A Beginner’s Guide to Gym Equipment

Beginners guide to gym equipment, woman on row machine with personal trainer

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 if you’ve got questions.

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



Why should you use a treadmill:

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 programming variety, but there are also options with the type of activity because 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. Therefore, 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 do you use it:

Stand so that you’re close enough to 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.

Check out the ProForm Pro 2000 Treadmill for home workouts.

Elliptical Machine

Elliptical Machine

Why you should use an elliptical:

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 do you use it:

Stand with your feet flat so that your weight is evenly distributed. Hold onto the handles to strengthen the muscles in your chest, back, and shoulders.

Check out the ProForm Carbon E7 Elliptical for home workouts.

Stationary Bike

Stationary Bike

Why you should use a stationary bike:

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 do you 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 with the handlebars. To learn proper setup, Maciel recommends taking a cycling class first.

Check out the MyX Fitness II for home workouts. 

Leg Press Machine

Leg Press Machine

Why you should use a leg press:

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 equipment maximizes your time at the gym to make your workouts more effective and more efficient.

How do you 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 to a full extension.

Check out the Body-Solid GLPH1100 Leg Press Machine for home workouts. 

Chest Press Machine

Chest Press machine

Why you should use a chest press machine:

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 do you use it:

Adjust the seat so that your hands are direct 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.

Check out the Gold’s Gym XRS 50 Home Gym to do a full-body workout, including chest presses, at home. 

Seated Cable Row

Seated Cable Row

Why should you use a seated cable row:

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

How do you 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 at gym

Why you should use dumbbells:

After getting comfortable with moves on the strength machines, dumbbells are a good next step. 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 do you 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.

Check out the Bowflex SelectTech Adjustable Dumbbell Set for home workouts, which allows you to adjust the weight by turning the handle on the dumbbell. 

If you’re still not excited about getting into the gym, there are options that give you trainer-led workouts at home. The Tempo Studio is a futuristic approach to home workouts and has all the technology, classes, and equipment you need to get started. The frame allows you to watch the trainer go through the activity while offering you guidance on your form and technique by using a 3D sensor to track your movements. 

Read Next:

Workout Apparel That Won’t Break the Bank

18 Best Workout Apps for Women Over 50

Best Pre-Workout For Cardio


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