Gym Equipment How To

A Beginner’s Guide to Gym Equipment

Going to a health club can be an overwhelming experience if you’re new to the gym scene. You may not only be more conscious about what you’re wearing (news flash: you don’t need to glam up to get your sweat on), you may also be intimidated by the equipment. Good news! You’re in the same boat as everybody else when they joined a gym for the first time. That’s why most clubs will offer a complimentary fitness consultation to review the equipment with a qualified trainer so always ask.

Below, trainers offer their expertise on some of the common pieces of equipment, you’ll see, giving you inside scoop on their benefits and how to use them.

Working hard at the gym

Using the right equipment in the right way can have amazing results.


  • Why to use it:

The treadmill offers numerous programs like endurance, hills and sprints, which can make exercise fun and engaging, says Ryan Maciel, R.D., head nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition and certified strength and conditioning specialist in Cambridge, Mass. Not only is there variety in programming but also the activity, as you can walk or run, both of which benefit your muscles and bones. “Weight-bearing exercises like these can help strengthen your muscles and bones to prevent or slow the progression of osteoporosis,” he adds. The one caveat? The treadmill places a good amount of stress on the body so if you have musculoskeletal issues like arthritis or tendonitis or are recovering from an injury, consider using other gym equipment like an elliptical or stationary bike instead.

  • How to use it:

Stand so that you’re close enough you can reach the touchpad to lower the speed or stop the treadmill if necessary. Unless you have an injury or balance issue, avoid holding the rails, and don’t forget to clip the safety catch to you, which will stop the machine if you fall.

Elliptical Machine

  • Why to use it:

If you can’t tolerate high-impact activities or are recovering from a recent injury, the elliptical is your best go-to in gym equipment. “It’s easier on your joints (than other machines),” Maciel says.

  • How to use it:

Stand so that your weight is evenly distributed through your feet, your feet flat. To strengthen muscles in your chest, back and shoulders, hold onto the handles.

Stationary Bike

  • Why to use it:

Love cycling outside but don’t want to deal with weather, traffic and uneven terrain? That’s one of the main benefits of a stationary bike. Plus, because it’s a low-impact activity, it won’t stress your joints.

  • How to use it:

Getting set up on the bike is perhaps the most challenging task you’ll face. The two biggest concerns? How high your seat should be and whether the seat should move forward or back in relation to your position on the handlebars. To learn proper set-up, Maciel recommends taking a cycling class first.

Leg Press Machine

  • Why to use it:

Strength training in general is key for overall health. “You lose muscle mass as you age, especially women over 40, so it’s important to keep strength up in your entire body,” says Aftan Noon, certified personal trainer in Commerce, Texas, and lead trainer with Trainiac. With this machine in particular, you’ll work every muscle in your lower body, including your lower core. Multi-function gym equipment maximizes your time at the gym.

  • How to use it:

To get a proper fit, you’ll need to adjust seat height or distance. Then check that the resistance is set to a challenging but not impossible resistance. Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the pad and allow your knees to bend to 90 degrees (or less if that’s too much). As you push away through the forefeet, avoid straightening your leg.

Chest Press Machine

  • Why to use it:

You’ll strengthen your upper body, which is often weak in women. It also firms trouble spots like the triceps (aka “chicken wings”) and boob fat.

  • How to use it:

Adjust the seat so that your hands are directly to the sides of your chest. As you push the levers away from your body, pause as you get to the top, locking out your arms for extra engagement in the triceps. As with any weight machine, avoid letting the weight plates smack together, Noon says.

Seated Cable Row

  • Why to use it:

With age comes bad posture. Yet this piece of gym equipment will help strengthen your back muscles and aid in improving posture, Noon says.

  • How to use it:

Imagine that you have a straight rod in your back to help elongate your spine. Noon says. Then with your arms in front of your body, pull the cable into your body, keeping the elbows close to your waist. Feel the pinch between your shoulder blades and slowly release the weight, making sure that you’re controlling the weight.

Woman uses dumbells

Dumbells are a great choice because you can start small.


  • Why to use it:

After getting comfortable with moves on the strength machines, dumbbells are a good call. They recruit small stabilizing muscles that aren’t used on machines and allow you to focus on one side of a movement at a time, Noon says.

  • How to use it:

Start small. “Use light weights and master the movement before moving up in weights,” Noon says. You should always feel in control of the weight and movement.

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