The One Thing You Should Never Do At The Gym
The worst machine in the gym
It’s interesting what money will make people do. I envision some inventor for a fitness equipment company sitting at his desk one day when his wife walks in to tell him what a nightmare her pap smear was. Then he starts thinking, “Hey, people go to the gym to torture themselves…”
And the hip adduction machine was born.
But that is not the worst machine in the gym; it’s merely useless. In fact, there are plenty of useless machines in the gym. There are others that are half decent. Before I go on my rant, I will say that I have occasion to use some of the basic machines.
I always start off with free weights. But you reach a point after several sets when you’re feeling pretty done for. The gas tank is low but not empty. Any further free weights are unthinkable, but you can pound out a couple more reps on a machine to finish things off and really earn that beer. I do that sometimes. See, you can use machines and not be a bad person.
But there is one machine that deserves to be soaked in napalm and hurled into an active volcano. This machine masquerades as being useful while is pretty useless.
What’s more, it will mess you up.
It is the 45-degree leg press, and you should never, ever use it again. Here is why:
Many people Use this machine instead of Doing squats
Guys — big guys, even — love this machine.
They shouldn’t. We all know of guys who only ever work their upper body “bar muscles” and strut about on chicken legs because they hate doing legs. Hell, I used to hate doing legs, but I forced myself to anyway. Eventually, I learned to love it.
You must fall in love with the squat. It is a damn challenging exercise to get right. It demands perfect form. It takes everything out of you.
And yet it gives so much. When you master the squat and make it part of your regular routine, taking pride in your ability to do it well, you, too, will find the love.
Guys who hate squats but still want to do legs think they’re doing fine with the leg press, but they’re not. This is because…
It’s not a functional movement
Think of what you do with a squat. That is a functional movement. Now try to imagine something in real life when your entire back is anchored and you need to push hard with your legs.
I’m coming up empty.
But don’t just take my word for it. Dr. Stuart McGill is a professor of spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo. He literally wrote the book on low back disorders, appropriately called Low Back Disorders.
I’ve interviewed Dr. McGill for my L.A. Times column before. In the aforementioned book, McGill said of the leg pres, “We still consider this a non-functional motor/motion pattern.”
In other words, you can stack a whole bunch of plates on that sucker to make yourself look cool, but you’re still accomplishing the square root of bugger all in terms of functional strength gains.
You will wreck yourself
I have experience with this. I didn’t do it on this machine — my low back tales of woe are long and boring — but know that I have two bulging discs in my lower lumbar and I wouldn’t wish them on Nickelback. Well, maybe them, but no one else.
This machine will destroy your low back. Believe it.
McGill explains in his book that this machine can put your lower lumbar discs in serious jeopardy of a posterior bulge. See, when you are in this machine, you are bent at the waist at a 45-degree angle to start with. This creates an anterior (front) pinch of the lumbar vertebrae and an opening of the posterior vertebrae. Between those vertebrae are those gooey disc things. Trust me that you don’t ever want anything bad to happen to those disc things. It will make your life hell.
Then add a crapload of downward force from the weight on the machine in the worst direction possible. Not only that, but as your legs come toward your chest, the angle increases and the opening of the vertebrae at the back increases as well.
It won’t happen all at once; it’s cumulative. Repeated uses just make it so that one day your low back is killing you and you don’t know why. Just because you can use it without a problem now doesn’t mean it won’t make you hate life in the future.
So ditch it.
If you really can’t do squats, try the hack squat instead, but focus on not letting your low back round outwards.