How to Substitute Your Favorite Machines at the Gym

by Personal Trainer Dewey Lightcap

“My leg day just isn’t complete without _.”If you can finish this sentence, you are probably like many people at the gym: you’ve grown comfortable going to certain machines to achieve certain things. But as they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat! Whether the machine you’re looking for is in use, you can’t make it to the gym at all, or you just want to switch things up, there are plenty of exercises you can perform to target the same or similar muscle groups in similar ways as your go-to machines. Here are a just a few!

Instead of the Outer Thigh Machine…

Personal Trainer Dewey Lightcap demonstrating how to perform Glute Side Bridges

Glute Side Bridges

So if you’ve been missing the outer thigh machine I highly recommend trying an exercise called a Side Glute Bridge. To do the Side Glute Bridge start by setting up similarly to Side Plank. You want to be lying on your side but posted up on your elbow, which can be on the floor or on a nice comfy mat. Now bend both knees about 90 degrees. From here, push your bottom knee into the ground while simultaneously lifting your hips and opposing knee up towards the ceiling. This move will require all of the glute muscles (the minimus, medius, and maximus) on the floor side hip to create both movement and stability. So you will have to repeat this exercise on the other side to balance the forces from left to right. This move also recruits some core and shoulder muscles too!

Instead of the Leg Curl…

Personal Trainer Dewey Lightcap demonstrating how to perform Nordic Curls

Nordic Curl

Full disclosure: according to, I’m 40 percent Scandinavian/Nordic, but all conflicts of interest aside, this is a fantastic exercise! If you have the urge to really hit your hamstrings hard (and I mean hard), you’re going to love this one. To set this up, you’ll need a soft mat for your knees – the more padding, the better – and something to anchor your feet under. The anchor should be heavier than you, and the best anchor is a strong and trusted friend. Set up in a tall kneeling posture: set both knees down on the mat with your feet firmly secured under the anchor. While keeping your posture as straight as possible, begin the Nordic Curl by slowly lowering yourself down towards the floor. Safety tip: keep your arms out in front of you so you can catch yourself should you need to. Once you’ve gone as low as you can, pull yourself back up to the starting position to complete one rep.

Instead of the Leg Extension…

Personal Trainer Dewey Lightcap demonstrating how to perform Reverse Nordic Curls

Reverse Nordic Curl

Okay, so this is a simple one. Set the exercise up just as you did with the Nordic Curl but without the anchor – there is no need for an anchor with this exercise. Start tall kneeling on the mat with either your toes or the tops of your feet on the floor, whichever is more comfortable. Then, simply lean back while maintaining a straight posture. Go back as far as you comfortably can and then bring yourself back to the starting position to complete one rep.

Instead of the Reverse Fly…

Personal Trainer Dewey Lightcap demonstrating how to perform Blackburns


Blackburns are an excellent exercise for shoulder mobility, and if done right, they can be quite the burner!
Start this exercise by lying face down on the floor with your arms reached out overhead. Note: some people are much more comfortable with a rolled-up towel or pillow under their forehead. Begin by lifting the arms just barely off the floor. Keeping the arms straight, slowly circle your arms out and down by your sides, then back up again like you’re making a snow angel (or, in this case, a sweat angel). Try to keep the palms facing the floor to challenge your shoulder control. If that doesn’t feel comfortable, listen to your body and let the shoulders rotate! If you’re looking for some extra burn, bring your arms straight out to the sides and pulse your arms up towards the ceiling by squeezing the all-important muscles between your shoulder blades. You can choose to count reps or set a timer!

Instead of the Abcore…

Personal Trainer Dewey Lightcap demonstrating how to perform Bear Traps

Bear Traps

To do a Bear Trap, lay face-up on the floor with your arms and legs straight up towards the ceiling. Simply lower your legs to the floor while reaching your arms up and towards the floor, then return to the starting posture to complete one rep. It’s important to keep your back straight while performing this exercise. The easiest way to tell if you’re back is straight is to keep as much of it as possible in contact with the floor (especially the lower back). If you’re having trouble doing this exercise correctly, bend one knee and keep the bent knee’s foot on the floor. If you’d like this one to be harder, hold a weight in your hands.

Instead of the Torso Rotation Machine

Personal Trainer Dewey Lightcap demonstrating how to perform Windshield Wipers

Windshield Wipers

So if you’re a fan of the Strive Rotary Torso, you know that there’s not much else like it, but the Windshield Wiper can at least hit many of the same muscles. Lie on your back with legs straight up and arms on the floor out to the side; both palms should face up to start. Turn the right palm over to face the floor, then lower your legs to the right side as far as you can without letting your left shoulder lift up off the floor. Return to the starting posture to complete one rep. Remember to flip your palms when you complete your rep on the opposite side; when lowering your legs to the left, your left palm should face down and vice versa. If that move is too challenging, try a move called the Trunk Stability Rotation, which is precisely the same exercise but with the knees bent at 90 degrees.

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