The growing popularity of functional fitness has seen the fall in use of fixed path resistance machines, but used smartly they can help seasoned gym-goers target hard-to-hit muscle and break through plateaus.
“Resistance machines still constitute the backbone of a well-equipped training facility, whether for fitness, health or performance,” says Silvano Zanuso, scientific research manager at Technogym.
“Machines guarantee the right balance between safety and efficacy. When neuromuscular coordination isn’t the primary focus, and strength improvement is, resistance machines allow experienced athletes to target a specific muscle or muscle group.”
Here Sean Murphy, global personal training director at Ultimate Performance, breaks down the most effective resistance machine exercises for every body part…
Body part: Quads
Best machine moves: Hack Squat, Leg Press or Leg Extension
For the hack squat and leg press, always choose a position on the foot plate that allows the maximum degree of knee flexion, without your heels lifting or your lower back tucking under.
This can be complemented by a leg extension, allowing you to overload the muscle in its shortened range, which is typically harder with lower body pressing exercises.
Body part: Hamstrings
Best machine moves: Incline Hip Extension or Seated Hamstring Curl
All deadlift variations provide the most bang-for-buck for your hamstrings, but can require a high degree of skill and coordination.
Instead, an incline hip extension targets the same musculature but generally requires less skill, and a seated hamstring curl ensures the hamstrings are worked through their entire range.
Body part: Lats
Best machine moves: Neutral-Grip Pulldown or Single-Arm Cable Row
For best results on the pulldown, choose an attachment that matches your shoulder width. For some, your anatomy may not allow you to fully shorten this muscle.
In this case, a single-arm cable row or pulldown – where the path of motion better aligns with the target muscle through its entire range of motion – can work better.
Body part: Upper back
Best machine move: Neutral-Grip Row
A neutral grip row or pulldown will target all of the major upper back muscles.
Abducting the elbows away from the body (around 45-60 degrees) will shift the focus to the trapezius, rhomboids and posterior deltoids.
Body part: Chest
Best machine move: Chest Press
Any kind of press will be effective at targeting both the pec major and minor muscle.
Choosing a machine with a higher incline will favour the fibres of the upper chest more than a flat press, and vice versa.
But the overriding factor will always be which machine you find most comfortable and allows you to lift the most load.
Body part: Shoulders
Best machine moves: Cable Lateral Raise or Seated Cable Row using a wide lat pulldown bar
Any form of pressing movement will target the anterior deltoids, but if bigger shoulders are the goal, focusing on the medial delts creates more visual width and gives an impression of a bigger ‘V’ taper.
Any movement that abducts the arm away from the body will target the medial delt, so any form of lateral raise with the cables will work.
Body part: Biceps
Best machine moves: Cable Biceps Curl
The primary function of the biceps is to flex the elbow joint. Any movement, whether with an EZ bar or a cable machine, will help you to achieve it. The main pitfall comes when allowing other joints to move.
To prevent that, keep your chest up and shoulder blades pinched together, focusing only on opening and closing the elbow joint.
Body part: Triceps
Best machine moves: Rope Pushdown or Chest-Supported Cable Triceps Extension
Lying prone on a bench set to 70-90 degrees means you don’t need to worry about stabilising yourself.
Using two ropes means that you can focus on simply flexing and extending your elbow to directly target the triceps.
Words: Sam Rider