Which Is the Best Gym Equipment for Overall Fitness?

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A woman is working out with a medicine ball.
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Most machines and free weights at the gym function differently and serve different purposes, but a few pieces of equipment are flexible enough to provide an overall workout mostly, or even entirely, by themselves. Using one piece of equipment can save you time at the gym and keep your entire body in shape.

Rowing Machine

Treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes all get your heart rate up while working muscles mostly in your lower body. Used properly, the rowing machine provides a cardio workout while hitting every major muscle group. Because it uses so many muscles, the rower is a significant calorie burner -- 210 in 30 minutes at a moderate pace for a 124-pound person, according to Harvard Health Publications. Additionally, exercise that involves multiple muscles has been associated with the after-burn effect, where the body continues to burn more calories at rest. A moderate rowing pace would be about 24 strokes per minute. Vigorous would be about 26 to 28 strokes.

Medicine Ball Versatility

A medicine ball can be used for multiple exercises, including plyometrics, targeting specific muscles or your entire core. You also can work out with a partner to make it more fun. For toss-ups, start in a squat position with the ball between your legs, then bring your extended arms up as you thrust to a jump, working your entire body with an emphasis on your thighs and butt. Starting with the ball held overhead and arcing your extended arms down to the outside of one foot works your core -- particularly your obliques. Doing pushups with both hands on the ball will emphasize your triceps while requiring core work to balance. Plyo pushups, which alternate hands on the ball, engage deeper muscles than the standard pushup.

Cables and Pulleys

While many cable machine exercises target specific muscles, you can work your body head-to-toe in just one place. With high pulleys and stirrups, do cable flys for your chest and front delts. Pull down on the rope attachment for triceps, or kneel while holding the knobs on either side of your head for a crunch to work your abs. On the low setting, use the rope for hammer curls or exchange it for a bar attachment to work your biceps. Grab a stirrup and work your lats with a one-armed bent-over row. Use the ankle strap attachment to work your inner and outer thighs or face the pulley and curl your leg back to work your hamstrings. Turn in the opposite direction to work your quads with a leg extension.

Stability Balls

Stability balls add an element of balance -- and consequently core work -- to just about any exercise. You're probably familiar with using them for crunches and crunch twists. Also try sitting on a ball while doing biceps curls and triceps extensions. Place the ball under your neck and shoulders with your feet flat on the floor for flys. Stability ball supermans work your back muscles. Then roll forward with your hands on the floor and the ball under your hips and lift your legs to tighten your glutes. Elevating your feet on the ball adds challenge to pushups, while resting your forearms on the ball makes for a tougher plank.

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