The goal of this mini-series was not to convert everyone into full-on machine snobs. Instead, my goal was to help you guys increase the size of your bodybuilding toolbox. In my own personal excel training sheet, you will find that barbells and dumbbells are used heavily. You will also see a lot of non-free weight movement, all of which have their pros and cons. With the right blend, they complement each other’s limitations. To close out this series, I wanted to share with you guys my personal top 10 (yes I made a tacky top 10 list) favorite machines of all time. Unfortunately, I don’t always have access to a few of these. Needless to say, when I do… I rush to these pieces and enjoy myself a little test drive. It’s the exact same enthusiasm you have when you are over at a friend’s house as a kid and they have a video game that you don’t have at home. Who knows… you may notice that you have a few of these at your local gym that you walk by every single day on your way to the squat rack.
10) Cybex Squat Press
My personal PR on this piece is 7 Plates (per side) for a masochistic 41 reps. No…this is not useful information. But I am just as proud of that PR as any squat PR. I attribute so much of my leg development to this wonderful contraption. I was lucky enough to use one regularly as a young teenage lifter. A leg press on an axis, instead of a sled, makes for a much smoother strength curve. Because of this, it accommodates folks with different strokes. You will find it much easier to keep a more neutral lower back (butt winks happen on leg presses too) while going through a full range of motion. For what it’s worth, it also happens to be Bryce Lewis’ (2017 IPF Silver Medalist in the 105kg class) favorite leg press model. Bret Contreras also owns one of these as well, so there you have it folks. In all seriousness, this is a great piece of equipment. You will most likely find me naming quite a few Cybex Models in this article as their machines are almost always sound.
9) Lat Pulldown Machine
Almost any model will do here. I didn’t open up this list with the pulldown because most of you would have stopped reading right then and there. I love pull-up variations, but many will have a hard time racking up enough volume to maximally stimulate hypertrophy. Not to mention, the ability to TRULY lead with your back muscles is a skill. Most people are just not skilled/strong enough to do this with their own body weight. Keep doing your pull-ups as they are a great upper body movement but, perhaps reconsider reacquainting yourself with an old friend. I made a pulldown appreciation video a few months back which goes over how to get the most out of your pulldowns.
8) Icarian Leg Hack Squat
Back in the mid 2000’s, I used to travel out of my way once a week to get access to this wonderful little piece. A few years later, I found out that Jeff Alberts used to train at that same gym in his pre-home gym days and was a fan of this particular piece as well. Hack squats can be rather uncomfortable for skilled barbell squatters because so many segments don’t coil and uncoil the way you may be used to. The design is a one-size fits most which is often an issue with hack squats. You can load quite a bit of weight on this piece relative to many other hack squat machines. Because of this, progression is quite practical. The I-Care-ian (pronounce it correctly newbs!) hack squat cares about your quad gains without putting your knees, hips, and ankles through too much stress. A slightly wider stance is encouraged, as well as placing feet a bit higher on the platform.
7) Hammer Strength Shoulder Press
Be prepared to see the Hammer Strength line show up a few times in this series as well. They are, in fact, the masters of brilliantly constructed plate-loaded machines that last forever. Many of these machines are probably older than the people reading this article. When something does break, they are often easy fixes. I have always been a fan of shoulder press machines in place of barbell pressing. Why? Well…for a few reasons. The biggest one is that your head is not in the way of the actual press. Thus, you are able to stimulate certain heads of your delts a bit more. Sure dumbbells work, but sometimes I feel like I lose a rep getting them into place. What makes the HSSP unique is the bench’s 45-degree angle. This angle will also make it a bit easier for most to avoid going into lumbar extension, turning this into an incline press. Also, the handles are angled in a manner that keep the shoulder a bit more packed, which is an overall safer position to press from. Very few people love pressing overhead, and if you are one of those people, this might not be a bad option for you.
6) Hammer Strength DY Row
Surely the people at Hammer Strength named this piece after Dorian Yates, who absolutely loved his underhand rows. With an underhand grip, you will find that your biceps are in a better line of pull. This factor itself might make some people shy away from this sort of machine. I counter that with the notion that most bodybuilders find it easier to control their shoulder girdle (this includes scapulae) in an underhand position. After the HS High Row, this is my favorite chest supported row machine and worth giving some love if you have access to one.
That concludes the first half of this “If I Had My Own Gym” series. I must admit, I ventured onto Craigslist a few times in the midst of thinking up this list. Until next time…“I’ll be back” with another five machines that I feel are worth considering.