Don’t Fear the Machines

They’re great tools if you’re new to the gym

Don’t Fear the Machines

Want to start hitting the gym? Believe it or not, those daunting looking machines with the weights, pulleys and bars are where you should start.

If you’ve never exercised in a gym before, your body awareness will be less than that of a veteran exerciser. Your stability and balance may be shakier, and your accessory muscles probably aren’t as strong. All of these factors push toward using machines, which provide support and keep you within a certain range of motion—provided you use them correctly. Ask gym personnel if you’re unsure about how to use a machine.


Using proper posture and alignment will make you do machine exercises correctly and prevent injuries. Consider going through a program with a personal trainer to improve your form, and always

  • keep your core engaged
  • avoid locking your joints or leaning forward
  • keep your head aligned with your spine

Many machines have also tips on form in case you forget.

Choosing the right weight

A set is a group of repetitions (reps) of an exercise. One set can be any number of reps, but for muscular endurance when you’re beginning, you should stick to two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps. If you can do many more than that, the weight is probably too light. If you can’t do that many, the weight is probably too heavy.

3 basic machine exercises

Seated lat pull-down

  • Set the weight (see “Choosing the right weight” section of this article).
  • Sit down and grasp the handlebar with both hands. Start with a narrow grip; wider is more difficult.
  • Lean back slightly and pull the bar toward your sternum, keeping your core engaged.
  • With control, allow your arms to return to starting position, and repeat.

Top tip: Make sure your head doesn’t bob back and forth when you pull the bar down—keep your spine long and your head neutral.

Leg press

  • Get into the seat and adjust your body so that your legs are just past 90 degrees. Your feet should be parallel and hip-width apart.
  • Set the weight.
  • Press your legs forward or push your body back (depending on the leg press machine) until your legs are straight, but your knees do not lock.
  • Return to starting position.​ Repeat.

Top tip: Keep your knees slightly bent at the end of the leg press.

Leg curl

  • Adjust the seat and foot pad according to your height. (Some leg curls are seated, others are done while lying on your stomach.) You want the top of the back of your shoe to sit at the heel pad; the pad should not be on your calves or heels.
  • Set the weight.
  • Place your feet under the heel pad if lying down (over the pad if seated).
  • Curl your heels to your bum, keeping your core engaged.
  • Release legs to starting position with control, and repeat.

Top tip: Don’t arch your back when you bend your legs.