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Best Gym Equipment You’re Not Using -for a Reason

Updated on December 13, 2011

On a recent venture into research on the Great WWW, an article on WebMD caught my attention. It was titled The Best Exercise Equipment You’re Not Using, a good title and naturally I was intrigued. The article claimed there are several machines the average gym goer is ignoring at their peril. Commercial gyms are not my thing, but I once spent a lot of time in them, so I wanted to take a shot at debunking their selection in favor of more convenient (home) and interesting (fun) alternatives. Here we go:

1. Smith Machine: This is the machine holding a barbell on a fixed track. It moves up and down, eliminating the need to stabilize it while pressing, squatting, etc. Not sure why this one is listed, it’s hardly underutilized. But why not just use a power rack and involve more muscles? Although you can rack the weight every couple inches, it is basically a machine. Use free weights and train your body to keep the weight in the correct path.

2. Cable Based Resistance Machines: There are many versions of this time-honored body-building tool, from the simple Nautilus and Universal set-ups to the more modern FM Dual Cable Cross. I disagree that they are underused, but possibly underutilized. Pick up a copy of Strength Training Anatomy (listed at right) and you’ll find a good half dozen exercises which most folks haven’t attempted on a cable machine. A good substitute? Buy a resistance band system that anchors to a door or wall; or just anchor your own with a carabineer. Keeps you out of the gym, anyway.

3. Low Back Extension Machine: While this is a useful machine, do we really need a machine to simulate bending at the waist? Granted, this machine allows you to bend at the waist and use the lumbar muscles to extend the legs back and up, but if the idea is to work the lower back safely, a barbell good morning does the job quite well. The low back extension does offer something unique, so if you wanted to simulate this, try setting a stability ball on top of the couch and holding on to the couch back. Just sayin’

4. Neck Extension Machine: Actually, this is also an important machine, but you can work the neck muscles by other means. One is to practice the wrestler’s bridge, moving the head in all directions. Another is to use a neck harness with a chain that holds plates; if I’m training for football or any kind of grappling, I like both. Especially rolling around on the floor holding an Olympic plate on my chest. OR, you can put on some headbangin’ rock n’roll-I don’t recommend adding weight for that, though.

5. Shoulder Rotator and Wrist/Forearm Machine: Hmmm, yuh… there’s a reason these often get passed up. The first is for the rotator cuff muscles (which secure the arm bone to the shoulder joint) and the second you already know. As for the first, as small as these muscles are, grab some resistance bands or light dumbbells. It isn’t necessary to waste your valuable gym time on the ‘Rotator,’ unless it excites you. Then by all means…nor is it necessary to do a lot of work for this area. A wrist/forearm machine? Maybe they threw it in to make a sale, “…and I’ll even throw in the awesome wrist and forearm machine if we can finalize the sale today…” Ok, you get the idea. My pick? Rock climb, deadlifts, pull-ups, and my favorite, Clubbells. All much more fun, really.

6. Ankle/Wrist Weights: I agree! But I get the feeling the author only added these to take up some space. In any case it’s probably true, how many people do you see walking or running with ankle weights anymore? Here’s a workout that will make you a believer: Go for a run wearing ankle weights (in the sand if you can.) When you get back, put on the wrist weights and do some shadow boxing. Hey while you’re at it, hold your elbows into your sides, bend your arms to 90 degrees and start clapping your hands! Now you’re working your rotator cuff muscles and you didn’t even have to visit the Rotator. Don’t forget to put on some music! Clap your hands everybody/And everybody clap your hands…

7. Elastic Bands: Elastic (resistance) bands are fun to have around and offer a great, cheap workout. If you buy a set with an anchoring system or buy a sturdy carabineer for that purpose, they become a go-anywhere gym. Sorry, WebMD author person, but I think that we are using them, heeheehee.

8. Step Mill: This is described as a “stair-stepping machine with actual steps.” No, really. Maybe you’ve used it? I had to see this for myself, just to find out what it would set back whoever was paying for it. AAAAAAHAHAHA, HA, ..HA! Just under $6,000! They’re steps! With hand rails! Alright, all dripping sarcasm aside-Whyyyyy? Ok, I’m calm. Here are my three alternatives. A. Get this-STEPS B. Cinder blocks/ Plyometric boxes C. Steep hills.

9. Arm Ergometer: Please hold, I am currently composing myself to write….Ok. Now if I hadn’t seen a clip of Brock Lesnar working out on one of these before he lost his title I would have thought it was a joke. But let’s give it a fair evaluation. First of all, this is a very smart invention for people with limited or no lower body mobility who must have cardiovascular exercise, either for general health or athletic events. Second, there may be sport specific applications for this machine, such as in boxing; or kayaking. There may be . But for people with full mobility in good health, sitting there spinning a wheel with their hands? When did you become so boring?!? I think it’s time for you to rediscover your inner child.

10. Rowing Machine/Versa Climber: These are grouped together because the alternatives are both self-explanatory; and they are a practical training device originally developed for specific activities. In other words, you might prefer be on the water rowing, but it’s 30 below zero; you might prefer to be scaling the Pacific Ocean Wall, but you need to be home to eat dinner with the family and take out the trash. Besides, these are machines that mean business; either one can be turned into a whole body thrashing session without touching anything else at your gym.

Well that’s a wrap. In all seriousness, it is important to follow a balanced program that doesn’t overemphasize the so-called ‘vanity’ muscles. But then again, maybe, just maybe there are better ways to do it than sitting on a padded machine seat spinning your wheels. Aloha!

Just watching hurts...
Just watching hurts...
The Step Mill. Three steps, endless pleasure.
The Step Mill. Three steps, endless pleasure.
Yes it is, but he's not in one.
Yes it is, but he's not in one.
The Versa Climber. There is no substitute...
The Versa Climber. There is no substitute...
Not lame, just pain.
Not lame, just pain.

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