While exercise machines are useful in some situations—you have an injury, for example, or a personal trainer is there to guide and challenge you—too often these machines act as an inefficient crutch, holding you back from getting the most out of your workouts.
We asked Nikki Warren, co-founder of Kaia FIT, for five reasons exercise machines are the. actual worst. and what you should be doing instead.
1. You could be doing squats instead
"The majority of your lower body workout should focus on stability, which is best accomplished by good old fashioned squats and lunges," says Warren.
When the support of a machine is removed, your major muscle groups (quads, glutes, hamstrings) have to work in unison with the smaller muscles like those in your inner and outer thighs, calves, and hips to keep you balanced. So jump off the leg press machine and head to the mat for some lunge and squat variations.
2. Exercise machines don't maximize the muscles you target
Simply adding free weights to any exercise can provide a greater challenge and up the efficiency of the move, but the quickest way to rev up your workout is to practice combination or compound moves.
Try Warren's Weighted 8 Count Kaia Builder (which she teaches at Kaia FIT) instead. It's a total-body strength move that elevates your heart rate to give you the added benefit of cardio, too. You'll target your glutes, quads, hamstrings, shoulders, core, inner/outer thighs, and activate multiple small, stabilizer muscles as well.
Count 1. Begin standing while holding a medium (try 8 pounds) dumbbell in either hand. Squat down and place weights on the ground directly underneath shoulders (still gripping them in your hands)
Count 2. Jump back into plank position.
Count 3. Keeping core engaged, jump legs out wide into straddle position
Counts 4-5. Perform a push-up
Count 6. Hop feet back together
Count 7. Propel legs forward and outside both bands back into a squat position
Count 8: Push through heels to stand and press weights directly overhead
3. Exercise machines put your abs to sleep
Trainers know that moves like the squat press or burpee have the added benefit of toning your core as you work. With their limited range of motion, many gym machines only offer one focus area, which means you'll be spending more time hopping from machine to machine, and you'll still need to hit the mat for some ab work. But incorporate free weights into your workout, and you can get away with skipping crunches altogether. (Get Amazing Abs In 16 Crunch-Free Minutes—Yes!)
Warren's favorite move for sneaking in a quick ab blast? The Turkish Get-Up, which forces your whole body to work simultaneously, emanating from the abs. Relying on momentum isn't an option with this move. Instead, your core pulls you slowly into a seated position and also acts as a stabilizer while you rise to your feet.
Here's what to do:
1. Lie on your right side and pick up the kettlebell, then roll onto your back and press it to the sky using both hands.
2. Transfer the weight onto your right hand and extend your left arm along the floor at a 45-degree angle for support.
3. Move your right leg out to the right, bend the knee and place the sole of your foot on the ground.
4. Press through the grounded foot and rise up onto the left hand, pushing your hips to the ceiling at the same time.
5. Take the extended left leg back behind you, so that you're in a kneeling lunge position.
6. Push through the back toes and send the kettlebell up to the sky as you stand.
7. Reverse the move to come back down to the mat and repeat on opposite side.
4. You're wasting your precious time
Dread endless jogs on the treadmill, but aren't sure what else to do? The answer is, do more in less time. Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a much more time-efficient way of reaping the fitness benefits then moderate-level, longer workouts.
Warren suggests Tabata-style workouts consisting of 20 seconds of all-out work followed by 10 seconds of recovery. Try four-minute mini sets, repeated eight times. You'll boost cardiovascular fitness and burn major calories in just 20 minutes flat. (Here's another Calorie-Torching Tabata Workout to get so much done in so little time)
Try this Tabata routine at home or in the gym. You'll perform each exercise using the 20-to-10 work and recovery ratio for 4 minutes each to complete a 20-minute workout.
1. Push up
2. Squat press
3. Mountain Climber
5. Forward Lunge
5. You could get injured
Get overzealous with the weight machines and you might end up doing more harm to your body than good. This is especially common with machines that target the smaller muscle groups, like the hip abductor or adductor machine. Instead, try these Kaia FIT-approved exercises instead.
To work the abductor muscles, place a resistance band around your thighs directly above knees, and perform a walking side squat—first toward the right, then toward the left to work both sides equally.
To work the adductor muscles, lie on your back and place a medicine ball between your thighs, and alternate between squeezing and releasing. Lift your legs into table-top position to get a killer core workout at the same time.