Because those illustrated diagrams aren’t that helpful.
By Laura Brzyski·
Navigating the strength training section of any gym can be super nerve-wracking. Whether you’re a newbie or are just hesitant, the sight of all those resistance machines, cables, and funky-shaped pieces of equipment might stress you out (especially when they’re being handled by grunting gym rats — yikes). And even though most of them are accompanied by illustrated instructions, those diagrams can end up making the whole endeavor even more confusing. So, you bypass, and head toward what’s fairly easy to use on your own: cardio machines, free weights, and the exercise mat.
With our help, your reluctance over strength training can disappear (or at least subside). To make your machine and equipment use more accessible and less anxiety-ridden, we turned to someone whose job is to help demystify fitness contraptions and make sure you’re properly using them. Below, Caitlyn Porcaro, Thrive coach at City Fitness Logan Square, breaks down eight gym machines and equipment that are seemingly intimidating but actually really easy to use. That way, you can walk into the gym feeling confident, comfortable, and ready to work those muscles.
Exercise you can do with it: Cable press out
Good for: This is an anti-rotational core exercise that will give you the ab burn you’re looking for without compromising your lumbar spine. Doing it in a half-kneeling position allows core stabilization and some hip activation, as well.
How to use it: Set a cable machine so that the cable is chest height when kneeling. Grab the handle with both hands with your fingers interlaced. Move two to three feet away from the machine until you feel a good amount of tension. Kneel down with one knee on the ground, facing perpendicular to the machine. Take a deep breath in and push the pulley handle away from your body until your arms are fully extended, exhaling as you do so. Exhale fully, until you can’t exhale any more, then draw the handle back in to your body, inhaling as you do so. Complete all the reps in your set, then repeat on the other side.
Lat pulldown machine
Exercise you can do with it: Lat pulldown
Good for: This exercise targets the big muscles in your back (latissimus dorsi) along with recruiting your biceps and triceps. The lat pulldown allows you to strengthen your back to help improve posture and pulling movements. This exercise is great in helping achieve or improve pull-ups and increase overall strength.
How to use it: Select your desired resistance. Adjust the machine’s thigh pads so they are snug, but not tight, against your legs, with your feet flat on the floor. With your torso upright, grab the bar with a wide grip and look forward. Pull the bar down toward your chest using your lats, squeezing your shoulder blades back until the bar is just above your chest. With control, allow the bar to return to the starting position.
Exercise you can do with it: Leg press
Good for: Building bigger and stronger leg muscles, especially your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
How to use it: Load the machine with your desired resistance. Sit down on the machine with your back against the padded seat back and your feet flat on the platform, shoulder-width apart. With your back and head flat against the seat, drive the platform away from you with your feet. Slowly lower the platform back to the starting position.
Seated chest press machine
Exercise you can do with it: Seated chest press
Good for: This machine allows you to target the big chest muscles: the pectorals. The press also recruits your triceps and the muscles in your back and shoulders (your lats and delts).
How to use it: Adjust the seat height so you can sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. Select your desired resistance. Grip the handles. On an exhale, push the handles forward until your arms are fully extended and pause. Inhale as you slowly lower to starting position.
Seated triceps extension machine
Exercise you can do with it: Seated triceps extension
Good for: Building strength and size in your triceps muscle.
How to use it: Adjust the seat height so you can extend your elbows comfortably while sitting straight up with your feet flat on the floor. Select your desired resistance. Grip the machine handles with your palms facing inward. Push the weight down until your arms are fully extended. With control, bend your elbows until the handles have returned to the starting position.
Exercise you can do with it: Sled push
Good for: The sled push is a total-body exercise, allowing you to build solid strength in your upper and lower body, while activating your core for stabilization. Not only will you see strength and power gains, but you will also improve aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. It’s a great way to build muscle, reduce fat, and increase power, speed, and conditioning.
How to use it: Leaning forward at a 45-degree angle, grip the sled with your arms fully extended and your core engaged. Lean into the sled. Starting from a staggered stance, drive through the balls of your feet to take large steps forward, pushing the sled ahead of you until you reach the end of the track.
Exercise you can do with it: Trap bar deadlift
Good for: Building total-body power and strength while minimizing injury risk compared to a barbell. The trap bar centralizes the load on your body, creating a more balanced positioning. When used to do a deadlift, the trap bar helps to strengthen pretty much everything: the glutes, lower back, quads, hamstrings, traps, core, and forearms.
How to use it: Step into the middle of the trap bar. Hinge your hips back and bend your knees to grab the middle of the handles. Keeping a neutral position with your head and spine, inhale taking a deep breath to engage your core. Exhale as you straighten your hips and knees, keeping your back flat, glutes tightened, and arms by your side as you lift. Bend your hips and knees to lower the bar to the ground to return to the starting position.
Exercise you can do with it: TRX row
Good for: TRX is a type of suspension training that uses your own body weight to increase your stability, strength, balance, and flexibility. Using it to do a row will strengthen your major upper back muscles, while also working your lats, rhomboids, traps, shoulders, and core. Bonus: The TRX row helps to reverse kyphosis (rounding of your upper back) due to excess cell phone use and screen time.
How to use it: With your feet hip-distance apart, grab the TRX handles in each hand, palms facing each other. Walk your feet forward until your body is at a 45-degree angle, arms fully extended. Plant your heels and engage your core as you bend your elbows and pull your body up to your hands, keeping your elbows tucked in close to your body. Slowly extend your arms to lower yourself the starting position.
City Fitness offers complimentary training sessions with a Thrive coach for all new clients. To receive your free seven-day training pass here.
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