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Machines Remastered

Bust boredom in your workouts and get the most out of the common machines at your gym with these five unique exercises

Versatility isn't an attribute limited to switch-hitting infielders and infomercial products. (Hey, who hasn't needed their Ginsu knife to slice through nails and tin cans?) Indeed, at the gym, you can find this trait in an unexpected place - the typical machines that populate weight rooms. For instance, did you realize you could do biceps curls on two different types of back machines? Or train your legs on an assisted pull-up machine? The following are five ways you can squeeze brand new benefits out of the same old equipment, thus giving you more options to keep your workouts fresh and your muscles growing.

  1. Shrugs on a Standing Calf Raise Machine
Shrugs with a barbell or dumbbell are excellent trapezius builders, but both have one limiting flaw: the strength of your grip. Without straps, if your grip gives out before your traps, you're forced to end the set prematurely. Doing shrugs instead on a standing calf raise machine eliminates this issue. And although a calf raise machine comes with a limitation of its own - the amount of total weight on the stack - a beginner or intermediate lifter who hasn't advanced to super-heavy poundages can benefit from adding calf-raise machine shrugs to their regimen. Performing them is simple: Step into the machine, feet centered on the toe supports, body upright, back and abs taut, with your shoulders squarely under the pads. From there, shrug your shoulder caps upward as high as you can, then lower them deep and repeat. Make sure the machine is adjusted so the weight stack does not touch down at the bottom of each rep.
OPTION B: Another machine option for shrugging? If your gym has one, try using a flat-bench press machine, straddling the seat and taking a handle in each hand.
2. One-Legged Presses on an Assisted Pull-Up Machine
Outside of pull-ups and dips, the assisted pull-up machine may seem pretty limited in what you can do with it. But did you know you could also work your legs on it? By using the platform where your knees usually rest as a footplate, you can do presses one leg at a time - a handy option if a leg press isn't available or if you're just looking for an occasional twist to add to your usual leg-training regimen. To perform it, place one foot on the side support, the other in the center of the knee platform; you should also brace yourself by holding onto the rails with both hands. Then, flex the muscles of your thigh to press the platform down until your leg is straight, pause for a second and reverse, bringing your knee back up until your thigh is parallel to the floor before starting the descent into the next rep.

3. Lying Biceps Curls at a Seated Row Station
Biceps training can get tedious. After all, there's only so many ways to do a curl, and curling is the one and only viable way to work your bi's. So a lot of keeping your biceps routine invigorated is cycling in new exercises, and that's where lying curls come in. For this exercise, you lie flat on the bench of a seated row station, feet firmly on the platforms, knees partially bent, holding a short straight bar or short cambered bar attached to the cable. From this position, bend your arms, doing a curl the same as if you were standing up, keeping your elbows at your sides throughout. The benefit of the lying curl is the reduction of body english - when you stand, you can use your hips to help swing the weight up, but in a prone position, it's just your biceps versus the weight.
OPTION B: You can also do this lying on the floor in front of a lower cable pulley, which allows you to keep your legs flat and out of the way of the range of motion.
4. Overhead Curls on a Seated Pulldown Machine
Here's another biceps curling option - sit in a pulldown machine, take an underhand, shoulder-width grip on the bar overhead and keep your upper arms alongside your ears. Now, curl the bar down behind your head, hold and flex your biceps for a moment, then slowly re-extend your arms.

5. Calf Raises on a Leg Press Machine

Of the five variations outlined in this article, this one is the most common. But if you haven't tried calf raises using a leg-press machine, you're missing out on an incredible way to attack your gastrocnemius, the larger, thicker muscle on the back of your lower leg. Here's how you do it: Sit in the machine and place your feet at the bottom of the platform, your toes and balls of your feet on it, your heels off the edge. Then extend your legs to straighten your knees, release the safety latches, and start doing full calf raises. Be sure to work through a full range of motion, with complete flexion at the top of each rep and a deep stretch at the bottom. To give each calf undivided attention, this movement can be done one leg at a time.
OPTION B: Calf raises can also be done on a hack squat machine, by hanging your heels off the bottom edge.