Many people access local gyms due to the convenience of having large amounts of fitness equipment in one building. Most gyms contain numerous fitness weight machines that make working out easier and (hopefully) less complicated. The downside of weight machines are they rarely are as functional as the engineers set out to make them. In addition, many machines create undue stress or potential for injury throughout your body. Here are a few machines to avoid to maintain your back health.
1. Prone Hamstring Curl Machine
The hamstring curl machine is a common staple in most gyms. This machine comes in two main types which affects how the client is positioned, either sitting upright or stomach down (prone).
The problem arises if you have only access to the prone machine- by laying on your stomach and curling your heels to your buttocks, you are creating significant stress on your back. Avoid this at all times especially if you have a history of back dysfunction.
Stick with the hamstring machine where you are able to sit up- this is much safer on your spine and can still target the hamstring effectively.
2. Leg Press Machine
The leg press machine is a great work out for hips and knees with the ability to add increased load to your squat form.
There are a few different types of leg press machines that are common these days: upright and horizontal. These two types can be separated into two mechanisms- either the plate your feet is on moves up and down (horizontal) or the plate your feet is on stays static and your body moves up and down (upright).
Avoid the horizontal leg press- this machine forces your hips into excessive flexion which increases the relative bend of your spine. This added spinal flexion with the added load through the machine can create excessive loads through your back. Be sure to find a gym that has an upright leg press- it mimics your squat form and is less stressful on your back
3. Abdominal Cruncher
The Abdominal crunch machine is considered a “fundamental” core exercise machine- at least many people think it is. Do not waste your time with this.
The exercise actually does not work on your core but instead works on the large superficial muscles in the front of your stomach. The larger, superficial muscles (think six back abs) are the power movers and can only work effectively if your core is strong.
Core muscles are small and deep- these muscles are your postural muscles and are always firing to provide a good base of support for the larger spine muscles to work effectively/efficiently. Core muscles respond to small, coordinated movements. The repetitive motion of the ab cruncher targets the larger muscles which creates excessive force through your spine- this should be avoid.
If your wondering what core exercises are ideal for your spine, ask your physical therapist!