just like with the other exercises, this eliminates the chance that your dominant arm will take over the workload. Also, don’t forget to squeeze throughout the exercise as this will force blood into the bicep, giving you that intense pump.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BEST EXERCISE MACHINES?
Are you a fan of any of the exercise machines we listed above? Have a video of yourself crushing it on an exercise machine? Tag us on Instagram so we can share it.