Tips for Using Weight Machines
1 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Weight Training
Weight machines may seem complicated at first, but they are easy to use and help you to safely and quickly advance through a strength-training workout. The weight machines designed for home use — called multi-gyms — generally aren’t as sophisticated as health-club machines, but in many cases, your muscles won’t know the difference.
Using a typical weight machine involves two relatively simple acts: You adjust your seat and then you either push or pull a bar or a set of handles. These handles are connected to a cable, chain, or lever, which, in turn, is attached to a stack of rectangular weight plates. Each plate in the stack weighs between 5 and 20 pounds, depending on the make and model, and has a hole drilled in the center. If you want to lift 30 pounds, you stick a metal peg, called a pin, into the hole on the plate marked 30. When you pull the machine’s handles, the cable picks up 30 pounds.
Try every machine in your gym at least once. Even if the machines are all the same brand, you may feel more comfortable using, say, the vertical chest press rather than the horizontal one.
Use the following tips to look like an old pro the next time you use weight machines at the gym:
Make the adjustments. Don’t just hop on a machine and start pumping away. If the last guy who used it was a foot taller than you are, you may find yourself suspended in midair in the middle of the exercise.
Let a trainer show you how to adjust each machine to fit your body. In general, line up the joint that you’re trying to move (your knees, for example) with the joint of the machine that’s moving. You shouldn’t have to strain in any way to do the movement. If you feel discomfort, particularly in your joints, stop the exercise and readjust the set or position, as needed.
Check the weight stack before you lift. Never begin the exercise without checking where the pin has been inserted. When you first learn to use a machine, write down the weight and seat adjustment (leg extension: 30 lbs., second setting) on a card or in a workout log. Carry these notes with you and update them regularly.
Remember the name of each machine. Knowing what to call each contraption reminds you what you’re doing — you’ll remember that you’re working your lats, assuming you remember what those are. Most machines have some sort of name plaque or label. Check that the name of the machine you’re using corresponds to the name of the machine on your workout card.
Stay in control. If the weight stack bangs and clangs like a junior-high marching band, you’re probably lifting too fast, and you’re definitely annoying the guy on the machine next to you. Many machine manufacturers recommend taking two slow counts to lift the weight stack up and four slow counts to lower the weight stack down. You may feel more comfortable speeding it up to a 2-2 count.
Change the weight in the smallest increment possible. Most machines have half plates. Instead of increasing your weight by an entire plate, you can place a smaller plate on top of the stack.