A beginner's guide to using weight machines in the gym

Now new year has hit, many will be heading off to the gym to try and get those endorphins rushing.

But going to the gym as a beginner, or someone who hasn’t been for a long time, can be daunting – especially if you aren’t sure what machine does what.

While you can always ask a staff member for help, sometimes you might just need a quick refresher.

We’ve got you covered with a comprehensive guide of what each machine is, how to operate it, and what muscle group it works – thanks to expert Will Daniels, head of operations at The Body Lab.

Everyone will think you’re a seasoned professional so there’s no need for workout anxiety now January is here.

Leg press

Muscles used: Thighs and glutes.

How to use: Sit into the machine, with your back supported.

Push through the whole foot and keep your heel pressed into the flat plate platform.

Leave a soft bend in the knee at the end (do not completely straighten your leg), for reference look at the image above. Then slowly lower back to your starting position.

After you’re set, you can vary your foot position to change which muscles take the load.

Leg curl

Muscles used: Hamstrings (back of thighs).

How to use: Align your knee with the pivot of the leg curl, then bring your heels in towards the seat, you will get more contraction as you go through the movement.

It’s like the back swing when getting more speed on a swing, the only difference is you’re working against the load.

Control both parts of the movement – and, for a greater challenge, sit upright without the support of the seat.

Will Daniel’s tips for using weight machines:

  • Work within your range of motion, you’ll get better with practice
  • Start light with weight if it’s your first time using the machine and learn the form of the movement
  • Engage the intended muscles
  • Change the weight/load each set if necessary
  • Aim for 8 to 12 repetitions each set, start with 2 to 3 sets of each machine
  • After 30 seconds rest you should be able to repeat the load and weight to begin with
  • Keep track of your numbers to help track progress and know where to start next session
  • Look to increase the weight/load by 10% each week.

Note: Each machine in the gym should also say what it is and give a basic picture of the exercise it is intended for.

Leg extension

Muscles used: Quadriceps (front of thighs).

How to use: Align your knee with the pivot of the leg extension, then extend your legs so they are nearly straight out in front of you.

Keep your legs lined up, like train tracks, and control the movement back to the start.

Seated row

Muscles used: Mid-upper back and biceps..

How to use: Sit with good upright posture, hold the handles or bar and keep a medium grip, so your forearms don’t fatigue too soon.

Pull from your back first, keep your chest high and proud and use your mid back muscles to move first.

Send your elbows back past your torso then control the machine back to the starting position.

Chest press

Muscles used: Chest, shoulders and triceps.

How to use: Sit with good upright posture and hold the handles or bar and keep a medium grip, so your forearms don’t fatigue too soon.

Push the handles or bar away, until you have a soft bend in the elbow. Your elbows should be lower than your hands.

Then control the machine back to the starting position.

Lat pulldown

Muscles used: Mid to upper back and biceps.

How to use: Place hands on the bar – about shoulder width apart with your palms facing towards you.

Hold onto the bar or handles as you sit down, so you can reach.

Send your shoulders away from your ears as you pull from your back.

Complete the movement by bringing the bar/handles to your collar bone, then control the machine back to the starting position.

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