I was lucky enough to start working out at a young age and was introduced to strength training by my college coaches. However, not everyone has the lap of luxury to start working out under strict guidance and supervision. It can definitely be overwhelming to walk into a gym and not know what to do. With that said, I’ve put together a short list of exercises you can do instead of the traditional machine based exercises that may look “easier”, because but you could be getting more “bang for your buck” if you stick to their alternatives below.
Squat to a given target instead of the seated leg extension.
So not only can the leg extension cause some problems with your knee- you can also be working your body as a “whole” if you practice the traditional squat to a target; like a bench or chair. You are not only hitting the quads but you are also working on coordination and balance. If squatting to a bench is easy for you, try adding a weight by holding a dumbbell in the front of you with two hands. Squatting is a movement pattern we do everyday so why not add some practicality to your program and start mimicking the everyday moves that you do on the regs?
Plank instead of the Reverse crunch machine.
OK- if you are new to the gym here is one thing you should be aware of- most if not all the ab-machines in your gym, especially the ones that require flexion and extension of the spine are just not a good idea- Period. Try getting on the ground and holding the traditional plank on your forearms and feet for 20-30 seconds. You are working every part of your core when you do a plank properly. Make sure you are bracing your abs, glutes and breathing deeply. This is a solid “core” exercise and is much safer than forcing your body to conform into a machine and do weighted sit up’s.
Unweighted good mornings instead of the kettlebell swing.
I really dig kettlebells. I really do. I love them! They are great to work the body as a whole and they are super versatile. The swing is one of my favorite exercises. Far too often though, I see people observe seasoned vets and without having any experience with the swing let alone kettlebells, they pick them up and start swinging away! “Swinging” that is…The KB swing is a great exercise and when done properly extremely effective to use in your training program. There are however certain steps one should master before they even pick up a kettlebell. One of those steps is mastering the hip hinge pattern. Make sure you are able to move your hips behind you without bending the knees and feeling anything pull in the lower back. Mastering the hip hinge pattern is a sure way to stay injury free and work your way up to eventually being able to do that kettlebell swing properly. The unweighted good morning is doing just that. Make sure you master this move unweighted, then add weight, they move into RDL’s and then you can move into a swing if and when you have mastered these specific exercises beforehand.
Glute Bridge instead of the hamstring curl machine.
If you are trying to target your hamstrings and glutes, try lying flat on the ground and performing some glute bridges. When you slide your heels in closer to your glutes, you make it more of a glute dominant movement. When you slide your feet farther away, you are making it more hamstring dominant. Both ways are great! Not only is this is a better exercise because you are working more than one muscle group, but you are forced to engage your core and use your entire body instead of one muscle group.
One thing to keep in mind is on a seated ANYTHING machine, most of the time that machine is controlling some portion of the movement for you which is not really ideal when working out. One of the reasons we workout is to improve the quality of our everyday lives by learning how to move more effectively- especially as we get older these everyday tasks like walking up stairs or squatting down to go to the bathroom may become more challenging. The ultimate goal of working out is to improve and prolong the quality of life and how to function on a daily basis. The less we rely on machines, the more we train our bodies we function as a whole which ultimately means BIGGER, BETTER results!