How To Use Gym Equipment For Beginners – SWEAT

How To Use Gym Equipment: A Beginner's Guide

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How To Use Gym Equipment: A Beginner's Guide
How to Use Gym Equipment

So, you've just started training in a gym. Good for you! Or maybe you’ve changed your Sweat program to one that uses more equipment and machines. Epic! If you're new to the gym environment or certain pieces of equipment, getting your head around it all might feel a little daunting. 

It’s normal to feel out of your comfort zone when trying something new, or even feel overwhelmed or intimidated when it seems like everyone else knows what they're doing, but remember, everyone was a beginner once. 

Resist the temptation to head straight for the cardio section or stick to the equipment you know, and discover how straightforward gym equipment is to use! Whether you’re new to exercise or are keen to try a new strength training program, you’ll be well on your way to feeling confident in the gym. If you’re a cardio bunny and considering stepping foot in the weights section, did you know research has shown strength training can enhance your cardiovascular health, walking speed and overall physical performance, too?

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The 7 best pieces of gym equipment for beginners 

To help you gain the confidence you need to get started with building strength using machines, here’s our guide to some essential gym equipment used in the Sweat programs.

1. Lat pull-down

The lat pull-down machine targets your ‘latissimus dorsi’ (or ‘lats’), one of the largest muscles in your back, while also engaging your biceps and shoulders. Working your lats can help to improve posture and protect your spine during other exercises while also sculpting and strengthening the muscles in your back. 

The machine will have a seat, a hanging bar, and adjustable resistance, usually in the form of a weight stack with a pin. Set the pin to a weight you’re comfortable with, then sit on the seat with your feet flat on the floor. If you can’t reach the bar while seated, you may need to adjust it or ask a gym staff member for assistance. 

With your hands in a wide position holding the bar in an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), slowly pull the bar down, squeezing your shoulder blades, until it’s roughly level with your chin. Slowly return the bar to the starting position with control, making sure you don’t let the weight plates crash together. Repeat.

Performing lat pull-downs can help you build your upper-body strength, particularly if your goal is to progress to a pull-up. As your pulling strength increases, you’ll be able to move on to the assisted pull-up machine or use resistance bands, and eventually progress to an unassisted pull-up.

2. Seated row

The seated cable row also works on your lats, focussing on the mid-back to engage the back of the shoulders, biceps and rhomboids. If you sit at a desk all day, this exercise can help to build your back strength and improve your posture.

A seated row can be performed on the same machine as a lat pull-down, except rather than using the hanging bar attached at the top, you’ll be pulling the handles from the attachment in front of you. 

Choose a weight you are comfortable with by adjusting the pin in the weight stack, then sit comfortably on the seat with your feet on the pedals or flat on the floor and your back straight. Holding the handles with your arms outstretched, pull the handles towards your abdomen, keeping your torso steady and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat.

3. Bench press

The barbell bench press is a compound exercise that works several muscles at once, including the pectorals (chest muscles) and the anterior deltoids (front of the shoulders). Unlike push-ups, the bench press engages these muscles without placing as much strain on your wrists and shoulders. 

Lie on your back on the bench, looking up at the barbell resting in the weight rack. The bar should be roughly in line with your eyes to avoid making contact with the rack during your reps. Hold the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and push the bar out of the rack. Lower the bar to your chest with control, then push it back to the starting position. Repeat.

If it’s your first time performing a bench press and a barbell feels too heavy, you can begin with a dumbbell bench press or the chest press machine — you can even do a chest press on a cable machine. 

If you’re using a barbell, the width of your grip will determine which muscles you load more. A close-grip barbell bench press will primarily engage the triceps, as well as the chest and front of the shoulders. A wider grip will focus on the chest, also using the front of the shoulders and triceps. You can start with just the bar and add weight as your strength and confidence increase.

4. Leg press

The leg press allows you to lift heavy weights with your legs to build strength, without your spine needing to support the movement like you would in a heavy squat, meaning a reduced risk of injury or poor form.   

A leg press machine will have an adjustable seat and a large weighted platform, usually with an adjustable weight stack and pin. Some leg press machines will have you seated on an incline like in the video above, while others are level.

Sit with your hips in contact with the back of the seat to protect your tailbone and lower back, and your feet flat on the plate. Your knees should be bent to allow you to push the plate away, so adjust the seat if you need to. Press the foot plate away from your torso and extend your legs with control, keeping a slight bend in your knee. Bend your knees and lower the foot plate towards your torso until your knees almost touch your chest. Your knees should track straight during the movement, rather than collapsing inward or bowing out to the side. Repeat.

5. Assisted pull-up

Pull-ups are one of the hardest exercises due to the amount of core and upper-body strength they require. The good news is, you can build towards your first unassisted pull-up by using a long resistance band or an assisted pull-up machine, which allows you to build strength gradually. 

Assisted pull-ups require you to stabilise your entire body, so you work more muscles than you do with a lat pull-down.

Set the machine to a level of assistance that is comfortable but challenging. Hold onto the pull-up bar of the machine with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Safely place your knees onto the horizontal knee pad, and extend your arms so that you are hanging from the chin-up bar. 

Using the muscles in your arms and back, bend your elbows and pull your body upwards to bring your chin up and over the chin-up bar. Avoid ‘shrugging’ your shoulders by drawing your shoulder blades down and back. Extend your elbows and lower your body to return to the starting position. Repeat.

As you get stronger, you’ll be able to decrease the offset. Take it slowly and only do as many reps as you can complete while maintaining the correct good form. 

If you’re using a resistance band for your assisted pull-ups, loop the band around the bar and insert one of your feet into the loop, with the other foot on top to stabilise yourself. Choose a band that allows you to complete 5-10 pull-ups — as you get stronger, you can use a lighter band.

6. Smith machine

The Smith machine is a vertical bar that moves within fixed steel rails. It’s an alternative to using free weights or barbells and can feel safer for those who are new to lifting due to the support of the rails, which prevent you from swaying forward or back. The Smith machine can be used for exercises such as squats, a bench press, shoulder press, deadlifts and split squats. 

When using the Smith machine, make sure you set the bar at the right position on the rack for your chosen exercise, at a weight you can complete all of your reps with good form (or feel free to use just the barbell!). 

You can also substitute the Smith machine when other equipment in the gym is being used.

7. Cable machine

The free-motion dual-cable machine can be used to work out almost any part of your body with a variety of resistance exercises. It uses a pulley system and stacked weights which you can adjust by placing the pin in the weight stack.

The cable machine is a great piece of equipment as it allows you to work at all angles (as opposed to a vertical lat pull-down) and provides continuous tension on your muscles throughout the entire movement. You can’t always achieve this with free weights!

The pull of the cable forces you to stabilise your core, activating more muscle groups in your body to burn energy and build functional strength. 

You can use this machine while standing, seated or kneeling — it’s worth getting comfortable when using this versatile piece of equipment! You can check out our full guide to using a cable machine here.

Try the cable machine for exercises such as chest fly, upright row, tricep extension, bicep curls, kickbacks, and standing trunk rotations like the ‘woodchop’.

How to use gym equipment correctly

Now you know what each piece of equipment is used for, here are a few tips to help you to get the best results and stay injury-free in the gym, no matter what machine you’re using! 

Adjust the machine to your body

Always make sure the equipment is adjusted to suit your body. This could mean adjusting the seat position, the pin in the weight stack, or which attachment is on the cable machine. If you’re not sure how to adjust the machine or if it’s set up correctly for you, don’t hesitate to ask a staff member for help.

How To Use Gym Equipment correctly

Start light and build up slowly

The first time you use a new piece of gym equipment, we recommend you start with a lighter weight to get used to the machine, the movement and make sure your form is correct. 

Once you’re comfortable with the machine and get a feel for different weights, you’ll be able to start choosing a weight heavy enough for the last two reps of a set to really challenge you.

Don’t just focus on one muscle group

One mistake beginners often make is focusing on one area of their body. To improve your overall strength and reduce your risk of muscle imbalance and injury, it’s best to follow a full-body training program, whether you’re performing full-body workouts or training different muscle groups on alternate days.

Check your form

If you’re training using one of our Sweat programs for the gym, there are videos with each exercise demonstrating the correct form. 

The PWR, FIERCE, BUILD, High Intensity Strength with Kayla, High Intensity Strength with Cass and Strength & Resistance programs all offer beginner weeks and a helpful guide to getting started with weights at the gym.

Gym equipment often has a diagram showing how to use the machine and which muscles you’ll be targeting, so you can check these out before you get started, too!

Use gym equipment with confidence!

See, gym machines aren’t as scary as you think! Once you get started, you’ll realise how fun they can be. If you're new to working out in the gym or are looking for support, you can join the Sweat Community, which is full of like-minded women sharing their workout tips and encouraging each other to achieve their fitness goals

Remember, the more you do something, the more comfortable and confident you’ll start to feel. If you’ve been thinking about trying gym machines, instead of thinking “one day…”, make today day one. You’ve got this!

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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