A Beginner’s Guide to Gym Machines

A Beginner’s Guide to Gym Machines

Intense exercise programs have gained a serious amount of attention over the last decade or so. Gyms have become an extremely popular place for people of all fitness levels to gather, train and exercise.

Many conditioning programs now feature high-intensity exercises that are becoming more and more popular among gym goers.

Classes and programs that pair you with trainers can be a great way to get in powerful workouts, but when it comes to working out on your own, it’s important to learn how to use the equipment provided by your gym.

We’re talking about going beyond the free weight and bodyweight exercises to learn how to use machines properly.

Why Use Gym Machines?

Machines can be daunting to beginners and are often looked down upon by more experienced trainers. The reality is many people overlook the benefits of machine exercise for beginners.

Machines are practical, can seriously help with form when a trainer or coach isn’t present, and allow anyone to get into strength training to form a muscle foundation. Machines are great, you just need to know how and when to use them.

Many experienced trainers look at machines negatively and focus more on functional fitness using things like dumbbells, power racks or barbells.

With functional fitness comes a potentially costly learning curve, where a coach is needed to teach you the basics - and because the emphasis on form is so much more important, you could run the risk of injury by using free weights if you try to advance faster than your body and skill level is ready for.

How to Use Gym Machines Right

Like anything, there are pros and cons with using gym machines.

It’s also easy to fall into a place of routine and complacency with machines, so it’s important to learn the ins and outs of how they work, why they work, which muscles they target and when to use them when planning a training program.

Intense exercise programs have gained a serious amount of attention over the last decade or so. Gyms have become an extremely popular place for people of all fitness levels to gather, train and exercise. Many conditioning programs now feature high-intensity exercises that are becoming more and more popular among gym goers.

Classes and programs that pair you with trainers can be a great way to get in powerful workouts, but when it comes to working out on your own, it’s important to learn how to use the equipment provided by your gym.

We’re talking about going beyond the free weight and bodyweight exercises to learn how to use machines properly.

The Chest Press Machine

Man exercising chest muscles on chest press machine

Easily recognizable and present in virtually every gym that’s got machines – the chest press is a classic gym machine exercise. It’s meant to train your chest but also works on your shoulders and triceps.  

Setup

Adjust the seat height so your feet comfortably rest on the floor. When seated and holding the handles, your hands should line up with your chest. Lift and lower the seat is necessary to ensure your hands are lined with your chest.

Position

Sit down while keeping your posture straight and your abs tight. Use your palms to grasp the handles. If there’s a foot pedal, begin with your feet on it. After the weight has been lifted, place your feet flat on the floor, and keep them there for the duration of the set.

Movement

As you exhale, push the handles straight ahead until your arms are fully extended but do not allow your elbows to lock. Then bring your arms back down in a fluid and controlled motion. 

The Chest Fly Machine

Man exercising chest with chest fly machine at the gym

This machine is also known as the pec fly, or buttery machine, and it’s designed to target one specific group of muscles – the chest. The pads make using the machine extra comfortable and are adjustable. Although this machine trains your chest muscles, it also involves the triceps and shoulders as stabilizers.  

Setup

Depending on the machine, you’re going to want your hands to be level with your shoulders - or, as pictured, your elbows in line with your shoulders. Adjust the seat height before you perform this exercise.

Position

Sit with your back straight against the backrest and your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the handles and keep your elbows slightly bent.  

Movement

Engage your core and chest muscles. In a fluid, controlled motions, bring your hands forward and together while exhaling, and then back slowly while inhaling. 

Shoulder Press Machine

Man performing shoulder press on machine in gym

It’s all in the name – this machine works on your shoulders while also toning your triceps. The shoulder press machine allows you to lift weight in a fluid, controlled motion to really work your shoulder muscles.

Setup

Sit on the bench with your back straight. Adjust the weight to your desired amount.

Position

Grab the handles on either side of your body and keep your elbows bent. Your arms should be in line with your torso.

Movement

Lift the handles and extend your arms fully as you exhale. Hold this lift for a second or two before slowly lowering your arms back down while inhaling.   

Lat Pull-Down Machine

Man exercising lats on lat pull down gym machine

This machine is meant to be used for compound exercises and works on multiple muscles at once. Your latsshoulders, biceps, neck and back will be worked with  this machine.

Setup

Use a bar attachment. Do not pull the bar down behind your neck or all the way down below your chest. These are two common mistakes people make on this machine - you may disengage your lats which can cause injury.

Position

Sit down on the machine with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Lean back on the bench and grip the bar above you. Make sure your grip isn’t too wide when you're starting out.

Movement

Engage your chest and lats exhale pull the bar down to your chest leaning back. Hold for a moment and then lower the weight while inhaling.

Cable Row Machine 

Man working back muscles using cable row machine in gym

This machine also is meant for compound exercises and mainly tones your upper and middle back while also working your lats, biceps and lower back. It should be noted to maintain proper form on this machine you can risk a back injury.

Setup

With this machine, you can control the resistance you pull, and also usually change the handle you’re using. We recommended a V-bar, as it’ll allow you to perform this workout with optimal form.

Position

Place your feet on the foot rest and sit down. Slightly bend your knees without locking them. Hold the bar, whether it be the V-bar or straight bar and keep your back straight. You’re looking for a 90-degree angle with your torso and legs while keeping your knees bent. Keep your arms extended.

Movement

Pull through your elbows until the bar is brought right to your abs. You’ll have to squeeze your back muscles and shoulders. Then, slowly release the weight back down in a controlled fashion.

Biceps Curl Bench 

Man biceps curl using bicep bench machine in gym

This is one of the easiest machines to use in the gym, as the only really adjustments that must be made are to the seat. This bench is designed to  isolate your biceps.

Some machines have built in bars and weights, and some only include the bench so you can bring your own free weights or a barbell to use on the arm bench.

Setup

Sit on the bench and place your arms over the padded rest. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Grasp the weight and prepare to curl.

Position

Your chest should be pressed against the top of the padded incline, and your feet wide apart, flat on the ground.

Movement

Curl the weight upward while breathing out and engaging your biceps. Once the weight is shoulder height, hold the contraction for a moment and then slowly lower the weight back to starting position while breathing in.

Triceps Extension Machine

Man exercising triceps using a tricep extension machine in the gym

This is a tool you can use to isolate your triceps. It’s a bar or V rope that clips onto a weight machine and allows you to work your triceps, upper arms, and even your core to help improve stability.

Setup

Adjust your weight and stand facing the machine with your back straight and your feet at shoulders width apart.

Position

You’ll want to make sure your palms are facing down, and your shoulders are resting. Bend your elbows and grab the rope or bar, this will be your starting position.

Movement

Slowly push your palms down to the floor while extending your elbows. You should feel your triceps doing most of the work. Exhale as you push down, and inhale as your slowly release the weight back to your starting position. Bend your arms slowly and keep your elbows tucked for maximum results.

The Leg Press Machine 

Man working leg muscles using leg press machine in gym

Leg day calls for the leg press machine. This machine is another fantastic way to perform compound exercises and work you’re your quads, calves and hamstrings. The backrest and adjustable leg press makes this machine comfortable and easy to use.

Setup

You’ll want to find and place weight plates that are right for you on the bar of the machine. If you’re not sure how much you can press, start low and add more weight until you can complete 8-12 reps working hard without failing.

Position

Sit back on the machine and place your feet on the platform a shoulder width apart. Lower the safety bars using your hands at your side and hold the weight with your legs.

Movement

Extend your legs pushing away from your body with your feet kept flat throughout. Once your legs are fully extended without locking, you’re ready to begin. Inhale and slowly lower the platform until your legs form a 90-degree angle. Use your heels to push against the platform and back to the starting position as you exhale. 

The Leg Extension Machine 

Man working leg muscles using leg extension machine in gym

This machine targets and trains the quads, unlike the leg press machine that’s meant for compound exercises. As always, when using this machine, pay attention your form and your breathing. 

Setup

Choose your weight and sit down with your legs under the ankle pads. Keep your feet pointed forward.

Position

Your legs should be bent 90-degrees. If you’re legs aren’t bent properly your knees will be over or under your toes. If this is the case, you can stress your knee joint and cause injury. Keep your back straight and your arms next to your body, holding the rests if they’re present.

Movement

Extend your legs to the max as you exhale and work your quads. Hold this contraction for a moment, and then slowly lower your legs back down while inhaling.

The Back Extension Machine

Man working lower back muscles using back extender machine in gym

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got the back-extension machine. This machine isolates your lower back muscles. The footplate should be adjusted to a 90-degree angle while the thighs are places against the “seat”. The pads hold your ankles so you’re comfortable and locked in so to speak.

Setup

Once you've locked your feet into place, the upper seat should be resting against your hips so you're able to bend your waist freely over the top of the seat, towards the ground.

Position

Position yourself so your lower body is placed on the large pad. Place your feet into the ankle pads so you feel safe and locked in. Cross your arms across your chest.

Movement

Slowly bend at the waist and slightly use your hips to lower your upper body until your hips bend to form a 90-degree angle. Keep this motion controlled and fluid. Then extend back up to the starting position, and slowly hyperextend your back to feel a slight squeeze. Try doing this 5-10 times for 3 sets.

Make sure to not jerk or move to quickly, and to keep all motion slow and controlled.

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