The 12 best machines in the gym

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Machines are a valuable addition to free weights such as barbells and dumbbells. They are especially important for muscle growth (hypertrophy) oriented athletes.

Of course, devices have their limitations. In this way they in fact determine the path of movement for you and you do not have to stabilize the weights. But that has the advantage that you can fully concentrate on the target muscle and perform the exercise more heavily than with free weights. In fact, devices more or less force you to a very strict output.

For long-term muscle growth, it is therefore best to choose a combination of machines and free weights, scientific research also suggests.

What follows are our twelve favorite pieces of equipment in the gym. Note that we have selected devices for both compound and isolation exercises. We have left out the cable station. Strictly speaking, this is also a piece of equipment, but cables, like free weights, provide you with a free range of motion.


Yes, you can grow huge legs without doing a single squat, proves bodybuilders like Dorian Yates. While the conventional squat is a one-two punch between hips and thighs, the leg press puts much more of the focus on your quadriceps. If your lower back starts to give up during the squat, or you are unsteady on your legs, you can squeeze out a few more reps with the leg press. The leg press is also a great device for applying the rest-pause method. Plus you can use the device to train your calves!


Which is better: the chest press machine or the classic bench press? That’s hard to say. Both are excellent exercises for chest, shoulders and triceps.

But for beginners, the machine press offers some specific advantages. For example, the exercise requires much less technical ingenuity in the execution, making it easier to make the so-called mind-muscle connection and you can get used to the high weights. In addition, a machine is a lot safer than the barbell version, which you should do with a spotter. With the chest press machine, make sure that your elbows and wrists remain in line. If you don’t, you will feel this in your shoulders in a way that is not right.

Although both exercises target three muscle groups, there is a difference: with the barbell bench press you also train many more stabilizing muscles. That can be a reason to choose this variant as an advanced player. The advantage of the machine press is that you can perform it slightly heavier. Fortunately, you can safely include both in your schedule.


Horizontal and vertical pulls are the foundation of your back training. You therefore have at least one rowing exercise in your schedule. The barbell row is a classic that you see relatively little performed today. The disadvantage of the barbell bar is that it puts a lot of strain on your stabilizing muscles, including your lower back. Many bodybuilders therefore prefer a chest-supported version. We have both variants, with equipment and with free weights, in our schedule.


The triceps dip is also an exercise that we usually see performed with a machine. One of the advantages of the dip machine is that you don’t have to worry about the balance: the upright bench ensures that you have perfect shape throughout the set. And because the machine is pin-loaded, you can easily apply intensity techniques such as drop sets, while the bench dip uses only your body weight.


The hamstrings already get a lot of use with the deadlift and variants, and to a lesser extent with lunges. But for a full workout, you also need isolation exercises, ideally using machines. We are talking about leg curls, which you can do both sitting and lying down.


It’s one of the most difficult muscle groups to isolate: your latissimus dorsi (‘lats’) muscle. In compound exercises like pull-ups and pull-downs, your arms help, and many people have trouble doing straight-arm pull-downs correctly, making the exercise less effective. If you’ve never really felt your lats work before, the pullover machine (aka Nautilus pullover machine) is sure to change that!


Triceps stretches on a machine – isn’t that superfluous? No definitely not. Because it allows you to perform this isolation exercise even more strictly! When doing triceps stretches with a bar or rope, for example, your elbows always move slightly, indicating some help from the shoulders. That is practically impossible with this device, so your triceps have to do all the work. Can you feel them burning yet?


Also for the preacher curl, the machine variant is in fact more effective than the one with free weights. The machine provides more resistance at both the bottom and the top of the movement. As a result, you keep constant tension on your biceps and so they don’t get an opportunity to almost rest at the end of the movement.

With some devices, you can move the position of the gear, which allows you to put extra stress on the bottom, middle or top of the movement if desired.


Of course you can do dumbbell flyes or cable flyes. But the pec deck allows you to insulate your chest really well. That’s especially true for the pec deck where you press the padding with your elbows instead of using your hands, leaving it purely your pectoral muscles doing the work. Tip: keep your elbows together for as long as possible on the last repetition and train your chest muscles isometrically. Bet you still feel them the day after tomorrow?

Pec deck machines with handles also usually lend themselves to reverse flyes, an effective exercise for the back of your shoulders (rear delts). The advantage compared to the rear delt raise with dumbbells is that the tension is already great at the beginning of the movement (although you can solve this with the dumbbell variants by starting with your arms slightly away from your body). Another advantage is that you can’t cheat by swinging your arms, as you might be tempted to do with dumbbells when the weight gets too heavy.


As long as you don’t perform the exercise too heavy and you don’t really hollow your lower back, we have nothing against the shoulder press machine as an alternative to shoulder presses with a barbell or dumbbell. Because you press above the head, this is a difficult exercise for many people, which requires a lot of balance. That’s fine in itself, of course, but not if you want to focus one hundred percent on your shoulders, like a bodybuilder.

Often a shoulder press machine has a neutral grip to relieve your shoulders, which is useful for people with shoulder complaints.


Back extensions are aimed at stretching the back and aligning the upper body with the lower body. You train your lower back and core, and to a lesser extent your hamstrings.


The Smith machine is often laughed at. And that is wrong. Because the Smith machine has various applications, especially for the bodybuilder.

Personally, we find single-arm rows a wonderful exercise on this machine, which we also like to use for shoulder presses. A true quads killer is the smith machine lunge. Make sure your knees don’t extend beyond your toes. Finally, the hack squat is a squat variation that you can safely perform with the Smith machine. Just make sure your ‘Smith’ is anchored in the ground or weighted enough, otherwise you might push it out of place!

The Smith machine is less suitable, because less safe for the bench press, deadlift, upright row, biceps curl and triceps extension.

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