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.
Images: Unsplash; Shutterstock (5)
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.