Master these Machines to Maximize your Muscle!
I have been in this game a very, very long time as a competitive bodybuilder, trainer, coach, writer, author, consultant, gym owner and of course fan – and I will be the first one to tell you that FREE WEIGHTS should be the cornerstone of any program designed to maximize muscle size, strength and power. However, it is important to understand that machines/cables also have their place, and certainly should be taken advantage of for their unique ability to better isolate target muscle, decrease the need for balance/stabilization, and also to create a more constant tension through the entire range of motion. Here are some that have been vital in my own journey from 125 lbs. “pipsqueak” to 225 lbs. natural pro bodybuilder.
The Smith Machine:
This is definitely one of my favorites and I will use it for everything from presses to squats to lunges to deadlifts and rows. I love the control this machine allows for, especially with basic movements and heavy weights. Without a doubt this might be the most versatile machine every invented.
The Leg Press:
While the standard BB Back Squat is considered by most to be the “king” of all quad exercises I never truly found a groove with it and thus had to find other ways of beefing up my thighs for competition. In this respect the Leg Press became my go-to exercise and is certainly responsible for most of my lower body mass. Since day one I avoided those silly ½ reps and always used a full range of motion, burying my quads into my chest on every rep. I also make sure to switch up my foot positions on the platform quite often to focus on different areas of the complex thigh muscles.
The Hack Squat:
As I mentioned, my body never responded well to the basic Back Squat - and while the Leg Press fulfilled much of my lower half mass-gaining needs, I knew that I needed some form of squats to manifest complete thigh development. For this the Hack Squat works just perfectly. I find that I can really focus on my quads while performing this movement without worrying about tweaking my lower back (which has been an issue for me), even with weights approaching 500 lbs. Like the Leg Press, I also enjoy altering foot positions, which hit my quads from a variety of angles.
The T-Bar Row:
I think 8-time Mr. Olympia did the most to popularize the “corner T-Bar Row” done with a basic Olympic bar and V-handle, but I prefer machines that are created specifically for this movement. The T-Bar Row is a great substitution for basic BB Rows on occasion, as it removes some of the need for torso stabilization/balance, allowing one to better focus on the back musculature. Most of these machines are set up for both a narrow, parallel grip, and a pronated WG as well. Each will focus on different muscles in the back.
The Seated Side Lateral Machine:
I do not believe one could ever build delts that are too wide! And there is little doubt that Side Laterals are best for creating that coveted “cannonball” shape since they preferentially fire off the fibers in the medial deltoid head. However, if you find that after years of using DB’s for this movement you have not adequately filled out your XXL tee shirts, then I urge you to put some quality time into the Seated Side Lateral Machine. This exercise places the stress squarely on the lateral delts, and allows for constant tension from the beginning to the end of the rep, unlike DB’s. You can go heavy for lower reps or bang out stinging sets of 20 or more to make sure every motor unit is taxed to the limit. My shoulders have improved dramatically over the last few years and I owe a lot of it to this very machine!
The Seated Flye Machine:
I love this little “contraption” for both chest and rear delts building, once again for the control, isolation and constant tension it provides throughout the entire rang of motion. A great stimulus for muscle growth occurs when both stretch and contraction portions of an exercise can be maximized on every rep, and this machine does this beautifully!
When it comes to smashing my chest I prefer basic “free” Dips with just my bodyweight or with plates attached around my waist. However, I love the Dips Machine when I want to hit my triceps hard and heavy with a compound movement. For these I will face away from the back pad and sit on the edge of the seat so my torso is forward and shoulders are back behind me. I find these hit the tris more intensely than dips between benches.