There. I said it. I stand by it.
Bodyweight Exercises Aren’t for Everyone.
Let me explain.
I remember during one of my classes, a professor mentioned that people who have higher body fat percentages may not be able to do bodyweight exercises until they lower their BF% due to the stress on the joints. They may be able to do them but shouldn’t.
Yet, all of these bro-science gym people and social media influencers advertise body weight exercises are the best thing since the chicken-broccoli-rice combo and everyone should do them.
Surprise Surprise. They’re wrong.
My BF% is currently a little higher than where I want it, not gonna lie. But, even when it was exactly where it should be, I despised bodyweight exercises. They are not good for my back or knees.
In my private transport days, my partner and I were extra manpower for another truck. This patient had chronic broken bones in their lower extremities purely because of their body weight. Try telling that person to do bodyweight exercises. They would do so much more harm to their body than good!
So what are some alternatives?
Machines are your friends. Seriously. Go to the gym and use the machines. Not every single solitary machine, but the top 4 I would generally recommend are:
- Leg Press
- Seated Chest Press
- Lat Pull-down
- Seated Row
Keep in mind, these are general recommendations. For example, if your shoulder range of motion is not great, Lat pull-downs are not for you right now.
I love squats, but they’re not for everybody. Leg presses are a great alternative or even a way to change things up. There are a couple different leg press set-ups:
– Seated, pushing up: these are the machines you see on a lot of “gym fail” videos. Personally I don’t like these partially because they are so low on the ground that getting up and down on them is challenging and partially because the angle is so odd and rough on my back.
– Seated, pushing out: these are usually in the area of machines where the plates are stacked, there’s a pin you move to adjust the weight. These aren’t on floor, so they’re easier getting on and off – you literally just sit down.
– Hip Sled: the above two options have you pushing the plate/platform away from you. With hip sleds, you are supine and pushing against a platform, but instead of the platform moving, the part you’re laying on moves away from the platform. You’re moving not only the weight you have picked with the pin, you’re moving your bodyweight too.
– Supine, pushing out: this machine is a mix of the above in that you’re pushing the foot platform away from you, but it’s also lifting your body up. This is my favorite leg press machine which I only “discovered” when my rec center got one a couple years ago. It’s not on the floor so easy to get on and off, your torso moves with your legs making the position more comfortable, and it’s easy to maintain the right form.
Seated Chest Press
You know the power lifters and high school athletes – former and current – love their benches and chest presses. So, so many of them (the jocks) do NOT have correct form, but for some reason unbeknownst to this woman, the males use it for bragging rights or something like that.
However. Chest Press Machines, when the seat is adjusted to the proper height for you, are just as good as the old bench. There are benefits to the chest press – besides bragging rights.
There are usually two types of Lat Pull-down machines:
1) Cables: cable machines have many, many attachments. When it comes to lat pull-downs, you have multiple options for wide grip lat pull-downs and close grip lat pull-downs. The thing to remember with cable machines is that if it’s dual-cable, that is, there are 2 cables being used to move the weight, you have to use both those cables to move the weight you want. If you use one cable, you’re moving half the weight.
2) Fixed position: similar to the chest press machine, you want to make sure the seats are all adjusted properly. With a fixed machine, you don’t have different attachments to use – close grip, wide grip, really wide grip, etc. – but you do usually have two different grip options. Palms down or palms facing each other are the most common two grip options.
Seated rows machines are often found with the Lat pull-down if they’re not the same machine. Everything I said above about the lat pull-down applies here as far as there being two usual types (cable and fixed), multiple grip options for cable with usually two grip options for fixed.
The biggest difference between the two is your lat pull-down is focusing on the Lats (focusing, not isolating) with a specific movement, not a lot of room for variety in the movement. With seated rows, the movement can be high or low depending on the seat position, the height of the cable attachment, and the angle you pull.
So those are my top four machines I recommend in general. I like to do press/pull days, so I would do the leg press and chest press on the same day and the lat pull-down and seated row on a second day. Also, all of these, if done right, can strengthen your core, especially the cable machines. They don’t help strengthen and stabilize as much as free weight exercises, but core days don’t have to be spent on a mat on the floor!
The next step in the progression would be to move to free weights. If you’re still experiencing joint pain, dumbbells are going to be your friend with benches for support.
But that’s a whole different post.