CrossFit trainers share which fitness machines they hate the most, and their favorite alternatives to incorporate into your workout instead
Your gym has a dirty little secret: Some equipment doesn’t actually do much for you. And some machines can be downright dangerous. We asked Jessica Fox and her husband Christian Fox, both certified Starting Strength coaches and coaches at Crossfit South Brooklyn, to share with Shape readers what fitness items they’d ban permanently from the gym. (Want to know what else you can improve? See these Common Mistakes at the Gym and the Equinox Solution.)
Instead try: Squats
Like many machines in the gym, these target one specific area of the body—which is simply an inefficient way to work out when there are so many moves that will work multiple muscles at once, Jessica says. Skip the machines and drop into squats. A proper squat recruits more muscles (including the ad/abductors) and is a functional movement, meaning it'll better prepare your muscles for real-life challenges, like walking up stairs and picking things up. (Want more multi-muscle moves? Check out 7 Functional Fitness Exercises.)
Instead try: Anything over 5 pounds
“It’s a huge misconception that lifting heavy automatically makes you bulky,” Jessica says. Yes, you will want to start out light if you’ve never lifted. But over time you must lift progressively heavier weights to gain strength and definition, she explains. How heavy should you go? Depending on the exercise, the weights should be heavy enough that the last two reps of each set are significantly challenging. (Need more convincing? Read these 8 Reasons Why You Should Lift Heavier Weights.)
Instead try: Free weights
It’s meant to guide the barbell path in weighted squats and bench presses. And while the ideal path for squats is indeed straight up and down, when you lower with weights, the bar doesn’t always travel that ideal vertical path because of the way your back curves, Christian explains. The Smith Machine prevents your body from moving as it naturally would to support this weight, which can lead to you pushing horizontally into the track instead of up—adding pain and risking injury, he explains. “Using the machine for a bench press can be even worse, since it doesn't allow you to move the bar the way your shoulders naturally want, risking a tear of your pectoral muscle,” he adds. Save yourself the risk and learn how to do a barbell squat without the machine.
Instead try: The Rowing Machine
Ellipticals are simple to use—which is why people gravitate to them. But, since you move through a relatively small range of motion, it is so easy to slack on these things, Christian says. A better choice to get your heart rate up: The rowing machine. “Rowing incorporates a lot of muscle mass into the movement, and with a little technique can provide a wallop of a workout,” Christian says. Skeptical? Attempt a 250-meter sprint at max effort, and you’ll never want to step on the elliptical again.
Instead try: Plank
Sure, ab machines are a lot more comfortable than arms-behind-the-head sit-ups, but most people can—and should—just do full sit-ups, says Jessica. Even better? Drop into a plank: It’s more effective for toning your abdominals than an assisted crunch (or any machine), and typically safe for people who can't do situps because of neck pain. (Up your ab game with this 9-Minute Power Plank Workout.)