Photo: ThinkstockBy Corrie Pikul
Backward Lat Pulldowns
The instruction panel on this machine may show a seated figure pulling the bar down behind his head and neck. Ignore it. As almost all trainers will tell you, pulling behind the head requires the shoulder flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil performer. Those of us who spend our days hunched over keyboards risk injuring our stiff shoulders and tearing our rotator cuffs by following those outdated directions.
Be safe: Effectively strengthen your lats by pulling the weighted bar in front of your face and down to your collarbone, says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. Same machine, different move, better results.
The Mount Everest Treadmill Incline
You've probably heard that you can get a better workout on the treadmill by increasing the incline. True, says Rick Morris, a Colorado running coach who wrote the book Treadmill Training for Runners, but he adds that many people attempt to sprint up steeper hills on the treadmill than they would consider tackling outdoors. Pitching the incline too steep for your fitness level can put excess stress on your back, hips and ankles as you lean far forward. Morris says if you typically run 3 to 10 miles three or more times per week, you should stay below 8 percent; new runners or those who train on flat terrain should stick to a 5 percent incline, max.
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Be safe: This basic ladder workout from Morris' book will take you gradually up to a moderate incline. After your warm-up, run for two minutes at a 1 percent incline. Then increase the incline to 2 percent, and run for 45 seconds. For each interval, increase the incline by one percentage point and decrease the sprint by 10 seconds, so you'll run 35 seconds at a 3 percent incline, 25 seconds at 4 percent and 15 seconds at 5 percent. That's the top; now work your way back down to 1 percent. Jog one minute and repeat.
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The Seated Torso Rotation Over-Twist
This machine is designed to shape the obliques and eliminate love handles, making it popular with gym-goers looking to whittle their waists. However, it requires you to lift a stack of weights by twisting only your upper body and keeping your pelvis facing forward (try it in your chair; awkward, isn't it?). Isolating the back in this way puts an excessive amount of rotational force on the spine. Over time, it can result in a disk-related injury, says Matthews. Some devotees of this machine have found themselves hobbling to the chiropractor with nerve damage that causes shooting pain in the legs.
Be safe: Protect your spine and work your obliques with wood chops, says Matthews. Stand facing forward with your left foot slightly in front, and hold a medicine ball at hip height with both hands. Rotate your torso to the left as you straighten your arms to bring the medicine ball up over your left shoulder. Now bring it down diagonally across your body to the outside of your right hip (you'll feel it in your core). Repeat on the opposite side with the right leg forward.
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