5 Useless Gym Exercise Machines & What to Do Instead (PHOTOS)

Photo of woman using outer thigh machine

Every gym has them. Useless exercise machines, which promise so much ... and deliver so little. Gym goers everywhere can be found using these machines daily, thinking they're targeting their love handles, muffin top, or saddlebags. Sadly, the human body just doesn't work this way. You can do exercises for your outer thighs until you collapse, but the only thing that's going to reduce fat in that area is eating a moderate diet, strength training all the muscles in your body, and regular cardio.

Even looking past the cold, hard fact that you can't spot reduce fat, you may not even be working the muscles you think you are!

Check out this slideshow that reveals the 5 most useless gym exercise machines and what exercises you can be doing instead!

Image via Carly Pizzani

  • Hip Abduction Machine (aka 'outer thigh' machine)


    A friend of mine who sold gym memberships used to cheekily refer to the abduction and adduction machines as the "yes/no" machines. She told me they were the number one thing women asked to see on a tour of the gym. But trainers know they are among the least effective machines on the gym floor.

    The Hip Abduction Machine (aka the "outer thigh" machine) is just not functional -- you aren't going to need to push a heavy weight away with your outer thigh when sitting down. Also, because of the seated position, what's doing a lot of the work in this exercise is the piriformis, a small, deep muscle that sits right on top of your sciatic nerve. If this muscle gets overdeveloped, you could experience a lot of pain as a result. Also being strengthened and tightened is the connective tissue in your outer thigh called the Iliotibial (IT) Band. This is usually already tight in most people, and the tighter it gets, the more likely you are to experience sharp pain on the outside of your knees. 

    What to do instead: Lateral lunges or lateral step-ups are great for strengthening the muscles on the outside of your hip and thigh. Bonus: you'll be utilizing more muscles overall simply by being in a standing position.

  • Hip Adduction Machine (aka 'inner thigh' machine)


    The Hip Adduction Machine (aka the "inner thigh" machine) is another totally nonfunctional exercise. Building strength for the adductor muscles in a seated position is not going to help you for everyday life. 

    The Adductor muscles on your inner thighs are connected to your Patellofemoral ligament, and when you add weight to a seated adduction exercise like this, it's like you're training to get Patellofemoral Syndrome, which is more commonly known as Runner's Knee. If you've never experienced it, it's like a constant ache right behind your kneecap, which can become incredibly painful. 

    What to do instead: Try Sumo Squats (or Plié Squats) -- same as a regular squat, but with your feet wide and angled out slightly. 

  • Seated Abdominal Crunch Machine


    Ah, the ab machine. Used by so many in that ongoing quest for a six-pack, this machine is the last place you're going to see any washboard abs revealed. There are a couple of problems with this machine. First off, if it is not adjusted perfectly for you, then most likely your hip flexors are going to be working harder than your rectus abdominus. Second, you're putting pressure on your lumbar spine, and bulging or herniated discs are no fun for anyone.

    What to do instead: Stability ball crunches. Sit on a stability ball, then walk your feet out until your lower back is on top of the ball. With hands behind your head or crossed in front of your chest, raise and lower your upper body. 

  • Decline Bench Sit Ups


    This exercise is not the worst thing you could do at the gym. Sometimes I have clients do variations of this exercise -- when I'm targeting their hip flexors. That's right, whenever you have something holding your feet down in a sit up or crunch, your hip flexors are doing the majority of the work, NOT your abdominals!

    What to do instead: Along with stability ball crunches, a great exercise for your abdominals that you can do anywhere is the plank. Facedown on a mat, resting on your forearms and the balls of your feet, hold yourself in a straight line with abdominals tight, for as long as you can (try to work up to a minute). 

  • Seated Calf Raise Machine


    I see people using the seated calf raise machine all the time at the gym. Unless you are a body builder, this machine is pretty useless. Why? Well, to simplify the anatomy, when you look at your calf, what you see is a muscle called the gastrocnemius. When you do standing calf raises, this is the muscle doing the most work. When you are seated, the gastrocnemius cannot work for this movement, due to where the muscle originates. What is working is a smaller muscle called the soleus, which bodybuilders are trying to define by using this machine. Not a bodybuilder? Skip this machine.

    What to do instead: Standing calf raises! Doing this exercise standing ensures all the muscles of your calf are working. Tip: your calf also gets a workout when doing squats and lunges!

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