A Beginner’s Guide to Gym Equipment

Walking into the gym can be an overwhelming experience for new gym-goers. There’s just so much equipment moving, clanking, and whirring! Where should you begin? Don’t let your uncertainty about gym equipment stop you from pursuing your fitness goals. Instead, this handy guide will explain how to use gym equipment for beginners.

This guide will introduce you to the most common pieces of equipment you’ll see at a gym and explain how to use each one. The guide will also focus specifically on the best gym equipment for beginners, so you don’t have to worry about more advanced equipment.

Take Advantage of the Free Gym Tour

This gym equipment guide will give you a basic understanding of what to expect at the gym, but it’s always a good idea to request a tour when you sign up at a new gym. During the tour, a gym staff member should introduce and explain how the equipment works. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially about equipment you want to try. It is always better to ask than to guess! Using a machine incorrectly won’t help your fitness and could actually lead to injury! (Learn why it’s so important to perform reps correctly.)

The Cardio Equipment

Cardiovascular equipment includes machines that provide an aerobic workout that strengthen your heart and lungs. If you want to be able to walk, run, swim, or bike more quickly or for longer distances, then cardio equipment will help. Here are the most common pieces of cardiovascular equipment:

Treadmill

How it works: Step onto the treadmill and hit the start button. The belt will begin moving under your feet. Walk, jog, or run to match the pace of the belt.

Capabilities: Buttons on the treadmill console will allow you to speed up or slow down your pace. The console will also show you your pace, time, and calorie burn. Many treadmills allow you to choose from pre-programmed workouts and increase the incline to make your workout more challenging.

Elliptical Trainer

How it works: Step onto the large, flat pedals and grab the handlebars. Slowly push your dominant foot forward. Feel the pedals begin to glide in an elliptical motion immediately. The machine will turn on. Use your arms to push the handlebars, adding an upper-body component to the workout.

Capabilities: Use the buttons on the console to increase the resistance to make the workout more difficult. You can also program a workout or switch to pedaling backward to work different muscle groups. Some elliptical trainers include televisions.

Stationary Bike

How it works: Adjust the bike seat to your height. Sit on the seat, grab the handles, and place your feet on the pedals. Begin pedaling, and the bike will turn on.

Capabilities: Stationary bikes come in many different forms, but most will allow you to adjust the resistance to make pedaling easier or more difficult. Some will include handles that move as you pedal to add an upper-body component to your workout. Many bikes will allow you to choose from pre-programmed workouts. Some of the most advanced bikes feature televisions that let you “bike” in beautiful locations around the world.

Rower

How it works: Sit on the seat and adjust the pedals to your foot size. Slip your feet in the pedals and tighten the straps. Lean forward and grab the handle. Keeping your back flat (try to avoid rounding), use your legs to press yourself backward while pulling the handle toward your body. Rowing correctly requires some technique, so it is a good idea to ask a staff member for a demonstration before trying it yourself.

Capabilities: Move the toggle (or dampener) up or down to increase the resistance of the rower. The monitor will show you how far you’ve rowed, your time, and calories burned. Many rowing machines come with pre-programmed rows or even fun rowing games.

The Strength Training Equipment

A large portion of most gyms is taken up by a range of strength training equipment. This equipment will allow you to work on different muscle groups in order to increase your strength, burn fat, and improve muscular definition. There are simply too many different kinds of strength training machines to review them all in this article, so this gym equipment guide will briefly touch on the most common types of equipment you will see in the gym.

Resistance Machines

Every standard gym will include a selection of resistance machines. These machines allow you to isolate and work specific muscle groups. Most machines will include a weight stack that you can adjust by moving a pin up (to lower the weight) or down (to increase the weight).

Resistance machines are ideal for beginning exercisers. Most machines focus on performing a single movement and provide a large amount of stability. Each machine should include a clear visual guide on how to use it (though ask if you are unsure). If trying a machine for the first time, start with a light weight.

The Cable Machine

If you see a large machine with two stacks of weights and a pulley on each end, then you’ve discovered the cable machine. This piece of gym equipment is highly versatile but can also be challenging for beginning exercisers. The pulleys can be shifted up or down, and you can hook different grips to the machine for different exercises. You can perform a wide range of exercises on the pulley machine. It’s a good idea to ask for suggestions and demonstrations from a staff member before trying the machine on your own.

Power Tower

Do you see a tall machine with a back pad and arms jutting out from each side? This is called a Power Tower, and it’s an excellent option for a range of intermediate and advanced bodyweight movements. A power tower lets users perform knee-raises or straight leg raises for an ab-burning workout. Users can also turn around and use the bar on top for pull-ups or grab the handles on the arms to perform dips.

Free Weights

Do you see a long row of dumbbells? Usually, a few padded seats and benches will be lined up nearby. You’ve found the free weight section of the gym. This is where men and women come to “pump iron.” Free weights are a good option for intermediate and advanced exercisers and can be used for a range of upper-body and core exercises. Beginners should hold off on free weights unless they work out with a personal trainer or experienced gym buddy.

Barbells and Squat Racks

No, those aren’t Medieval torture devices. Those are squat racks where advanced exercisers use weighted barbells to perform back squats, front squats, bench presses, shoulder presses, and more. Using barbells requires good form as well as good balance and coordination. It is not something a beginner should try unless they are under the watchful eye of a personal trainer or gym staff member.

The Miscellaneous Section

While the cardio and strength training machines take up a big portion of a gym’s workout space, you’ll likely see lots of other equipment in different nooks and crannies around the gym.

Kettlebells

Kettlebells, like dumbbells, are free weights. They can be used in a wide range of movements, but the most popular is the kettlebell swing, which incorporates the posterior chain. Like other free weights, kettlebells require coordination, balance, and good form. Kettlebells are best used by intermediate and advanced exercisers. If you do want to give a kettlebell a try, ask a staff member or trainer to give you a demonstration.

Stability Balls

Those large, rubber balls aren’t just for sitting on while you’re at your desk at work. Stability balls can be incorporated into a range of exercises but are often used for ab exercises. Make sure you find a ball that is sized for your body and properly inflated. You should be able to lay on it and keep your feet squarely on the ground. Try some crunches, and you’ll feel the burn quickly.

Boxes and Risers

Boxes and risers are a great option for adding cardio into your workout. Beginners can use boxes or risers to perform step-ups. (Grab a light pair of dumbbells to make them more difficult.) Be careful when stepping down and always start with a low box or a single riser and increase height over time. Intermediate and advanced exercisers can eventually try jumping on low boxes for a more plyometric workout.

Bands

Bands are simple yet effective, offering resistance as you pull. You can use bands for a huge range of exercises. A gym staff member can give you some exercise suggestions. Bands can also be used to make certain bodyweight exercises, like dips or pull-ups, easier. Again, ask a staff member to demonstrate. (Here’s a great guide to resistance band training.)

Rollers

It’s a smart idea to perform a cool-down routine after every workout to help your body return to normal. Many gyms provide a range of rollers to help you soothe your sore muscle. Beginners should start with a soft foam roller. As you roll out more, try a hard foam roller or a rubber roller. (Here are 10 great cool-down stretches to try.)

There’s No Need to Feel Intimidated at the Gym

This gym equipment guide is a great start to preparing for your first trip to the gym. When you do visit the gym for the first time, remember that all those gym superstars around you were once novices, too. The worst thing you can do is to pretend you know what you’re doing and use a machine incorrectly. If you are uncertain, ask for help from the gym staff!

Most gyms, including EōS Fitness, offer a free session with a personal trainer when you sign up. Take advantage of this great option. Your trainer can take you through a range of different machines and movements. In fact, if you feel overly nervous about visiting the gym, you may want to consider hiring a personal trainer for a few months and learn how to use the gym equipment from an expert.

Looking to start at a new gym near you? Find your closest EōS location.

My EōS Fitness: