If you’ve ever stepped into a gym, you know that it is packed with all different kinds of exercise machines. There are machines for training your arms, your legs, your back, or even doing a full-body workout. As a beginner, you probably want to try them all and see what they feel like, but not every machine works for every fitness level! Some of them are meant for more advanced trainers, while others are designed specifically for those who are just starting and need a push towards more difficult exercises. To save you the trouble of researching which ones you should be using, we’ve compiled a list of the best gym machines to use when you’re a beginner, especially if you’re strength training or resistance training, along with the muscle groups that they work and the way to use them. So buckle up and start taking notes for your next visit to the gym!
Assisted pull-up machine
Pull-ups are usually very difficult to do when you’re a beginner since you need to be able to lift your whole body weight, but they’re one of the best basic exercises for your upper body. They mainly work your upper and lower back, as well as your biceps, triceps, and several other upper body muscles. The best way to introduce yourself to pull-ups is with an assisted pull-up machine that 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: Place one knee on the machine’s kneepad to lower it and grasp the handles located on top of you, then place the other knee. Keep your shoulders back and down so that your back isn’t curved and make sure that your arms are fully extended on top of you. 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.
Remember that keeping a good form is important, so stick with the assisted pull-up machine until you’ve mastered it and have built enough upper body strength to lift yourself without breaking your form.
As a beginner, you’re probably already familiar with the cable machine since it’s such a versatile and useful tool at the gym that you can use to train your entire body. That versatility comes from the number of attachments and adjustable cables that it features, allowing you to use them in a bunch of different ways to tackle your resistance exercises from all angles and through the whole range of motion, whether you’re standing, sitting, pulling, or pushing. This is because the cables offer a fixed tension that you can adjust by changing the weights so that you can comfortably perform each movement while keeping your stability instead of working against the force of gravity, helping you develop proper form. With this machine, you can work out both your upper and lower body, tackling the muscles that you prefer and even isolating them for a more focused exercise.
How to use it: Since the cable machine offers so many different approaches to your workouts, there isn’t just one correct way to use it, so we’ll guide you through some of the best cable machine exercises that you can try:
- Face pulls
This exercise will tackle your back and shoulder muscles, specifically your traps, rhomboids, posterior delts, and rotator cuffs. Before you begin, first attach a rope with a handle to the cable machine so it is at eye level. Stand straight in front of the machine, feet shoulder-width apart, and grab the handle with both hands. Start slowly pulling the rope towards your face, drawing your elbows back and out to your sides. When you’re face to face with the rope, pause for a moment and then go back to the starting position and repeat.
- Triceps pushdown
As the name indicates, this movement will work out your triceps as a whole, engaging the long, the lateral, and the medial heads for a full triceps workout. First, attach a rope with a handle to the high pulley and grasp the handle with an overhand grip on both hands. Bend your torso slightly forward instead of standing straight in order to really engage your triceps instead of other muscles. Begin the movement by pulling the rope down to your thighs in a controlled motion until your hands are almost touching your legs. Hold the position for a moment, then drive the rope back up and repeat.
- Cable glute kickbacks
This exercise will mainly target all three gluteal muscles: the gluteus maximus, the medius, and the minimus. Start by hooking an ankle attachment to the low pulley, then face the machine and wrap the attachment around your right ankle. Hold onto the machine for support and bend your left leg slightly so that your knee isn’t locked in position. Begin driving your right foot backward, extending your leg behind you without arching your back. When you feel the stretch, pause for a moment, squeeze, then go back to the starting position and repeat. When you’re done with your reps, switch to the left leg.
Chest press machine
The chest press machine will allow you to do a push-up-like movement without putting too much strain on your shoulders and wrists because you’re performing the pushing movement while sitting on the machine instead of laying down. This is a great machine for beginners because you’re able to build upper body strength for future exercises, mainly working your deltoids, triceps, and pectorals, to prepare for harder and more complex exercises. The cable press machine is also a great alternative for those who suffer from hand or wrist conditions like carpal tunnel and can’t do push-ups.
How to use it: Sit comfortably on the seat with your back straight, grasp both handles and push the weight forward with both arms. They should be extended in front of you holding the weight at the end of the movement without locking your elbows. Be careful not to let your head go forward along with your arms, it should be in line with your back. Pause for a moment, go back, and repeat.
This machine allows you to modify the weight according to your fitness level and use heavier weights as you make progress, so it’s perfect for building up endurance when you’re just starting at the gym and making your way up to high-intensity workouts!
Isolated lateral raise machine
This machine is designed to work your shoulders one at a time or both by pushing the pads with your arms. This is an easier alternative to using free weights because it helps you gain stability and keep your form controlled throughout the whole movement, whereas using dumbbells or kettlebells can be more challenging when you haven’t mastered the proper form. With this movement you target the deltoids, mainly working the middle head (also known as the lateral head) while also engaging the rotator cuffs muscles for stability. This will help you develop shoulder strength, necessary for a lot of other exercises, as well as flexibility in the shoulder joint, which is a very sensitive joint and needs to be properly exercised to avoid any injuries while doing any other movements.
How to use it: First, sit down facing the machine with both pads to your sides. Keeping your back straight and your feet firm on the floor, place your right forearm against the pad and grasp the handle. Begin pushing the pad outward by engaging your shoulder, driving your elbow out and up until your upper arm is in line with your shoulder and parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment, slowly go back down and repeat. Finish your reps with the arm and switch to the other.
You can do this movement with both arms at the same time too, but it requires a little more stability to do it correctly. When you’re just starting out, stick with one side at a time to get the hang of it and make progress like that until you feel like you can work with both arms at the same time.
Leg press machine
Similar to the chest press machine being a beginner approach to push-ups, the leg press machine is a great beginner alternative to squats. It’s easier because it doesn’t require you to go all the way down to the floor and back up, which puts a lot of strain on your knees and lower back and can feel really strenuous when you’re not used to those kinds of deep movements. Instead, it gives you back support so you’ll be focusing solely on working your leg muscles, such as the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Another great thing about the leg press machine is that you can adjust the seat to determine how deep you want your press to be. For beginners, going deep should be the ultimate goal, but work your way up there first. Adjust the seat so that you’re sitting comfortably and can perform your reps without struggling too much, but still allowing you to really feel the heat on that last rep.
How to use it: To perform a leg press with this machine, sit on the seat with your back resting on the support. Place your legs on the platform at a shoulder-width distance from each other, with your hands to your sides. This is your starting position. Begin by pushing the platform with your feet in a linear manner until your legs are extended, but not locked. Make sure that your hips are resting against the backrest at all times instead of driving them up when you extend your legs. At the end of the movement, hold for a moment and then go back and repeat.
You can also change your foot positioning to emphasize other muscle groups more, like placing your feet closer together to emphasize your quads more. You can even try a side leg press to emphasize the glutes more! And another note, this machine is designed to keep a fixed range of movement, allowing you to control your form throughout the movement better than with squats in order to limit the risk of injury, so choose a weight that you know you can handle and keep changing it as you make progress.
Lat pulldown machine
Similar to the assisted pull-up machine, the lat pulldown machine mimics the movement of a pull-up, but instead of gradually using the weight to help you lift yourself up you’re going to be pulling down weight while sitting down, making it a great choice for beginners. As the name suggests, with this machine you’ll be able to work your latissimus dorsi muscles (lats) while giving support with your biceps in order to build upper-body strength and resistance.
How to use it: Sit on the machine while facing the pulley, with your feet on the floor and your knees tucked under the pad for support. Check that the bar is at a comfortable height for your arms to reach it without over or under stretching. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip shoulder-width apart. Begin by slowly pulling down the bar to your chin until it’s almost touching your face. Make sure that your back is straight instead of curved, and that your shoulders are going down and back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the end of the movement, then go back up and repeat.
If it’s easier for you, you can try using an underhand grip first. This will engage more of your biceps than your lats, but it can help you get used to the movement before you begin using an overhand grip to actually target your lats. With time, you can gradually add more weight to the machine to make it more challenging, but always make it manageable. Using heavy weights when you’re not prepared for it can make you drop the plates when you’re going back up, which in turn can damage your muscles and joints, so choose an appropriate weight that you can move in a controlled manner.
Seated row machine
This rowing machine works your back muscles, particularly the lats, as well as the forearm and upper arm muscles since they help stabilize the movement. Instead of pulling the weight down as you do with the lat pulldowns, you're going to be pulling the weight horizontally towards you, engaging your back muscles. Your back is a key part of your body when doing your workouts since it offers support and helps you stand straight and hold your form during your different exercises, reducing the risk of injury, so back exercises should always be part of your workout routine. Additionally, if you have a desk job or need to be sitting almost all day, this machine will help you strengthen your postural muscles that may be affected by long sitting positions.
How to use it: Sit on the machine with your torso pressed against the cushioned support and your feet firm on the floor. Grasp the handles with both hands, but make sure that you’re able to reach them without arching your back forward. To begin, pull the handles toward your body in a controlled motion, driving your shoulders down and back. Keep your back straight and squeeze your shoulder blades at the end of the movement. After the squeeze, slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Remember, for this and each one of the exercises that we mentioned: choose an appropriate weight! You need to be able to perform your reps with stability and proper form, without struggling too much, and the last rep should always be a little bit more difficult and make your heart rate go up. Failing to keep your form may cause injuries or strain, and you definitely don’t want that, much less when you’re just starting out.
We hope that this information helps you step into the gym with more confidence and crush your workout next time. There are a lot of different workout machines and gym equipment that you’ll encounter at the gym besides the ones that we just mentioned, so don’t be afraid to try them as long as the movements that you perform are appropriate for your current fitness level. Whether your goal is to build muscle, build strength, or achieve weight loss, don’t rush, just focus on having a great workout!