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 gym 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!
Best gym equipment for beginners
How to use gym equipment effectively
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.
Best 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. 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.
2. Seated row
The seated cable row also works on your lats, focusing 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.
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 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.