The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (2022)

The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (1)

We’re all familiar with the “effortless abs” achieved by infomercial models.

Usually pictured crunching away on the latest trendy abdominal exercise machine, their encouraging smiles and ripped cores often have us whipping out our credit cards on the spot. Or, maybe we try to mimic them usingmachines at thegym.

Whatthese infomercials fail to tell you is that most of the machines being advertised are not only ineffective, but downright dangerous.

They put your lower back, spine, and hip flexors (the muscles connecting from the front of the thighs to the lumbar vertebrae) at risk.These machines place extreme stress on the hip flexors, while simultaneously compressing the disks of the lower back.

They also promise visible abs through continued use, while studies show thatno amount ofcrunches, sit-ups, or unnatural twists will “burn” belly fat (1).

To help save your back and help you get the abs you want, I’ve put together this list ofabdominal exercise machines that are the worst offenders, along withsome of the best exercises you can do to strengthen your abs.

7 Worst Abdominal Exercise Machines

1. Incline Sit-Ups

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Incline sit-ups are one of the most deceptive of ab machine workouts, not only because they tend tolookextremely effective (like an enhanced super-crunch), but also take quite a bit of effort, which makes many believe they’ve gotten an effective ab workout.

Unfortunately, the burn induced by incline sit-ups is concentrated in the hip flexors, and is especially taxing on their connection point to the upper legs.

Along with the potential for tearing one of these flexors, the load placed by gravity on the lower back is enough to set the stage for a back injury.

2. Seated Spinal Twist Machine

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Twisting to “engage the obliques” is a practice that has been around since the advent of ab exercises.

Ironically, the twisting motion of these moves –especially by machines such as the seated spinal twist machine –is one of the worst movements for the lumbar spine, which acts as a body stabilizer and is not designed for excessive and unnatural twisting, especially when loaded with weights.

3. Ab Glider

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The Ab Glider is reminiscent of the seated spinal twist machine, which causes the spine and discs to swivel while rocking from side-to-side.

Aside from the dangers of this unnatural twisting, most of the tension being pushed onto the hip flexors to drag to torso along (even while facing forward), while the rest is in the arms to hold on to the handles of the machine.

Not to mention the fact that in 2014, marketers of the Pro-Form Ab Glider ended up paying $3 million in civil penalties for “deceptive weight loss claims” (2).

4. Ab Roller

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The Ab Roller is another piece of equipment millions of viewers of infomercials have (regrettably) been coerced into buying.

It’s tempting to defend the theory behind the contraption, since many of us have experienced neck and upper back pain while doing crunches. The Ab Roller’s manufacturer claims the machine’shead support and arm cradle takes the pressure off those body parts.

Unfortunately the Ab Roller takes an already ineffective ab exercise (the crunch) and adds a support system that does nothing more than allow you to rock back and forth (using your arms) while putting additional strain on your hip flexors (3).

5. Sauna Belt

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A classic “fast weight loss” marketing ploy, the sauna belt promises fat loss in the abdominal area through increased perspiration.

While sweating has beneficial effects, such as increased detoxification and improved circulation, strapping on a belt that makes you sweat will not produce abdominal muscles.

Since we also know spot training is a myth, we can rule out the idea that fat will melt off one area of the body using heat. In addition, there are no scientific studies showing the sauna belt is effective.

6. Roman ChairHyperextension(Back Extensions)

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The back extension is usually performed to work the low back (which is actually the back of your abs) or the rear “love handles,” along with the hamstrings and glutes.

The problem with this exercise is usually in the way it’s performed, by slowly lowering the body down to the ground, legs locked in, then shooting up quickly to achieve a contraction in the lower back muscles.

This is a disc injury waiting to happen, as the discs are liable to slip under such a rapid movement.

There is also a lack of stability here, which is the foundation of all core strength (not to mention that no amount of crunching, reverse or otherwise, will burn away love handles).

7. Vertical/Hanging Knee Raise

The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (8)

The hanging knee raise is another exercise that not only puts extreme stress on the hip flexors, but also doesn’t even work the full range of the abdominals.

It is only slightly more effective when the pelvis is able to tip forward to aid in lifting the legs, but most of us aren’t strong enough to do this and end up causing even more strain on theirhip flexors.

Ab Exercises To Do Instead

As you can see, when it comes to exercise, the most complicated is usually theleasteffective in terms of results.

A rule of thumb regarding abdominal exercises (or any exercise, really) is to create and mimic movements that are natural to the body.

Some call these “functional” movements. The goal is to avoid contorting the body into unnatural positions while workingmuscles as they were meant to be worked: together, not in isolation.

So how do we do this?

By keeping it simple and usingmostly bodyweight exercises (there are some exceptions, like the Pallof press, below) that work our core as it was designed to work: as a stabilizer.

1. Planks

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Planks are considered one of the best ab exercises, as nearly every inch of the abdominals are being activated, along with the entire front side of the body.

In the plank position, we’re building and strengthening the deep core muscles of the transverse abdominis and the internal abdominal obliques, which wrap around our entire core and lay the foundation for our “six-pack” muscles.

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Planks are also excellent for relieving back pain (unlike most machine exercises, which are liable to cause it) by strengthening the actual core – our stabilizer muscles –which takes pressure off the lower back (4).

2. Stability Ball Push-Ups

The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (10)

Stability ball push-ups are a challenging exercise that have the benefits of a plank (activating those internal abdominal muscles that strengthen the entire core) while also working the arms and upper back.

The reasonthey areso effective is due to the unstable nature of the ball you’re pushing against, which requires the abs (especially the obliques) to work extra hard to maintain balance.

3. Stability Ball Grasshopper

The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (11)

The stability ball grasshopper packs a double punch, as the stability muscles are engaged due to your feet being on the unstable ball, the rectus abdominis (six pack) muscles are contracting, and the upper body is working isometrically.

Be sure to keep your spine straight (don’t let it sag), with your abs pulled in and contracting throughout the exercise.

4. Renegade Rows

The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (12)

The renegade row takes the benefits of the plank into a slightly more challenging variation by involving more of the upper body.

By keeping your body in a straight line in the plank position, with one hand rowing a dumbbell to your ribcage, you not only work your arms while activating the stability muscles of the core, but also work the upper back and cause the oblique stabilizers to work even harder to balance while your rowing hand is off the ground.

5. Side Planks

The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (13)

Side planks focus on the internal core and external oblique muscles, while also isometrically working the arms and outer thighs.

This causes the obliques to pull tighter around the body (what I like to call the “corset” effect), aiding in achieving a tight, streamlined waist.

6. The Pallof Press

The Pallofpress is one of the few abdominal machine exercises that is extremely effective.

(Video) Want Abs? Avoid This One Exercise

Its effectiveness is due to the resisting of spinal movement (which engages the stabilizer muscles in a similar fashion to the plank) while moving a cable weight connected to a tower in front of the body. Here our abs resist twisting as the weighted cable tries to pull the body to the side, which engages the obliques.

7. Upright Bird Dog

The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (14)

The upright bird dog also involves resisting rotation as you place your hands behind you on a stable surface (such as a bench) with your feet in front of you, as if you were preparing for tricep dips.

By then lifting one arm in front of you, along with the opposite leg, you create core engagement to maintain your balance, while also isometrically working the glutes and backside of the body.

HIIT Your Workouts for Visible Abs

While staying away from ineffective abdominal machine exercises and doing functionalcore exercises instead will strengthen and build your abs, they won’t sculpt awayexcess fat around your middle.

So if you want visible abs, you have to add in another layer of workout (along with a sensible diet, of course).

That means integrating fat-burning cardio into yourweekly routine.

Luckily, planks and plank variations create a higher metabolic output (i.e., more fat burn) than isolated machine exercises, due to the fact they use more muscles.

However, one of the best ways to reveal a shredded core is through HIIT (high intensity interval training), which involves alternating bouts of intense work with short intervals of rest. It is proven to be one of the best workouts to burn fat, even though the workouts are relatively short (5).

A sample HIIT workout would besprinting or using the elliptical with all-out intensity, alternated with periods of lower-intensity exercise, for 20-30 minutes 1-3 times per week, depending upon your level of training.

Save Your Money, Save Your Back

It’s true that simpler is often better – especially when it comes to exercise.

Following these principles of core training will save you an endless amount of time, money, and quite possibly your hip flexors and your lower back.

And it’ll allow you to finally see visible results from head-to-toe.

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The 7 Abdominal Exercise Machines You Need to Stop Using | Yuri Elkaim (15)

(Video) 6 Workout Mistakes to Avoid if You Actually Want to Burn Fat


What machines should you not use at the gym? ›

7 Most Dangerous Pieces Of Gym Equipment
  • Dave and Les Jacobs/getty images. ...
  • Pec fly machine. ...
  • Assisted pull-up machine. ...
  • ​Leg extension machine. ...
  • ​Leg press machine. ...
  • Seated bench press. ...
  • Hyperextension machine (Roman chair) ...
  • ​Ab crunch machine.
Apr 6, 2016

Why you shouldn't use exercise machines? ›

Exercise machines were invented to provide a safe alternative to free weights, but sometimes they're anything but. As a matter of fact, they can put your body into unnatural positions and take your joints through dangerous ranges of motion. Over time, this can lead to muscle strain and even serious injuries.

Is the ab crunch machine bad for you? ›

Ab Crunch Machine

Besides being awkward-looking and hard to adjust, the ab crunch machine is bad for your lumbar spine—and a waste of time, if it's a six-pack you're after. Abdominals are made in the kitchen, for the most part, by reducing body fat with a disciplined, healthy diet.

What is the most effective stomach exercise? ›

The bicycle manoeuvre, or bicycle crunches

According to the ACE study, this is the most effective ab workout.

Are abdominal machines safe? ›

AVOID: Any abdominal machine.

These machines only work your outer abs, not the deeper muscles, so you don't get even muscle tone and it can actually make your abs less flat.

Why you should never use a Smith Machine? ›

"The Smith machine offers poor results when compared to a free-weight barbell," says Majewksi. "It's an inadequate use of stabiliser muscles and gives poor muscle recruitment."

Are ab machines worth it? ›

Most abdominal machines are specifically designed to take the hip flexors out of the movement, allowing the arms, shoulders, and legs to assist instead of relying on the core for strength." So while you might be slightly strengthening some muscles, this machine probably won't make you feel stronger IRL.

Is it better to use weights or machines? ›

Free weights help develop greater power, as compared to machines. Working out with free weights is a more efficient way to hit most fitness goals, including increasing strength and muscle size, changing body composition, and weight loss.

Are weight machines a waste of time? ›

They are not time efficient

Therefore, it's best to hit as many muscle groups in as few moves as possible. Put the body under enough duress to change without spending hours hopping from one machine to another hitting each muscle group one at a time.

Are gym machines useless? ›

While no machine is totally useless if used properly, some just aren't terribly effective, says Lani Muelrath, fitness expert and author of Fit Quickies. Plus, they put you at risk--too great a risk--of injury, she says. Swap out these 10 useless machines for more effective, expert-recommended moves.

Is the torso rotation machine bad? ›

It should be a crime for a gym to have a seated twist machine. It's almost guaranteed to cause a spinal injury, and it's not even very effective at strengthening your core muscles.

Do the ab machines at gyms work? ›

Ab machines do, however, ignore one key aspect to training the abs – stabilization. A lot of the machines will aid in mobilization, but they can't help your deep stabilizing core muscles. Swiss balls are huge for stabilization. Instead of doing crunches on the floor, get up and onto a Swiss ball and do some crunches.

Do Ab machines Burn Belly fat? ›

If you've been doing ab workouts to no avail with the hopes of losing belly fat, you may want to think again. Often, people mistakenly believe that doing planks, crunches, and other ab exercises are what they need, period, in order to flatten their stomachs, but the truth is: ab workouts don't burn belly fat.

Why ab workouts are a waste of time? ›

And crunches just aren't a very effective way to do that.” Losing body fat – whether it's in your arms, legs, hips or abs – is done by creating a daily caloric deficit so your body has to tap into stored energy, or body fat, to feed your muscles and keep you going.

How do you know if your ab workout is working? ›

6 Signs You Had A Good Workout
  1. Good Sleep. A telltale sign that you had a good workout is if you have a good night's sleep afterward. ...
  2. Soreness. If you train hard for thirty minutes to an hour and feel sore later on, this means you truly worked out your body. ...
  3. Muscle Pump. ...
  4. Hunger. ...
  5. Energy. ...
  6. Muscle Fatigue.
Nov 14, 2019

What is the 5 fastest way to strengthen your core? ›

These 3 Exercises Will Strengthen Your Core—Quickly - YouTube

How do you get rid of lower belly pooch? ›

9 ways to lose lower belly fat
  1. Cut your calories. It's the No. ...
  2. And maybe cut your carbs too. You don't have to go low carb to lose body fat and lower belly fat. ...
  3. Bump up your protein. ...
  4. Stop drinking your calories. ...
  5. Try intermittent fasting. ...
  6. Go for high intensity intervals. ...
  7. Try resistance training. ...
  8. Get enough sleep.
Oct 6, 2020

How can I tone my stomach fast? ›

Tone Your Tummy: 6 Steps to a Flatter Stomach
  1. Eat six small meals a day. The secret to revving up your metabolism and getting rid of the abdominal fat is a change in diet. ...
  2. Focus on protein-packed meals. ...
  3. Count on cardio training. ...
  4. Add strength training. ...
  5. Get enough sleep. ...
  6. Control stress.
Mar 25, 2021

Do electric ab stimulators really work? ›

Do they really work? A. While an EMS device may be able to temporarily strengthen, tone or firm a muscle, no EMS devices have been cleared at this time for weight loss, girth reduction, or for obtaining "rock hard" abs.

Are ab stimulators safe? ›

Risks of Using Ab Stimulators

They may or may not be safe. They could be improperly manufactured, designed, or labeled. Unregulated ab stimulators carry a risk of: Burns.

Do those electric ab things work? ›

Electrical stimulation has long been used by physical therapists to rehabilitate muscles that have weakened after injuries or surgery, and scientists say claims that it works muscles are credible. But extravagant promises such as creating rock-hard abs, and fat loss, aren't supported by evidence, scientists say.

Why does Planet fitness have Smith machines? ›

Most Planet Fitness locations have at least two or three Smith machines where you can crank out everything from squats and deadlifts to bench presses and calf raises. The Smith machine is the closest you'll get to the real bench press at Planet Fitness. It's also far safer.

Do Smith machines cause injuries? ›

Smith Machines, like any weight training equipment or exercise when done improperly will lead to muscle imbalances, weaknesses and most importantly injury.

Is a Smith machine cheating? ›

In conclusion, competitive technique aside, of course, the Smith machine isn't cheating. It's barely even a fitness hack. You'll build your quads, hamstrings, posterior chain and core muscles while simultaneously burning high calories.

Which exercise is described as the king of the weight room? ›

The squat is one of the most popular lower body exercises and is often referred to as the “King of Exercises.”

What are 5 good muscle building foods? ›

Muscle building foods for gaining lean muscle
  • Eggs. Eggs contain high quality protein, healthy fats, and other important nutrients like B vitamins and choline ( 1 ). ...
  • Salmon. Salmon is a great choice for muscle building and overall health. ...
  • Chicken breast. ...
  • Greek yogurt. ...
  • Tuna. ...
  • Lean beef. ...
  • Shrimp. ...
  • Soybeans.
Feb 26, 2019

Can you build muscles with machines only? ›

You can still build muscle with machines, and at a similar speed to if you were using free weights. (Note that we generally recommend against using resistance bands unless that's all you have access to, given that their strength curve isn't very good.)

Why are free weights better than machines? ›

Free weights are more versatile than weight machines because they allow for more variations in your range of motion. Free weights require balance, as they tend to promote more activity of the joint stabilizer muscles.

Are machines safer than free weights? ›

In a lot of ways, yes machines are safer than free weights. Dumbbells and barbells can easily be dropped and if it happens to drop on your hand, your foot, or head, there could be serious injuries that ensue as a result.

Is it OK to use weight machines? ›

Machine weights also can be effective weight training tools, as long as you use machines that adjust to your body dimensions and allow your joints to move through their natural motion paths. Machine weights are generally safe when used with the proper technique. Many people can learn to use them quickly.

What is the best machine to use at a gym? ›

The equipment gym mangers recommend if you're looking to improve overall fitness:
  • Rowing Machine: 47%
  • Treadmill: 39%
  • Climbmill/Stairmaster: 24%
  • Kettlebells: 23%
  • TRX System: 19%
  • Indoor Cycle/Spin Bikes: 18%
  • Dumbbells: 16%
  • Elliptical Trainer/Cross-Trainer: 15%

Which exercise machine is best for hips and thighs? ›

6 Best Cardio Machines To Tone Legs
  1. Treadmill. It's no surprise that the treadmill is one of the best cardio machines to tone legs. ...
  2. Curved Treadmill. You may have seen curved treadmills becoming popular in the gym. ...
  3. Stair Climber. ...
  4. Upright Bike. ...
  5. Assault Air Bike. ...
  6. Rowing Machine.

Do torso rotations make your waist bigger? ›

Because the obliques are positioned mainly along the sides of your torso, the effect is to actually thicken your waist. Probably not the effect you're going for.

How many reps should I do on the ab machine? ›

Complete two to three sets of the ab-crunch machine exercise, with each set consisting of 15 to 20 repetitions. Rest 60 to 90 seconds in between sets. Use a weight that makes completing each set challenging.

Which machine at the gym is best for abs? ›

Ellipticals, captain's chairs, rowers, and cable systems are among the best gym machines for your abs.

What gym equipment is good for stomach? ›

A low impact exercise machine, the elliptical trainer is ideal cardio for losing stomach fat and toning your body.

What burns the most belly fat? ›

Aerobic exercise (cardio) is an effective way to improve your health and burn calories. Studies also show that it's one of the most effective forms of exercise for reducing belly fat.

Will 20 sit-ups a day tone my stomach? ›

A: No. Sit ups are great for tightening your core. They strengthen and tone your rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and oblique abdominal muscles as well as your neck muscles. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions three times per week.

How do I stop my abs from being boxy? ›

Take Action to Be Strong, Not Square

A few sets of 10 to 12 oblique strengthening moves, such as bicycle crunches and side planks, keeps your torso strong for side bending and rotation, but doesn't build excessive muscle. Aim to do these moves just twice per week and avoid working to failure.

Is planking good for abs? ›

The plank exercise is one of the best exercises for a strong stomach because it works all the muscles in your core, including the rectus abdominus (the "six-pack muscles" you can see), transverse abdominus (your deepest abs muscles), internal and external obliques (your sides), hips, and back (which, yes, are part of ...

Do planks give you abs? ›

Additionally, planks don't just work your core: They work your entire body. Planks require your arms, your legs, and all of your abs, making them an all-encompassing workout and a more efficient way to exercise.

Are Push Ups Good for abs? ›

It's a Good Full Body Workout - By working on a large number of muscles in your body, push-ups help tremendously for a fitter you. Push-ups help you focus on your arms, abs and your lower body, all at the same time. They train your muscles to work together and become stronger. 2.

What exercises make your waist smaller? ›

Top 10 Exercises To Cinch The Waist & Sculpt Your Obliques
  3. 3 HEEL TOUCHERS. ...
  4. 4 OBLIQUE V CRUNCH. ...
  5. 5 RUSSIAN TWIST. ...
  6. 6 PLANK HIP DIPS. ...

What ab exercises make your waist smaller? ›

How To Get A Smaller Waist (STOP Doing This Ab Exercise) - YouTube

What happens when you plank everyday for a month? ›

It's simple, effective, and requires no equipment and barely any space. Plus, as long as your form is correct – keeping your back straight and glutes squeezed – the plank can develop core strength which, according to Harvard University, leads to good posture, less back pain, and better balance and stability.


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