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3 Gym Machines You Really Should Know How To Use

The start of a new year inevitably brings fresh resolutions to live a healthier and more active lifestyle, which might mean you’re thinking about joining the gym.

Despite the fact that group exercises classes and free weights are conquering the fitness scene right now, personal trainers agree: exercise machines can be really effective for first timers who want to take on short-duration workouts at their own pace.

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The problem is that these towering metal structures – with their knobs, handles, pulleys and cables – can be pretty intimidating to approach if you don’t know what you’re doing, especially when everyone else at the gym makes it look so effortless.

For this reason, it’s always a good idea to have an induction at your gym before trying anything new; a trainer can walk you through machine safety and check you aren’t putting yourself at risk of injury.

That being said, here are a few common machines to get to know, and how they can assist your 2020 fitness goals.

1. Chest press

Fit woman using weights machine for arms
The chest press is a classic upper-body strengthening exercise (iStock/PA)

If you’re looking to build some definition to your pectoral muscles, shoulders and biceps, the chest press is a great way to work on your upper-body strength. Sitting upright, the machine places the arms under a weight-bearing load, mimicking the effort of a press-up.

How to use it: Choose a weight that’s heavy enough to fatigue your muscles after 15 reps, but isn’t so heavy that you can’t complete the range of motion correctly.

Sat in a upright position with the seat back supporting you and your head facing forwards, grip the handles near to your chest, exhale and push them forwards until your arms are fully extended, but not locked. As you inhale, gently bring the handles back towards your chest and repeat.

2. Lat pull-down

Young man doing lats pull-down workout
This machine challenges your mid and upper-back muscles (iStock/PA)

If your goal is to be able to successfully perform a pull-up, this machine can help to get you there. Specifically targeting the large flat muscles on the back, the lat pull-down machine is a weight-adjusted cable exercise that replicates the same vertical pulling-down motion. Unlike a body weight pull-up though, you can control how much weight you lift, allowing you slowly increase the intensity over time.

How to use it: Before getting started, add weight to the machine – it’s best to begin with a light weight while you familiarise yourself with the technique.

The machine has a padded cylinder that should sit snugly over your thighs to reduce any movement. Grab hold of the overhead cable bar with a wide grip and look forwards with an upright posture (try not to lean back when you’re using this machine as this can put pressure on your lower back).

Pull the bar down to your upper chest, pause for a beat while squeezing your lats, then take the bar back up with a slow, controlled movement and repeat.

3. Seated leg press

Young people in gym - leg press workout
The leg press is a great warm-up tool on leg days (iStock/PA)

Working the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves, this lower-body machine is great for toning and growing the legs.

This seated leg press can be a safe way to add volume to your workouts without relying on barbells. Thanks to its size and the 45-degree seated position, it can look incredibly intimidating at first, but it’s actually really easy to use once you get the hang of it.

How to use it: Add the right weight; 25 pound plates per side is a good starting point for beginners. 

Sit on the seat and plant your feet hip-width apart on the foot plate. Once you feel comfortable, firmly press the footplate with both feet while releasing the safety latches on the side of the seat with your hands.

With your feet still firmly in place, bend your knees, letting the weight of the footplate guide your feet towards your body.

Once your knees are at a 90-degree angle, press the footplate away from the body and straighten your legs, without locking your knees. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps and engage the safety latches before jumping off the machine.

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