I don’t know about you guys, but I always feel a little weird in the weights/machine section at the gym because I’m usually the only woman amongst a gaggle of retired frat bros who I don’t want to talk to, look at, or breathe near, and yet they somehow always manage to pump iron right next to me. Truth be told, I don’t really spend a ton of time in this area because it’s always been a little bit intimidating to me, but after realizing that I lack the upper body strength to lift my MacBook air, I did a reassessment of my workout regimen. So, I swallowed my insecurities, wommaned up and asked a fitness, expert to help me become the most Beyoncé circa Coachella 2018 version of myself (while still eating sugar, dairy, and carbs). I asked Mike Clancy, lifestyle coach, certified personal trainer, and founder of MikeClancyTraining, about which gym machines I should stop being afraid of and start using . Mike knows what the f*ck he’s talking about, so if you’re trying to get strong for 2020, listen up and stop tiptoeing around these pieces of gym equipment.
1. Yoga Ball
There are so many things you can do with a yoga ball that have absolutely nothing to do with yoga. Clancy says, “Consider using the yoga (Swiss) ball for ab exercises, since the roundness allows your spine to fully flex and extend, unlike crunches and sit-ups. The ball is also great for providing support for your lower back when you are curling up and down.” As a new fan of the yoga ball, I’ll share a few of my favorite exercises. Get in the plank position with the tops of your feet on the ball. Slowly lift your butt in the air and lower. The ball will roll toward your straight arms with every lift and back with every lower. This targets every part of your abs and you will be so sore the next day that breathing will be a chore.
Another option is to lay on your back with your legs extended in front of you and hold the ball between your ankles. Reach for something behind you for stability if you need to, and do everything in your power to keep your lower back on the ground as you lift the ball straight up and back down. Your upper abs will be screaming to make it stop, but they’ll thank you when you’re rocking those cute little muscle indents. Lastly, if you’re having an off day and want to have a more chill ab day, sit on the ball with your back as straight as you can. Put your hands behind your head and lean back enough so that your back is parallel to the floor. Use your abs to pull you up without breaking your posture or letting your elbows cave in.
2. Hip Extension Machine
Do you guys know about these? Not all gyms have them, but if my Murray Hill
sh*thole Crunch does, I feel like a lot of gyms have to. I’ve also learned that, unlike treadmills and rowing machines, all hip extender machines are a little different. Mine, for instance, is a padded metal pole with hand grips behind it and pedals in front of it. Am I creating a brilliant visual or failing miserably? I realize this kind of sounds like I’m describing a torture device. Anyway, so one of your feet is on the ground and the other is on the pedal. Bend both of your knees slightly and push on the pedal with the ball of your foot. You don’t need to push back really far, maybe just a few inches. This targets your lower ass, which creates that scoop of ice cream shape. Isn’t that all we want in life? You can also adjust the pedal so it’s next to you instead of behind you and do the same exercise to the side which works your side glutes.
If you’ve ever taken a barre class, this machine is like the glutes section, but way more effective because there’s resistance with the machine. It’s also a lot easier on your joints than trying to lift your leg in the air while putting all of your body weight on your wrists and one knee. Ouch!
3. Cable Biceps Bar
The bicep machine is pretty self-explanatory, but I will walk you through it just in case you need a little bit of motivation. The machine is pretty small, which makes it way less intimidating that those terrifying full-body workout machines. So you set the weight you want to lift, grab the bar, and do your bicep curls. I usually start with eight pounds and work my way up from there. Clancy says, “Try using the bar attachment on the cables for performing strict bicep curls. By keeping your elbows in a fixed position, the bar will help build and sustain tension in your arms, dramatically increasing the effect compared to normal sets.”
The key is to go slowly so that you’re lifting and lowering with muscle, not momentum. You can bend your arms in a 90-degree angle starting at your hips and do a half curl or fully extend your arms down your lefts for the lower and fully bend them for the lift. If you’re not feeling it, don’t push it.
4. Hanging Leg Raise
This is another ab machine that targets your lower abs and it is very, very effective—speaking from experience aka my sore abs. The hanging leg raise is a machine that’s shaped like a “T” with padded poles for you to put your arms on while your legs and abs do all the work. Your arms are bent in a 90-degree angle in front of you while your legs are fully extended beneath you.
Slowly lift your legs without separating or bending them and slowly lower. According to Clancy, “The flexion of your hips using straight legs will highlight and target the ever-popular lower abs, and get you one step closer to the V in your stomach. Lean back and slowly raise and lower your legs to really enhance the contraction.” You can also do this same exercise with your legs extending on a slight angle to work your side abs. And if you’re really feeling yourself, you can bend your knees at your chest and extend in front of you without putting them down. I’ve only seen one person do that and she was my trainer at the time, so you may need to work up to that one.
5. TRX Bands
These are fab. They take up no space and are actually really easy to use. If you don’t want to do push-ups on the ground for whatever reason, TRX bands are for you. You can perform two different types of push-ups with these, and both are as painful as hell to do. But it’s the kind of pain that will later remind you that you’re getting strong. Clancy says, “Those yellow TRX bands are great for calisthenics and bodyweight exercises because they move in all directions, the movement options are endless. In particular, TRX bands are phenomenal for doing rows and other pulling motions. You can incorporate fully-body, multi-joint movements such as a squat-to-row, or a reverse lunge to one-leg knee lifts.” If all of that sounds really confusing, just remember that if YouTube can teach you how to expertly execute a smokey eye, it can teach you how to do a one-knee leg lift.
I personally only really use the bands for arm exercises and sometimes abs, but because they are just two bands hanging from the ceiling, you can really use them for anything your heart desires. Get swole.
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