A beginners guide to gym equipment. New Year’s resolutions will soon be upon us and many of you will be purchasing gym memberships or renewing existing ones. Entering a gym for the first time, however, can be a daunting experience especially when you see others who apparently know what they are doing as they confidently move from one machine to the next. Don’t be fooled. In my years as a trainer, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I wanted to run over to someone and say, “Please stop. Just stop before you hurt yourself”. As we already discussed in Free Weights VS Machines, there are some pros and cons to both. Some gyms might have more machines and some will have fewer, but you should find the following basics at most places.
A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO GYM EQUIPMENT PART 1
Leg Press Machine. This machine aims to imitate squats. While most trainers will encourage you to do actual squats, there are some benefits to this machine. Since you are lying back on a 45 degree angle pushing the weights away from you, it actually removes the pressure from your back and knees. I personally like this machine because I can also do one leg presses and really focus on my form. Watch that you aren’t bending your knees more than 90 degrees as this can over stress your joints. When I was dancing, I would do plies on this machine as well, in order to work my leg muscles from different angles. On average, you should be pressing about 2x your body weight.
Leg Extension Machine. This machine allows you to focus on your quadriceps. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding this machine and even if you are a beginner, it’s best to be doing squats, lunges and dead lifts instead, but there are some instances when this machine is a great option. Like most machines, it allows you to isolate a specific muscle group and it’s a good warm up before moving on to squats or other leg exercises, because you can focus on doing slow controlled movements. If you choose to use this machine, ensure that you are keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and that you aren’t arching your back or overusing your upper body when performing the movement. One thing to watch for with this machine is that it’s easy to pile on the weight and your quads will feel great, but it will overstress and potentially hurt your knees. If you feel any joint discomfort or pain in your knees, stop.
Leg Curl Machine. This machine allows you to isolate your hamstrings. I personally used this machine quite a bit when I was recovering from my hamstring tear and needed to focus on strengthening it. If your gym has one, then opt for the unilateral machine where you can focus on working one leg at a time. Once again, form is everything. Make sure that you are targeting your hamstring. It’s very easy to start arching your back and using your upper body to stabilize yourself. If you are looking to build endurance, you should be able to perform 10-15 repetitions before muscle failure. Start with about 15-20 lbs and work your way up from there.
Leg Adduction/Abduction Machine. This machine works your outer things (abductors) and your inner thighs (adductors). Some gyms will have two separate machines while in others, it’s just one machine. This is another one of those machines that seems to spark some controversy. There are many more functional exercises which will give you better results, (including ones using the Theraband or cables) that will mimic the motion of this machine. Before jumping on this machine, make sure that you understand what you’re trying to accomplish. This should come from your trainer or physiotherapist.
General tips. Don’t be afraid to adjust the machine, you won’t break it! Trust your body. If you feel that something isn’t right, then it probably isn’t. For all exercises form is key. If you are working out your legs and you feel pressure in your back or joints, this is not okay and chances are that you just need to adjust your position. If in doubt, grab a trainer. Believe me when I say that most of them will be thrilled to give you a few pointer and to help steer you in the right direction. Think of it this way, the gym’s owners are running a business and the success of their business depends on your happiness. Most of all, don’t be intimidated. Everyone was a beginner at one time!
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