Going to a gym for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. Not only are you conscious about what you are wearing and how you look (you don’t need to glam up to get your sweat on), you may also be intimidated by the equipment. Everybody who joins a gym for the first time (including myself) feels the exact same way. That’s why most gyms offer a complimentary fitness consultation with a qualified trainer to assess your fitness goals and to show how to use the equipment. If your new gym offers this, it’s a good idea to schedule a consultation, but if this isn’t for you and you want to get the lay of the land on your own, I have listed some of the common pieces of equipment used at the gym along with why and how to use each because 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 as well as a manual setting for walking or running only, all of which benefit your muscles and bones because weight-bearing exercises like these can help strengthen your muscles and bones to prevent or slow the progression of osteoporosis. 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 machine or stationary bike instead.
How to use it: Stand so that you are close enough so 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.
Why to use it: If you can’t tolerate high-impact activities or are recovering from a recent injury, the elliptical machine is your best go-to gym equipment for cardio because it’s easier on your joints than other machines.
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.
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 (there are also recumbent stationary bikes that places you in a laid back reclining position that distributes body weight comfortably over a larger area that supports the back which is good for those who want to ride a stationary bike and need more back support).
How to use it: Getting set up on the bike is perhaps the most challenging task you will 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 of a stationary bike, take 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. With this machine in particular, you will work every muscle in your lower body, including your lower core. Multi-function gym equipment like this one maximizes your time at the gym.
How to use it: To get a proper fit, you will need to adjust seat height and/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 will strengthen your upper body, which is often weak in women. It also firms trouble spots like the triceps (aka “chicken wings”) and the dreaded “muffin top” 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.
Seated Cable Row
Why to use it: With age comes bad posture, so this piece of gym equipment will help strengthen your back muscles and aid in improving posture.
How to use it: Imagine that you have a straight rod in your back to help elongate your spine. 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 are controlling the weight.
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.
How to use it: Start small. Use light weights and master the movement before moving up in weights. You should always feel in control of the weight and movement.
Now that you have some knowledge of how and why to use some of the common pieces of gym equipment, walk into your new gym with confidence and slay your first workout! Also, don’t forget to check with your health care provider before starting any fitness program and until next time, be happy, healthy and beautiful!