|THE SMITH MACHINE
The myth: This machine—which looks like a squat rack with a built-in bar
that runs on guides—gives you all the benefits of squats, but none of
the risk that comes from holding a heavy barbell across your back.
That’s because the bar can easily be secured at any point during the
The truth: 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. Need another reason to skip the
Smith? Canadian researchers found that traditional squats produced
almost 50 percent more muscle activity in the quadriceps than squats
done on a Smith machine.
The alternative: If you’re not comfortable with barbell squats, simply
do the exercise while holding dumbbells at arm’s length next to your
sides. You won’t need a spotter, and your body will be free to move
through the natural motion of the squat.
THE SEATED ROTATION MACHINE
The myth: Twisting on this machine helps melt your love handles.
The truth: It works the muscles under your love handles, but will do
little to reduce the fat that covers them. What’s more, because your
pelvis doesn't move as you rotate your upper body, this exercise can put
excessive twisting forces on the spine.
The alternative: As long as you don’t expect to shrink your love
handles, you can use rotational exercises to work your obliques. But
here’s the secret to safety: Before you do any rotational exercises,
brace your abs forcefully—as if you’re about to be punched in the
gut—and hold them that way as you do the movement. This limits your
range of motion and helps to keep you from rotating excessively at your
THE SEATED HIP ABDUCTOR MACHINE
The myth: This machine is the best way to work your out thighs,
including your glutes.
The truth: 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.
The alternative: Work the same muscles, but while standing. Simply loop a
resistance band around both legs, and position the band just below your
knees. Now take small steps to your left for 20 feet. Then side-step
back to your right for 20 feet. That’s one set. This is much harder than
it sounds, but you can do it anywhere, and it’s also a great warm-up
for any sport.
THE PEC DECK
The myth: It’s a super safe and very effective way to work your chest
The truth: This apparatus, also called 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.
The alternatives: Forget the machine, and stick with exercises such as
the pushup, dumbbell bench press and dumbbell incline press; they’re
easier on your shoulders and the best way to build your chest overall.
In fact, Truman State University researchers found that pectoral muscles
are activated for 23 percent less time during the chest fly, compared
with the bench press.
THE BEHIND THE NECK LAT PULL-DOWN
The myth: The best way to perform the lat pulldown is to pull the bar
behind your head, down to your upper back
The truth: 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.
The alternative: Simple—just pull the bar in front of your head, down to
your collarbone. You’ll work your back just as hard, but with less risk
THE SEATED LEG EXTENSION
The myth: It’s the safest way to work your quadriceps, or thigh muscles.
The truth: Physiologists at the Mayo Clinic determined that leg
extensions place significantly more stress on your knees than squats.
Why? 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. What’s more, Auburn University scientists found that
people who squat long-term have tighter, stronger knee ligaments than
those who don’t squat at all.
The alternatives: Free weight squats, split squats, and lunges—performed
with perfect form—are all better choices for working your quads and
protecting your knees.
Source: Men's Health Online Magazine.