Walking into the gym can be an overwhelming experience for new gymgoers. There’s a lot happening, it’s noisy and can be a bit chaotic if you’re new. Don’t let your uncertainty about gym equipment stop you from pursuing your fitness goals. This helpful guide will explain how to use gym equipment for beginners.
This gym equipment guide will introduce you to the most common types of gym equipment you’ll see, explain how to use different pieces, and leave you with some ideas on where to start. We’ll also focus specifically on the best gym equipment for beginners, so you don’t have to worry about more advanced equipment just yet.
THE CARDIO EQUIPMENT
Cardiovascular equipment includes machines that provide an aerobic workout that strengthens your heart and lungs. If you want to be able to walk, run, swim, or bike faster or for longer distances, then cardio equipment will help. Here are some of the most common pieces of cardio equipment you’ll find in the gym:
The treadmill is one of the most foundational types of gym equipment. The treadmill is the perfect go-to for cardio exercises and allows you to move at your own pace. Step onto the treadmill and hit the start button. The belt will begin moving slowly under your feet. Then, gradually increase the pace to a walk, jog, or run.
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 workout level. Many treadmills allow you to choose from pre-programmed workouts and increase the incline to make your workout more challenging.
- Long-distance run
- Sprint intervals
- Hill training
The elliptical is another common cardio machine, with large pedals and vertical handlebars that move back and forth. 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.
The buttons on the console can increase the resistance to make the workout more difficult or change the type of workout.
- Low-resistance endurance exercise
- Interval training
- High-resistance sprints
The bike is a great way to get your cardio in while also working your leg muscles. Get started by properly setting up the bike so it is comfortable for you. Adjust the bike seat to your height using this guide. Then, sit on the seat, grab the handles, and place your feet on the pedals. Begin pedaling, and the bike will turn on.
Stationary bikes come in many different forms, but most will allow you to adjust the resistance to make pedaling easier or more difficult. Many bikes will allow you to choose from pre-programmed workouts.
- Interval training
- High-resistance sprints
- Timed endurance training
THE STRENGTH TRAINING EQUIPMENT
Strength training equipment allows you to work on different muscle groups to increase your strength, burn fat, and improve muscular definition. There are far too many strength training machines to review them all here, but this gym equipment guide will touch on the most common types of gym equipment for beginners.
LAT PULL-DOWN MACHINE
The lat pull-down machine is one of the most foundational strength training machines for targeting your back muscles. This machine isolates the latissimus dorsi muscles, helping with posture and strength for pulling yourself up. It also activates your biceps and shoulders.
The lat pull-down machine is one of the best pieces of gym equipment for beginners. The machine will have a seat, a bar hanging overhead, and a stack of weights attached to a pulley. Start by setting a comfortable weight using the pin in the stack of weights. Then, keeping your back straight, grab the bar with a wide grip. Pull the bar down to chin level, focusing on using your back muscles, and let it back up in a controlled manner.
- Lat pull-downs
SEATED ROW MACHINE
Like the lat pull-down machine, the seated row machine allows you to target your back muscles and also engage your arms. For this machine, simply sit on the bench facing the weight rack. Position yourself so that the handles are arms-length away and grab on. Then, pull the handles toward you by bringing your elbows back. Keep your back straight, avoid flaring out your elbows, and focus on using your back muscles.
- Seated rows
A bench press consists of a bench and a barbell. It allows you to target your chest muscles in the same way that push-ups do, but with more emphasis on the chest and a better range of motion. The best part is that it is easy to use as long as you use the proper weight.
Lay on your back and grip the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. Then, lift the bar off the rack and position it over your chest so your arms are pointed toward the ceiling, perpendicular to your body. Slowly bring the bar down to your chest, pushing your elbows out until they are at a 90-degree angle. Then, push the bar up and repeat.
Be sure to add only enough weight to the bar so you can handle 8-10 reps on your own. If you plan on pushing yourself, you should have someone to spot you. Many benches allow you to adjust the angle of the bench so that you can perform either incline or decline variations of the exercise.
- Barbell bench press
- Dumbbell bench press
- Incline bench press
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 exercise beginners. You can shift the pulleys up or down and hook different grips to the machine for different exercises. To adjust the weight for each exercise, move the pin into the hole for your preferred weight.
- Chest fly
- Tricep extensions
- Standing trunk rotation, also called a “woodchop”
- Bicep curls
Do you see a long row of dumbbells or a rack with kettlebells? Usually, a few padded seats and benches will be lined up nearby. You’ve found the free weight section of the gym. Free weights are a good option for intermediate and advanced exercisers and can be used for a range of upper-body and core exercises.
Free weights require coordination, balance, and good form, so start with a light weight and work up from there.
- Dumbbell curls
- Side lateral dumbbell raises
- Walking lunges with dumbbells
- Kettlebell swing
Barbells are another type of free weight. You can basically imagine a giant dumbbell, except barbells can be made much heavier, and they are about 6 feet long. Some barbells have a fixed weight on the ends, while most allow you to add weight plates on both sides. Barbells allow you to perform various exercises, use different weights, and experiment with the width of your grip during exercises to target different muscles.
Using a barbell requires good form as well as good balance and coordination. When starting out, it helps to use them under the watchful eye of a Personal Trainer or Team Member.
- Bench press
- Shoulder press
No, those aren’t Medieval torture devices—those large metal structures with barbells are squat racks. Using a squat rack, you can set a barbell at a comfortable height for your exercise, easily add weight, set up the safety bars, and have a starting point for performing squats or other exercises.
To perform squats, set the barbell at shoulder height and set up the safety bars underneath. Add weight plates on each side to set the bar at a weight you can handle. Then, squat underneath the bar so that the bar is resting comfortably on the back of your shoulders. Stand up with the bar on your shoulders and your feet spread shoulder-width apart.
Begin the exercise by squatting down. Keeping your back straight and your feet planted on the floor, slowly bring your glutes down just below knee level. Then, drive your heels down and squeeze your glutes to stand up and return to the starting position. Repeat for 10 reps and then lower the bar back onto the rack.
You may also see a different type of squat rack called a Smith machine. Smith machines have a barbell that travels within the path of steel rails. The machine is often safer because it prevents you from swaying and allows you to lock the bar in the rails if you can’t complete a rep.
- Barbell lunges
OTHER EQUIPMENT OPTIONS
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 areas around the gym. Other miscellaneous types of gym equipment you will see include:
- Stability balls – Stability balls can be incorporated into a range of exercises but are often used for ab exercises.
- Boxes and risers – Boxes and risers are a great option for adding cardio or functional movements to your workout. Beginners can use boxes or risers to perform step-ups. Intermediate and advanced exercisers can eventually try box jumps for a more plyometric workout.
- Bands – Bands offer resistance for a wide range of exercises. Bands can also be used to make certain bodyweight exercises, like dips or pull-ups, easier. (Here’s a great guide to resistance band training.)
- Rollers – Many gyms provide a range of rollers to help you release tight muscles and soothe soreness. 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.)
HOW TO USE GYM EQUIPMENT CORRECTLY
Once you know all of your options, it is important to remember that the best progress comes from being thoughtful about how you perform your workout. No matter what machines you plan on using, keep the following tips in mind:
ADJUST THE MACHINE FOR YOU
Most types of gym equipment are adjustable. Before you use a machine, adjust it so that you can perform the exercise safely and comfortably. Ensure the grips are a good distance away from you and that the seat is at a proper height so the motion does not feel awkward or uncomfortable.
FOCUS ON FORM FIRST
Make sure you perform the exercise correctly before you commit to it and focus on maintaining the right form for every rep. Improper use of gym equipment won’t help your fitness progress and could actually lead to injury, which is why it’s essential to perform reps correctly.
Don’t rush yourself. Whatever type of gym equipment you use, start with a comfortable weight so you can perform the exercise properly. Usually, you should aim to complete three sets of 10 reps for strength training machines. Once you can, start gradually increasing the weight as part of your weekly gym routine.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FREE GYM TOUR
This gym equipment guide gives you a basic understanding of what to expect, but it’s always a good idea to take advantage of the resources available to you on your first day at the gym. At EōS Fitness, we offer a Complimentary Welcome Workout to show you the ropes–and weights–when you sign up. During the Welcome Workout, a Team Member will introduce you to the different uses of gym equipment, cover the gym machine names, and explain how the equipment works.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially about the equipment you want to try. It is always better to ask than to guess!
FEEL CONFIDENT WALKING INTO THE GYM
This gym equipment guide is a great start to preparing for your first trip to the gym. When starting out, remember that all those gym superstars around you were once novices, too. Correct use of gym equipment will ensure you make the most progress. If you have any questions, you can ask for help from a Team Member or get set up with a Personal Trainer.
When you sign up, EōS Fitness offers a free introduction to a Personal Trainer to help you get more comfortable with the gym and all it has to offer. Your trainer will walk you through how to use the gym equipment, your options, and possible exercises. Sign up for a Complimentary Welcome Workout at a gym near you to see for yourself.
Ready to get started? Find your closest EōS location.