In today's gym environment, gyms are becoming loaded with an increasingly large number of machines. Though I'll always argue for free weights, this influx of machines isn't necessarily a bad thing. Today, you'll find two workouts that only use machines (or machine-like implements) to increase strength, mass, and conditioning.
Machine: Lat Pulldown
What to do with it: Heavy Wide Grip Lat Pulls (4x6), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-hmbDqf_I9U
Pullups are usually a better option, but too many people can't do pullups. The lat pulldown machine allows you to work your body into prime pullup shape without dealing with the frustration of one or two-rep sets on the pullup bar. Set the bar to a convenient height, grab it with a wide grip, pull it down, and lock your legs under the padding. Keeping your body in a nice straight line with no jerking, slowly pull the bar to chin height, pause for a brief second, and return it to the start. Don't let your arms overextend between reps.
What to do with it: Hyperextensions (3x8), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ktumMuPy3SA
Okay, this isn't actually a machine in the truest sense of the word - but it's close enough. Hyperextensions smash the lower back and provide a nice stretch along the entire posterior chain, so they're okay in my book. Take a second to make sure the pad is set to the proper height for your body. Hold a light weight between your hands tight against your chest. Step onto the implement and lock in. Now, lean forward until your body is parellel to the floor, pause for a second, and extend back to the start.
Machine: Cable Implement
What to do with it: Pallof Press with Half Squat (3x6/side), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zT7_mmntSAQ / Single Arm Row from Quarter Squat (3x10/side), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HYXocHyGRk8
Narrowing the cable implement down to two exercises was tough. The cable machine is probably one of the most useful pieces of equipment in the gym. The pallof press with half squat hits your squatting muscles while slamming your core and anti-rotational strength. The single row arm from quarter squat also works anti-rotation, but also helps to teach strict rowing technique. For the pallof press, set a D-handle at chest height and turn perpendicular to the machine. Pull the handle to your chest and hold it there. Perform the first half of a half squat, then extend your arms without allowing your body to rotate. Return the D-ring to your chest and finish the squat. For the single arm row, you'll also set a D-handle to chest height. This time, face the machine. Grab the handle with one hand, step back, and settle into a quarter squat. Pull your shoulder blades together, lock yourself into a tight position, and pull your elbow to the side of your torso. Return to the start and repeat.
Machine: Stair Stepper
What to do with it: Climb Stairs (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds moderate, x5), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GPpmygCGRCU
Skip the treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike. Instead, use the stair stepper as a high intensity finisher - a little conditioning to back up the tough strength work. I don't think I need to explain the stair stepper, but here are a few tips: start with an easy warmup, use short, extremely intense intervals, and focus hard on your posture. Make sure you feel your entire posterior chain working with each step.
What to do with it: Inverted Rows (3xHard), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XZV9IwluPjw / Pullup Progressions
The smith machine is tough to recommend because it locks the bar into a set position. This presents an obvious disadvantage to building the many muscles that act as stabilizers during free weight exercises. With a little creativity, however, you can turn the smith machine into the best pulling implement in the gym, and a half-decent deadlift alternative. Today, we'll focus on the first two. For inverted rows, set the bar to a height that allows you to barely grip it when lying on your back on the floor. Now drop to that position and grab the bar with any grip. Press the back of your feet into the floor, settle into a tight plank position, and pull your body to the bar. For pullup progressions, raise the bar to around chest height. Similar to the inverted row, walk your feet into a moderate angle. Perform the same motion. Slowly lower the bar until your butt is on the floor and you're in a L-position. Finally, the last variation raises your legs onto a small box or bench. For each of these variations, try to mimic the pullup movement as closely as possible. In other words, you want your shoulders to be directly above your hips, or close to it.
Machine: Horizontal Rower
What to do with it: All Grips Seated Rows (3-4x8-12), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lNUztYbC0G0
Free weight rows are fantastic across the board, but there's one issue that tends to follow them closely: technique problems. For some reason, rowing brings out the worst in some of the best lifters' technique. The various seated horizontal rowing machines come equipped with a chest pad to keep you, or at least help manage it, from jerking back and forth to pull in each rep. Get started by loading each side with a moderate starting weight. Take a seat on the pad and grab the handles. Now, with your chest fully pressed into the chest pad and your arms extended, row the weight to your body. Slowly return to the start and repeat.
Machine: Assisted Pullup
What to do with it: Assisted Pullups (1x8, 1x5, 1x3), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KbH6JBXXrkE
There's not much to say here. The assisted pullup machine works well because the "locking in" to a certain motion isn't so bad in the pullup. Regardless of how or where you do pullups, you're going to be locked in to a similar position. Each of these machines is a little different, so you may have to figure your individual machine out. Place your knees on the pad and set the weight to a relatively high number - the higher the weight, the more assistance you get and the easier the pull becomes. Try a few pullups at different weights until you find one that's tough but not impossible. The pullup is all about the upper back, so make sure you're actively contracting it with each rep.
Machine: Seated Overhead Press
What to do with it: Overhead Presses (3-4x8-12), https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Wqq43dKW1TU
Similar to the seated rower, the seated overhead press machine is here to manage technique problems in beginning and advanced lifters alike. More importantly, it takes some of the stress off the lower back and core, two areas that can be very negatively impacted from poor pressing technique. It's also one of the easiest machines to use. Take a seat on the pad, adjusting as necessary. Place your hands on the grips, look straight ahead, and press up.