How To Use Gym Equipment: A Beginner's Guide
So, you've just joined a new gym. Good for you! If you're new to working out in a gym, getting your head around all of the equipment might be a little daunting.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when it looks like everyone else knows what they're doing, and it can be tempting to head straight for the cardio section and avoid the workout machines if you're feeling intimidated.
- Best gym equipment for beginners
- Lat pull-down
- Seated row
- Bench press
- Leg press
- Assisted pull-up
- Smith machine
- Cable machine
- How to use gym equipment effectively
After all, just because you're not sure where to start doesn't mean you should miss out on the benefits of strength training with gym machines.
In addition to helping you to build muscle and strength, a 2012 study highlighted how resistance training can also help enhance cardiovascular health and increase bone mineral density.
The 7 best pieces of gym equipment for beginners
To help you gain the confidence you need to build strength on the 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 sculpting and strengthening the muscles in your back.
The lat pull-down can help you build strength, particularly if your goal is to do a pull-up. As your pulling strength increases, you’ll be able to move on to the assisted pull-up machine and eventually 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 strengthen the postural muscles, building a stronger back and improving your posture.
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.
When you start doing a bench press for the first time, lifting a barbell may be 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.
Once you progress to the 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 the risk of compromising your form. The movement uses similar muscles to the squat, but the weight has a fixed range of movement to limit the risk of injury.
When performing the leg press exercise, ensure your hips are in contact with the backrest of the seat. This is to ensure the force of the weight doesn’t shift onto your tailbone and lower back. Your knees should track straight during the movement, rather than collapsing inward or bowing out to the side.
5. Assisted pull-up
Many women say that they can’t do a pull-up, but the truth is that with the right equipment, anyone can do pull-ups! The assisted pull-up machine offsets your body weight which will allow 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.
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 there isn’t an assisted pull-up machine available, you can use a long resistance band to offset your weight.
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. The Smith machine can facilitate a bench press, shoulder press and squats.
When using the Smith machine, consider your form, and orientate your body around the bar to complete the exercise safely and correctly.
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 through a variety of resistance exercises. It uses stacked weights which you can adjust by placing the pin in the weight stack.
There are two key reasons the cable machine could be a central piece of equipment for your workouts. First, it allows you to work at all angles, rather than just vertically against the force of gravity. Second, it provides continuous tension throughout the entire range of motion. You can’t always achieve this with free weights!
Using the cable machine, you can challenge your muscles through the full range of movement, allowing for more control, greater flexibility and reduction of any imbalances. The pull of the cable forces you to stabilise your core, activating more muscles 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!
Try the cable machine for chest fly, upright row, standing trunk rotations like the ‘woodchop’ and during tricep workouts.
How to use gym equipment correctly
Now you know which equipment you should be using, here are a few tips to help you to get the best results and stay injury-free in the gym.
Adjust the machine to your body
When using machines in the gym, make sure the equipment is adjusted to suit your body. The adjustment handles are usually a bright colour and should be easy to spot.
Gym equipment will often have a diagram showing how to use the machine and which muscles you’ll be targeting. Check these out before you get started.
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. If it's too easy, increase the resistance gradually as you become confident with the movement.
This way, you can safely improve your fitness while staying focused on using the correct form. Once you’re comfortable with the machine, select a weight that is heavy enough that the last two reps of a set to challenge you.
Don’t just focus on one muscle group
One mistake beginners often make is focusing on one area of their body, when you should be aiming to work out your whole body with your training program.
If you focus on just one area, you can increase the chance of injury due to muscle imbalance.
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 with Steph programs all offer a guide to getting started with weights at the gym, with beginner weeks you can follow.
Use gym equipment with confidence!
We hope this guide has provided you with the knowledge you need to walk into the gym with confidence! 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 discussing their workout tips and encouraging each other to achieve their fitness goals.
One tip from our community is to invest in some wireless headphones and find a great workout playlist to keep you energised during your workout!
Remember, the more you do something, the more comfortable you’ll get with it. When you make using the equipment at the gym a habit, your confidence will increase!
Do you have any great tips for beginners who are new to the gym? Share them in the comments!
* 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.