How To Progress Through the Weight Room

Weight room got you down? Don't let the machines scare you off. Understanding how to use and progress through the weight machines is easier than you think!
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Walking into a weight room and seeing a gazillion different machines spread out across the floor can be intimidating for a beginner. Before you turn around and head back to the cardio room, please know that weight machines are not as complicated as they seem. Yes, weight machines can cause panic at first glance, but they are an easy and effective way to train your muscles and shouldn’t be discounted.

Understanding how to use and progress through the weight machines at the gym not only helps you get a good workout, but also helps avoid injuries.

Before I give you the tips to nailing a weight room workout, I should probably answer the question I know you are asking: Why should I even bother with weight machines? I already have a workout routine that I’m comfortable with.

First, weight machines will offer you a fixed motion system where the exercises are guided by the machine, which helps to target specific muscle groups in a stabilized, controlled environment. Second, weight machines are a great way to add variety to the functional strength training workouts you are already doing with free weights, balls, and bands. Since your range of motion is consistent for each repetition, this type of movement may feel more familiar and intuitive or may help to prevent injury and promote good form.

Lastly, every fitness level can benefit from weight machines at the gym but beginners, or those of us who desire more straightforward moves, often feel more comfortable starting with this type of gym. Yet, the advanced exerciser is also attracted to this consistent and dependable range of motion because they can safely use heavier weight to build more strength in specific muscle groups (like a very heavy bench press).

A Few Steps to Follow for Each Machine

  • Select the proper weight machine for the part of the body you wish to work. All weight machines at the gym will have placards that show which muscle group(s) are being worked.
  • Learn the motions to be performed on the weight machine. Take time to review the instructions and look at the diagram to make sure you are comfortable with the movement. 
  • Adjust the weight machine to fit your body. Most machines will have a seat adjustment, or options for moving the arm and leg position. Take the time to set it up properly.
  • Pick a weight appropriate for your fitness level. Challenge yourself to fatigue in 10-12 reps. Most machines have a weight stack with a pin but some may have variable options. Complete three sets of 10-12 repetitions with a few minutes rest in between before moving to the next machine.
  • Be respectful of the next user. Wipe down the weight machine and return the settings to the neutral position.

Get Started With These Machines

  • Chest Press Machine: Flat or incline, you’ll sit or lay down, grip a pair of handles, and then push your arms out and away from your body. 
  • Pull-Down Machine: You sit down, reach up to grab the bar, and pull it down towards your torso, until the bar touches your chest. This works your lats.
  • Shoulder Press Machine: This is very similar to the chest press, except you press up instead of out.
  • Seated Row Machine: It’s the exact opposite motion of the chest press: sit and pull the weight towards your body.
  • Leg Press Machine: Lie down, bend your knees, place your feet on the platform, and press your legs away from your body.
  • Leg Curls: There are two versions of this machine – both working the hamstrings.
  • Abdominal Crunch Machine: There are several variations of this machine with the main movement crunching forward and contracting the abs.

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