The Most Effective Gym Machines and How to Use Them
by Evelyn Valdez·
The weights section is a lifters home, but despite the fact that free weights are the best for strength training, you shouldn't neglect all the other gym equipment available! The exercise machines you see at the gym are incredibly useful and helpful, not only for new lifters but also for advanced lifters.
Using gym equipment, specifically equipment for strength training, can help change up your workout and challenge your muscles in different ways. For beginners, the benefits go even further! Workout equipment at the gym can help you learn important movement patterns before hitting the dumbbells or barbells. Additionally, they're much safer than free weights when you don't have full strength, balance, or range of motion.
So, don't neglect the gym equipment because you're too advanced or because you don't know how to use them! We're going to go through the 7 best pieces of gym equipment all gym-goers should be using, plus show you exactly how to use them effectively.
Assisted pull up machine
Pull-ups are a killer back exercise that everyone should master at one point. And the best way to work your way up to a pull-up is by training the actual movement of it by using an assisted pull-up machine! The assisted pull-up machine can help you lift yourself so that you’re able to go through the whole range of movement, allowing your body to get used to the exercise. It helps you build upper body strength and resistance by reducing the weight that you’re lifting, while still giving you enough room to keep a good form throughout the whole exercise. With time, you’ll gradually be able to lift more weight with less assistance until you’re ready to complete your reps of this killer exercise all by yourself.
How to use it:
- Adjust the weight on the machine before using it. The heavier you set the weight, the easier it will be to raise yourself. So, if you're a beginner start heavy and work your way to the lighter weights.
- Place one knee on the machine’s kneepad to lower it and grab the handles located on top of you using a wide or narrow grip, it's up to you. Then proceed to place your other knee on the pad.
- Keep your shoulders back and down so that your back isn’t curved and make sure that your arms are fully extended above your head.
- From this position, slowly pull yourself upward while the weight helps you go up until your head reaches the handles.
- Pause for a moment, then slowly lower yourself and repeat.
Although it's called an assisted pull-up machine, you can actually use it for a few more exercises! You can place the pad away to do tricep or chest dips, or use it with the pad to do glute pushdowns!
The cable machine is one of the best pieces of workout equipment at the gym that everyone needs to start utilizing! It's extremely versatile, gives your muscles a fixed tension to work against, and can easily work your entire body in one workout session.
There's so much you can do with the cable machine because of the various attachments (like ankle straps) and adjustable cables that allow you to challenge your muscles from different angles. You're able to perform upper body and lower body exercises, and even core exercises. They work similarly to resistance bands, except they're able to provide a heavier resistance of up to 100 lbs. The cable machine is able to provide a constant fixed tension to fully fatigue the muscle group you're targeting. Plus, they help you develop better exercise form because the cables don't force you to work against gravity, like with free weights. This means you're able to keep better stability when performing an exercise.
There are so many ways to use the cable machine because of the various attachments. But if you need a list of exercises to try, we have a list of the Best Cable Machine Exercises so you can create your own full-body workout.
Hanging Leg Raise
If you want to build a stronger core, and abs, then ditch the crunches and starting using the hanging leg raise machine! This machine is easy to operate and the best way to work your core and hip flexors. It's lower-back friendly, targets your entire abdominal muscles, and helps you move through the full range of motion which is ideal for strengthening and building muscle.
How to use it:
- Step onto the machine by placing your feet on the footrests provided. Place your back against the pad and rest your arms on the arm pads gripping the handles with your hands.
- Safely step off the footrests by shifting your weight to your arms and engaging your core, and allow your legs to hang straight down.
- Using your core begin to lift your legs up until they are parallel to the floor and straight out in front of you.
- Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position and repeat.
This is a more advanced move, so beginners should focus on strengthening their core and then slowly working their way up to leg raises. Once you've mastered the hanging leg raise, you can also try alternative side leg raises, knee tucks, and other great core exercises on this machine!
Lat pulldown machine
The lat pulldown machine is similar to the assisted pull up machine, but instead of pulling yourself up, you'll be pulling the weight towards your chest. This is a must-use exercise machine if you want to build strength and muscle in your lats, which is the huge muscle group on your back. It's a large flat "V" shape that spans on the width of your back and helps control the movement of your shoulder. So, if you want to strengthen this huge muscle – use the lat pulldown machine!
The great thing is there is more than just one way to use it. You can do the classic wide grip pulldown, narrow grip pulldown, single-arm lat pulldown, behind the neck lat pulldown, and a reverse close grip pulldown. That way you can target your lats, and entire back, in various different ways! We'll be showing you the classic way to use the lat pulldown machine, but doing a wide grip pulldown.
How to use it:
- Place your knees under the provided pads. Position the pads so that your thighs are not able to raise up off the bench.
- Grasp the lat bar with a wide overhand grip, wider than shoulder-width. Slightly lean your torso back, this is the starting position.
- Begin the exercise by pulling the bar down to your upper chest. Focus on using your lats to pull the bar down and not your arms.
- Slowly reverse the movement back to starting position.
You shouldn't neglect the classic barbell back squat, but don't neglect the leg press machine either! Although it's a great beginner alternative to squats, advanced lifter should still use the leg press for a different type of challenge.
What makes this piece of equipment so great is that it gives your back support so that you can fully focus on working the muscles in your lower body. You can also adjust the seat to determine how deep you want to press, so beginners can start slow and work their way up to going deeper. There are also so many variations which includes the side leg press, narrow leg press, banded leg press, and you can even isolate your calves and do calf presses!
How to use it:
- Load the machine with the appropriate weight for your fitness level.
- Adjust the machine according to your height and sit on it with your back flat on the backrest, making sure your hips and your head are all resting on it too, and place your feet on the platform in front of you. They should be positioned at the center of the platform, at a shoulder-width distance, and with toes slightly pointing out.
- Once you’re comfortable, lower the safety bars holding the weighted platform in place and press the platform all the way up until your legs are fully extended in front of you. Keep your core tight and your legs in control, without opening or closing them.
- Hold this extended leg press position for a moment, then slowly bring the platform back by bending your legs at the hip and knee joints.
- Push back up so that your legs are extended again, and repeat for the desired number of reps.
Seated row machine
Another great gym machine that works your back is the seated row machine. Instead of pulling down, like the lat pulldown machine, you're pulling the weight horizontally towards you. It works your entire back, but particularly the lats, while also working your forearm and upper arm muscles.
Some gym have it connected to the cable machine, while others have the seated row separately. Either way both machines work your entire back! Just like with the lat pulldown machine, you can try different variations like a single-arm row and wide row.
How to use it:
- To get into the starting position, first, sit down on the machine and place your feet on the front platform or crossbar provided. Make sure that your knees are slightly bent and not locked.
- Lean over as you keep the natural alignment of your back and grab the V-bar handles.
- With your arms extended, pull back until your torso is at a 90-degree angle from your legs. Your back should be slightly arched, and your chest should be sticking out. You should be feeling a nice stretch on your lats as you hold the bar in front of you.
- Keeping the torso stationary, pull the handles back towards your torso while keeping the arms close to it until you touch the abdominals. Breathe out as you perform that movement. At that point, you should be squeezing your back muscles hard.
- Hold that contraction for a second, and slowly go back to the original position while breathing in.
Despite popular belief, the Smith machine isn't only a piece of exercise equipment for beginners – it's beneficial in every lifters workout routine! The reason so many think it's only for beginners is because it's great to use before tackling barbell exercises. The Smith machine is basically a barbell, although it's typically between 15-25lbs (not 45lbs), set on a vertical rail to allow you to move it in a vertical plan with additional stability.
What makes this gym machine so great is that it allows you to load more weight onto the bar which helps you lift heavier and train your muscles without having to worry about balance. Instead, you'll be focusing entirely on your muscles!
All in all, Smith machine workouts are a great option at the gym and you shouldn’t overlook them. However, there are various ways to use the Smith machine, so instead of listing that here – check out our list of the best Smith machine exercises for you to try next time you're at the gym!
Utilize all the gym equipment!
Free weights are every lifters favorite, but shake things up a bit some time and reap the benefits of the above pieces of gym machines. Using them will help you to target your muscles at different angles, and give them a different challenge
In summary, gym-goers of all fitness levels can benefit from incorporating the above pieces of gym equipment in their workout routines. This doesn't mean you should leave the free weights behind, but find a good balance between different exercises using different equipment to help you continue driving progress!
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