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Training Tips

Effective Alternatives to Your Favorite Gym Machines

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Effective Alternatives to Your Favorite Gym Machines

Reading Time: 4 minutes 36 seconds

Not all clients have the luxury to be in the gym every day. Nor do all clients have access to gym equipment all the time. This is a workout obstacle many clients face. As a personal trainer, you will encounter clients who are unable to train with you as often as they should, whether it be due to access, finances, availability, and more. 

So, what do you do if your clients can’t meet you at the gym for a workout? Get creative with their workout. One such option is to prescribe alternatives to their favorite gym machines. 

Popular Gym Machines and Alternatives

A home gym is something many clients consider and is becoming more popular. This is a great option for clients who cannot make it to the gym as often as they should. Or for clients who can make it to the gym but train at a busy time, some machines might be taken and access to them is limited. It’s during these times that alternative exercises to gym machines are beneficial for clients. 

Leg Extension

A popular exercise machine for strengthening the quadriceps is the leg extension. The quads consist of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. It is considered one of the biggest muscles in the body and responsible for knee extension. This is important for all activities of daily living including squatting and maintaining posture.

Alternative exercises for the leg extension vary from bodyweight leg extensions to squats and lunges. When clients need an alternative to the leg extension consider a squat, lunge, or step-up movement. The specific variation you prescribe will depend on their fitness level and capabilities. 

Novice clients should start off with bodyweight squats and lunges. These exercises target the entire quadriceps muscle. Advanced clients might need to add load with dumbbells or barbells. They can also implement a weighted dumbbell step up as an alternative to the leg extension. 

Leg Curl

The leg curl machine targets the hamstring muscle group. This muscle group consists of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. It helps bend or flex the knee and extends the hip. Anytime clients bend at the hips or knees the hamstrings are involved.

Don’t have access to the leg curl machine? Instead, clients might have access to a swiss ball, dumbbell, or kettlebell. In this case, clients can perform a swiss ball leg curl, dumbbell lying leg curl, or kettlebell swing. 

Leg Press

Leg presses are an effective leg strengthening exercise. To perform the leg, press clients repeatedly push their legs against a resisted platform. This exercise targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Novice lifters can choose to use a resistance band and mimic the leg press motion in a supine or seated position. For advanced clients, consider offering squat alternatives with load to mimic the leg press. This includes split squats and lunges to target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 

Lat Pulldown

The pulldown exercise recruits different muscles throughout the entire back. The most important muscle used in this exercise is the latissimus dorsi or the lats. Lat pulldown machines use cable pulleys for resistance.

If the lat pulldown is an unavailable option for clients, alternative exercises are any that target the back. These include dumbbell rows, bent-over barbell rows, and dumbbell pullovers. Since the lat pulldown targets mainly the lats, pullovers are one of the better options for clients to receive the same effects.

Chest Press Machine

The chest press machine is responsible for targeting mainly the chest and the shoulders. This pushing motion is simple to mimic through alternatives when clients lack access to equipment.

Pressing movements can be simplified by lying flat on a bench using dumbbells or barbells for a chest press. Hammer strength chest press machines are also a great alternative to a standard chest press machine. Novice clients should consider starting with push-ups rather than exercises that require stabilizer muscles. 

Shoulder Press Machine

The shoulder press machine is also a pressing or pushing movement pattern. For shoulder pressing the body remains in a vertical position when pressing. Alternatives to the shoulder press machine include lateral arm abduction.

Alternatives that mimic the shoulder press machine are dumbbell shoulder presses and military presses. Clients can also perform lateral raises or front raises. These will target each part of the deltoid including the front, lateral and posterior portion. 

Cardio Machine Alternatives

Cardio equipment is also popular among gym machines that clients use often. The stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, and rowers are just a few. These are forms of cardio exercise and can be replaced with alternatives inside and outside the gym.

All cardio machines target the same muscle groups and have the same goal. Metabolic conditioning can be accomplished in different ways. The way in which a client completes cardio is based on their goals along with their workout environment. 

Workout alternatives to cardio machines can be as simple as running. Squat jumps also induce metabolic conditioning. Any body movement that increases heart rate is a good alternative to cardio exercise machines. Jumping rope is a great cardiovascular exercise for clients to do at home or even when traveling in place of the bike, treadmill, and elliptical. 

If a client needs low-impact alternatives, consider walking or biking at home. Low=impact jumping jacks, skiers, lateral shuffles, and reverse lunge kicks are effective in increasing the heart rate without impact. You can even try high intensity low impact training

Benefits of Gym Machine Alternatives

There are many benefits to using gym machine alternatives. Some clients might look down upon receiving alternatives to their original program. However, this could be a positive adjustment. Machines isolate only one muscle group at a time. 

If a client needs to perform an alternative exercise and they use free weights instead, they will use more than one muscle group. Using more than one muscle group at a time leads to higher fat burn. This is a result of more muscle stimulation and growth. This helps clients achieve optimal results in a shorter time. Check out these pros and cons of using free weights and machines

Clients who veer away from using gym machines—whether it be purposefully or because they don’t have access to the machine—may notice greater improvements in mobility and functionality. This is because machines provide a fixed motion. During free weight exercises, the body is able to move freely in different directions and larger range of motions. These are usually more similar to a client’s day to day movement.


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