Weight lifting is a great way to add oomph to your fitness regimen, but not all machines are created equal. We found three weight lifting machines that have the potential to do more harm than good—and we hunted down the workout swaps that will keep you safe and make you svelte.
Weight lifting machine: Seated Leg Extension Machine
How it works: Sitting in the chair-like contraption, you hook your ankles under a weighted bar and then use your quadriceps muscles to straighten your legs.
Expert take: “Research has shown that seated leg extensions can actually place a significant amount of stress on the knees,” says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “The resistance is placed near your ankles, which leads to higher amounts of shear force at the knee joint.”
The safe swap: Squats and lunges
These exercises not only protect your knees (studies have found that individuals who perform squats long-term have stronger knee ligaments), but they also translate directly to everyday activities. "Think climbing the stairs or bending down to pick up a heavy object,” Matthews says.
The Offender: Seated Rotation Machine
“It’s designed to challenge the abdominal muscles, but the move can excessively twist the spine,” Matthews says.
The Safe Swap: Woodchops
This core-strengthening move can be done in the gym using a cable machine, or at home using a medicine ball. With a medicine ball, stand with feet hip width apart, holding the ball in both hands. Step the left foot forward. Bring the medicine ball to the left, high above your shoulder and behind you to begin. Slowly bring the ball down and across your body toward the right hip, keeping your shoulders, hips, and neck still and facing forward. Repeat on the other side.
The Offender: Lat Pull-Down Machine
This machine can be used for good, but not when pull-downs are done behind-the-neck. “Behind-the-neck pull-downs can increase your risk for shoulder impingement syndrome (also known as rotator cuff tendinitis) as well as stress and possibly even damage the discs of the cervical spine due to the forward positioning of the head,” Matthews says.
The Safe Swap: Forward Lat Pull-Down
Safe use of this machine requires a simple change. Just pull the bar in front of your face and down to your collarbone instead of behind your neck.