How To Use Gym Equipment For Beginners
The first time you walk into a gym might be a little daunting! It can seem like everyone else is super fit and confident, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.
For those women who have struggled to find the confidence to begin their fitness journey, knowing how to use the equipment correctly can help you to start working out confidently.
It can be tempting to head straight for the cardio section and avoid the machines (we’ve all been there). However, there is no need for you to miss out on the benefits of training with strength equipment!
Strength training can help build muscle, maintain strength and increase bone density. It can also boost your metabolism for hours after your workout, helping to burn fat.
The best 7 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.
The lat pull-down machine targets your ‘latissimus dorsi’ (or ‘lats’), one of the largest muscles in your back. Lat pull-downs also engage 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.
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 better posture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 that 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 effectively
Now that you know which equipment you should be using at the gym, here are a few tips to help you to get results and stay injury-free.
Adjust the machine to your body
When using machines in the gym, make sure that 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 diagrams 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 is 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 challenge you.
Don’t just focus on ‘problem areas’
One mistake that beginners sometimes make is focusing on ‘problem areas’ they have with their body.
The most effective way to achieve a fit, strong and toned body is by working out your whole body.
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 for the exercise within the app.
The SWEAT programs PWR, FIERCE, BUILD and BBG Stronger all offer a guide to getting started with using weights at the gym, with beginner weeks that you can follow.
Use gym equipment with confidence!
We hope that this guide will provide you with the knowledge you need to start using gym equipment with confidence! Any time you have questions, you can reach out to the SWEAT community and ask how other women overcome their fears about working out with strength equipment.
One tip from our community is to invest in some wireless headphones and a 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 at the gym? Share them in comments below!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.