Think of your workout routine like your profile picture. You might be happy with yours from 2012, but you still need to change it up once in a while—no matter how tan and skinny you looked in Cancun that time. If you tend to cling to your elliptical routine or the same three ab exercises every time you step foot in Equinox, you might want to consider trying out some of the machines you’re scared of. Like, it’s 2017 and girls are still scared of picking up anything heavier than an eight-pound dumbbell. It’s sad. There are so many machines in the gym that can tone your body while making you stronger and leaner, so it’s time to face your fears and try a machine you would usually use as a towel rack. Let’s start with these six staples.
1. The Lat Pull-Down Bar
If you’ve seen people using this machine and wondering why repeatedly pulling down a bar is a good workout, it’s time to get educated on your lat muscles. The biggest muscle in your back is called the Latissimus Dorsi, and it basically gives your whole torso its shape. When you pull down the bar using your upper back, you’re strengthening the muscles all around your core and back, which will actually help your back get stronger, your posture get better, and your waist look smaller. Try the machine at a light weight, and then keep adding when you see how non-intimidating is actually is. You might have never said you wanted sexy lats before, but once you see how good you’ll look, you’ll change your mind.
2. The Cables
You’ve probably walked by the cable pulley machines a million times, but you’ve never tried them out to realize how great they are for a workout. The cables can be used for literally any body part, so you can pull them with your legs, your arms, or your abs. The idea of using cables is that you’re doing your regular exercises you would do with dumbbells, but there’s constant tension on the cable machine, which makes each move even more effective. Plus, you can do different exercises while standing in one place, so you don’t have to run around the gym and waste your time. Stop doing 100 bicep curls with a two-pound weight and instead try doing the move with a cable pulley. You’ll never go back.
3. The Hanging Leg Raise
This isn’t really a machine, but if you’ve ever seen those white poles with a blue Bosu ball in the middle, it’s meant for hanging leg raises, which is basically an amazing ab workout. We have nothing against bodyweight ab moves, but doing hanging leg raises changes up your positioning and targets different parts of your abs that you can’t hit just by doing lying crunches or bicycles. Hold onto the handles with your handles and lift your legs up toward your waist, trying not to bend your legs too much. Once your legs hit waist level, slowly lower them down to complete one rep. Do as many reps as you can, but the goal here is to go slowly and engage your abs, not speed through it by swinging your legs around.
4. The Smith Machine
We totally understand that the Smith machine looks super scary and intense, but think of it as the training wheels for barbells. We’re not telling you to be a bodybuilder, but using a real bar in your workouts can help with your form and cause less injuries than just throwing around dumbbells. The Smith machine bar is attached to the poles on the sides, so you can’t really screw up or hurt yourself. Try to do some squats or lunges without any weight on the bar, and then add weight once you get used to it. It’s not as intimidating as it looks.
5. The Rowing Machine
The rowing machine is actually a cardio machine, but it’s totally different than the treadmill or StairMaster because you’re using your entire bodyweight to pull the machine toward you. Instead of just setting the machine to a number, you’re using your legs and arms to pull the machine in and out, rowing from the front to the back. This machine is amazing for HIIT training, and you’ll be out of breath SO fast because it basically works every muscle in your body, so you’re getting a more effective workout in less time than other cardio machines. Try rowing as hard as you can for 20 seconds, and then take a 10 second rest. Do this pattern for four to five minutes straight and you’ll burn more calories than you would in 20 minutes on the treadmill.
6. The Leg Press Machine
Everyone thinks the leg press machine is just for guys who wanna get jacked, but if you spread your legs a little wider than usual on the machine, it’s actually an amazing workout for your butt and thighs. The leg press machine is basically just doing a squat in a slightly different position, so you’re pushing the surface away with your legs while using the muscles in your butt and thighs to do it. You can do this with one leg at a time or use both together. Your call. Either way, it’s worth a shot if you’re sick of your regular squats and leg moves. Like, you’re not gonna get very far by doing a bunch of donkey kicks without any weights involved. No offense to the 100 donkey kicks you’ve been doing. I’m sure those were very hard.