Press-Republican

August 6, 2013

Some exercise machines should be avoided

By JOHN VASILE, Fit Bits
Press-Republican

---- — Anyone who has been to the gym knows that a plethora of exercise machines are available to work various muscle groups.  

Many times, these machines are organized in a circuit that members can follow in order to work on strength training. What some people may not know is that certain machines should be avoided to prevent injuries. Some supplementary exercises, however, will achieve the same results.

LEG EXTENSION

The seated leg extension is designed to train the quadriceps, or muscles on the front of your thighs. 

Typically, an individual will sit in the machine and place his or her ankles below a pad attached to resistance. From this point, the individual will extend his or her legs against the opposing force in hopes of achieving quadriceps strength. It strengthens, however, a motion that your legs do not usually do and can put undue strain on the ligaments and tendons surrounding the kneecaps. 

Single-leg body-weight squats would be a good alternate exercise.

SHOULDER PRESS 

The seated shoulder-press machine is supposed to strengthen shoulder muscles and triceps. This machine actually places your shoulders in a vulnerable biomechanical position. Your hips are also unable to assist in the motion, which is a necessary movement when pressing something overhead. 

This exercise should be supplemented by standing overhead-dumbbell presses. This activity will allow hip assistance and really focus on building core strength as well.

LAT PULL-DOWNS

The seated behind-the-neck lat pull-down machine is a big no-no! The goal of this exercise is to condition latissimus dorsi, upper back and bicep muscles. However, this movement can place your shoulders in a risky position and cause possible rotator-cuff damage/shoulder impingement. 

Stick to doing these pull-downs with the bar in front of your head, or supplement with pull-ups on a bar.

ROTATION MACHINE

A seated rotation machine’s purpose is to strengthen abdominal and oblique muscles. When using this machine, the pelvis does not move with the chest. This exercise can put excessive twisting forces on the spine. 

A safer alternative is to perform cable or medicine-ball wood chops. When performing these, be sure to allow the pelvis to turn slightly to lessen excessive forces on the spine.

SMITH MACHINE SQUATS

The purpose of Smith machine squats is to train lower-body muscles, such as hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes (thigh and butt muscles). 

The problem with this machine is the alignment of the bar. It is fixed to a linear track that slides up and down, which does allow for the natural, arched movement when performing squats. This places stress on the knees, shoulders and lower back. 

Performing body-weight squats is a good supplement for this machine. Focus on keeping your weight on your heels, and come down to the point before your lower back starts to round. Body-weight squats are a functional exercise.

BACK EXTENSION

The Roman chair back-extension machine works by placing your lower body between pads so that you are locked in position and then flexing forward at your hips first, before coming back up to perform a back extension. This motion is supposed to strengthen your spinal erectors, or lower back muscles. Repeatedly flexing forward, however, can increase the risk of damaging spinal discs. 

A more appropriate alternative would be to perform the bird dog. This exercise consists of crouching on all fours, extending your right arm forward and extending your left leg backward. Do 10 7-second reps, and then switch to the opposite side.

ABDOMINAL CRUNCH 

The abdominal crunch machine allows you to sit down and place a padded bar across your chest to crunch forward against weighted resistance. The main muscle that gets worked in this exercise is the rectus abdominus. This movement is done while sitting down so it does not integrate the deeper core muscles. These deeper core and pelvic muscles actually function to hold your stomach in naturally. 

Try doing planks and V-ups instead.

It is important to know that some individuals may only be able to use machines in order to maintain fitness. These are simply suggestions of exercises that may be less risky and more beneficial.

John Vasile, NSCA, holds a bachelor’s degree and is a certified personal trainer at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.