Why You Should Skip the Hip Abduction Machine—and These 5 Other Moves
Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine
The hip abduction and adduction machines feel incredible: You can use a lot of weight, so you feel strong, and both exercises leave you with a serious burn. But hip abduction and adduction machines are dangerous, says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Baltimore, because your body isn't designed for those movements.
"There's nothing remotely like these movements in life," he says. The muscles the machines work "are primarily stabilizers for when you're standing or moving around. When you do a step-up or lunge, you're working them, plus all the other stuff."
What to do instead: Get out of the chair and work hip abduction and adduction while standing, suggests Aaron Brooks, a biomechanics expert and owner of Perfect Postures in Auburndale, Massachusetts. Affix a band or the handle of a cable machine around your right ankle while you stand with the machine (or fixed point of the band) on your left. Keeping an erect posture, lift your weighted leg out and away from your body to 3 o'clock—and, violá, you've just completed hip abduction sans-machine). To perform the adduction (pulling in) maneuver, stand with your weighted leg next to the machine, crossing it in front of your planted leg to 9 o'clock. (Also better than the hip abduction machine? Doing these effective thigh exercises instead.)
The Smith Machine
The Smith machine—where the bar is locked into a sliding vertical plane—may be the most versatile bad-for-you equipment in the gym, according to Brooks.
"Let's say you're doing a bench press," he says. "If someone extends their arms in front of them, one may be longer than the other. The machine doesn't account for this. So you overwork and strengthen a pre-existing dysfunction."
The fixed path of the weight "forces the joint to move in a way that it may not want to move," says Brooks. This can lead to injury in the major muscles, or it may lead to weakness in the tiny muscles that protect you when you're doing movements in the real world—like bending over to pick up a box or running in a crowded park.
What to do instead: Almost all the exercises you can do on the Smith machine (squats, bench press, overhead press) are better with barbells or dumbbells. But the machine's not without merit: Use the fixed bar at lower positions to perform inverted rows or as your support for incline pushups. (See also: The Bent-Over Row Is Way More Than Just a Back Exercise)
Wall Squats with a Swiss Ball
When you perform a squat with a Swiss ball pressed between your back and the wall, you're cheating yourself… and your butt. (Related: 8 Total-Body Stability Ball Exercises That Go Beyond Basic Crunches)
"It takes the glutes completely out of the squat," says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. And like many of the moves on this list (and equipment such as the hip abduction machine), it's unnatural. "You're relying on the ball. If I take it away, you'll probably fall down."
What to do instead: Get the total-body toning effect of the squat—your quads, hamstrings, core, calves, and butt—with a goblet squat. Cup a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest, with your elbows close together. Push your hips back and bend your knees to squat, keeping the weight of your body on your heels. Press back through your heels to the starting position, and repeat. (Related: Why Your Glute Workouts Aren't Working)
Kickbacks and Overhead Extensions
While not the worst moves you could do at the gym, kickbacks and overhead extensions don’t work your triceps all that hard. Plus, they can easily go awry and wreck your elbows and shoulders, thus earning them a spot alongside hip abductions and the Smith machine on this list.
"You should never do 'arms' exercises," says Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts. Besides the injury risk, "You'll hit those muscles so much harder doing complex exercises [think: push-ups, overhead presses] anyway."
What to do instead: For your triceps, Frisch suggests the close-grip bench press and incline pushups. For both moves, though, your form is important: "You shouldn't feel it in your shoulders," he says. "Ninety-nine percent of people do these exercises wrong. They stop halfway down. Your elbows should almost be touching your sides," and you should lower your chest all the way to the step (or the bar all the way to your chest). If you can't, raise the step for your pushups or lower the weight on the bar. (See also: Which Is Better for Building Strength? Wide-Grip Bench Press vs. Close-Grip Bench Press)
Seated Torso Rotation
The seated torso rotation will tone your abs through rotation, "but at the price of beating up on your spine," says Tumminello. "When you rotate your spine, your hips are designed to rotate as well."
What to do instead: Get the core-sculpting benefits of rotation without risking your back with standing cable chops. Stand to the right of the high pulley of a cable machine and grab the handle with straight arms over your left shoulder. Keeping your arms straight, pull the handle down and across your body to your right hip, twisting at the core and the hips. Return to start and repeat. Finish your reps, and repeat on the other side.
Leg Extension Machine
The leg extension machine ties an unnatural movement with a dangerous weight placement (similar to the hip abduction machine), says Brooks.
"Because the load is on one end [instead of centered], there's tremendous strain on the knee," he says. "And most times, people aren't sitting in the chair properly. They're trying to generate more force by moving their pelvis."
What to do instead: Functional movements. Even without weights, exercises like lunges and squats (when done correctly, of course) will train your thighs better while sculpting your butt and challenging your core.