Exercise machines are the perfect way for beginners to learn about weight training and feel comfortable going to the gym, which can be overwhelming. At some point, once you get comfortable at the gym, you’ll start moving towards free weights, kettlebells, and other forms of equipment to target bigger groups of muscles better. But even the strongest guys and gals in the gym still rely on exercise machines for specific muscle targeting and fatigue.
Also, machines are great if you’re returning from a gym hiatus or gaining back strength after an injury. Plus, you won’t risk dropping anything heavy on your foot.
“If you haven’t got full strength or balance or full range of motion, machines are much safer,” says Stuart Munro, certified personal trainer for the New York Health and Racquet Club.
Let’s take a look at the best machines in the gym for beginners, rehabbers, and returners.
Horizontal seated leg press
This gym staple works almost every muscle in your legs (glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves), though you’ll likely feel it most in your quads. Weightlifters of all expertise levels like this exercise machine for its ability to both warm up before more leg work, or burn out the legs at the end of the workout.
If you’re new and just trying to build some basic leg strength, this machine will get you moving without much risk of injury or overload.
This machine, which can also be done with bands or as pull-ups if you’re strong enough, works the broadest muscles of the back, called the latissimus dorsi. Back strength allows for functional strength across all of the upper body, and you shouldn’t skip it. Legitimate bodybuilders consider the back muscles to be as precious as any region on their entire body.
Use an overhand grip and very light weight if you’re a beginner — the grip will also activate the bicep for a toned arm. From there, experiment with all sorts of grips, as they’ll all work slightly different parts of the arms and back, depending on your form.
Cable machine, tricep pushdown
When performing a pushdown, grip and direction will change the activation of the tricep muscle. There are three heads on a tricep, and they all activate during various pushing motions performed by the human body.
Tricep work is important for both men and women, aesthetically: men love the girth of a powerful tricep, while women love the sleek look of an arm that doesn’t jiggle when held upright. Building strong triceps is also the foundation of getting strong enough to do pushups, and eventually the bench press.
The rowing machine will fundamentally change your fitness and cardiovascular levels if you stick with it. It’s a compound movement that puts very little strain on your body, but also pushes you very hard. You really can’t slack off on a rowing machine — the motor requires a significant pulling force. As such, the row will build all of your back muscles, the posterior chain, a little bit of bicep, a little bit of legs, and a whole lot of lung strength.
Simply put: the rowing machine is the perfect blend of resistance training and cardiovascular exercise. Try doing 60 second sprints with 60 second breaks in-between. If you can do more than five sets, let us know on Instagram — fair warning, it’s a challenge!