Weight machines tend to be safer and easier to use than free weights, and many help you get the most out of your workout by ensuring you follow a proper motion path without relying on other muscles. Despite the benefits, walking into a gym full of equipment can be baffling and can often lead to confusion and discouragement. Once you understand how to use the best pieces of equipment, you can begin toning and strengthening your muscles with confidence.
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Squats and the bench press are arguably two of the most popular gym exercises, and for good reason. Both exercises are compound, meaning they involve multiple joints and work multiple muscle groups at once. They also can both be dangerous, especially for new exercisers, as performing them with improper form can lead to shoulder, knee or lower-back injuries. The Smith machine consists of a barbell running up and down a vertical track. When you perform exercises such as squats or the bench press with a Smith machine, you'll have increased stability due to the single plane of motion, and the series of catch points along the track will catch the barbell at a twist of your wrist, should it become too heavy. In addition to squats and the bench press, you can try the shoulder press, lunges and deadlifts.
The leg press machine mimics the motion of a squat, working your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, but with added support for your back and knees. The adjustable sliding bench allows you to limit your knee position to a 90-degree bend to prevent stress and injury on the joint. When you've finished working your upper legs, you can perform calf raises with one or both legs from the same machine.
If you had to select a single piece of equipment to tone your muscles with, the cable tower might be your best choice. The two adjustable pulleys attached to weight stacks give you a nearly free range of motion, so you'll enjoy many of the benefits of free weights. By moving the cable up and down the track and switching out the handles, you can work almost every muscle in your body with this one machine. With the cable at its highest point, perform lateral pulldowns with a pulldown bar, triceps pushdowns with a rope attachment or kneeling cable crunches with the traditional handles. Move the pulley to the bottom of the track and do bicep curls or seated cable rows with the straight bar handle. Setting both pulleys somewhere in the middle lets you perform chest flies.
Choosing Correct Weight
The proper equipment will do nothing to tone your muscles without the correct weight. To determine the proper weight, have a trainer or workout buddy spot you to determine the maximum weight you can lift for a single repetition of a given exercise. Aim to lift at least 50 percent of your maximum for 12 repetitions. If you can perform 12 repetitions with proper form, you're probably not lifting with enough weight. You can add more weight and sets over time as your fitness level improves.