How to use weight machines and home gyms

Use the following tips to look like an old pro the next time you use weight machines:

  • 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.

How to use elliptical cross trainers

Elliptical cross trainers have increased in popularity in the last five years. Popular because of its stress-reducing effects on joints of the body and cardiovascular benefits–the elliptical cross trainer is equaling the treadmill and stairstepper machines as equipment of choice for many gym-goers. There are two types of elliptical trainers. The first has connecting handrails that should be lightly held to maintain proper balance and posture. The second type has free-moving handrails that move in concert with the opposite foot pedal. Following are tips for using this popular piece if exercise equipment.
  • Safely mount the elliptical by placing one or both hands onto the handrail as you step up into foot pedals. If the machine has free-moving arms, there is typically a stationary bar situated at the bottom of control panel that can be used for support.
  • Begin the circular rotation of the pedals with the legs. This must be done in order to program the machine to the desired levels. Most machines will require a certain pace in order to continue programming.
  • Maintain a grasp on the handrail or support bar with one hand and select the desired levels with the other. Required information includes age, weight, desired time, desired level of intensity and ramp elevation. Proceed with ease.
  • Grasp the area of the handrail designated for monitoring of your heart rate, if applicable. Both varieties offer heart rate monitors. Hands must maintain constant contact in order for the reading to be displayed. Stay within the ranges indicated on the machine depending on your individual goals and fitness level.
  • Incline the elliptical to simulate an uphill climb. While inclined, maintain total foot contact with the pedals. Heels of the feet should only lift up slightly when at level elevation, which simulates walking or running. Rotate the pedals in reverse to increase involvement of the hamstrings and glutes.

How to use a treadmill

Treadmills are the motorized equivalent of walking or running in place. You simply keep up with a belt that’s moving under your feet. Treadmill workouts burn about the same number of calories as walking or running outdoors. The only exception seems to be running uphill. When you incline the treadmill to simulate running uphill, it’s somewhat easier than running up real-life hills of the same grade. But walking uphill on a treadmill is virtually the same as walking uphill outdoors.

Today’s treadmills are springier and more shock-absorbing than ever. Many have added flashy new features, such as Internet hookups so that you can run and walk with other treadmillers from all over the globe. Some treadmills can store up to 100 personal programs.

Treadmills are among the easiest cardio machines to use. Still, treadmill users are not immune to poor posture. And if you’re not paying attention, you can stumble. On occasion you may see someone slide off the treadmill like a can of beans on a supermarket conveyor belt. Here are some tips to make sure this doesn’t happen to you:

  • Start slowly. Most treadmills have safety features that prevent them from starting out at breakneck speeds, but don’t take any chances. Always place one foot on either side of the belt as you turn on the machine, and step on the belt only after you determine that it’s moving at the slow set-up speed, usually between 1 and 2 miles per hour.
  • Don’t rely on the handrails. Holding on for balance when you learn how to use the machine is okay, but let go as soon as you feel comfortable. You move more naturally if you swing your arms freely. You’re working at too high a level if you have to imitate a water-skier — in other words, if you hold onto the front rails and lean back. This is a common phenomenon among people who incline the treadmill, and this position is bad news for your elbows and for the machine. Plus, you’re burning far fewer calories than the readout indicates. However, if you have balance issues, grasp the handrails lightly so that you feel steady and secure.
  • Look straight ahead. Your feet tend to follow your eyes, so if you focus on what’s in front of you, you usually walk straight ahead instead of veering off to the side. When you’re in the middle of a workout and someone calls your name, don’t turn around to answer. This piece of advice may seem obvious now, but wait until it happens to you.
  • Expect to feel disoriented. The first few times you use a treadmill, you may feel dizzy when you step off. Your body is just wondering why the ground suddenly stopped moving. Don’t worry. Most people only experience this vertigo once or twice.
  • Never go barefoot. Always wear a good pair of walking or running shoes for your treadmill workout.
  • Don’t read while on the treadmill. You risk losing your balance and stumbling off the side or back.

How to use free weights

Free weights can develop great muscle fitness depending on how you use them.

  • Muscle Strength: 5-8 reps, 1-3 sets.
  • Muscle Endurance: 15-20 reps, 1-3 sets.
  • Muscle Power: 3-5 reps, 1-3 sets.

Rep is short for repetition. This means how many times you lift the weight. Set means a group of repetitions. Rest approximately one to two minutes between sets of each exercise, or long enough to catch your breath.

Muscle Groups to Train

Exercising the major muscle groups is important for developing fitness.

  • Upper body: front and back of arms, shoulders, chest, and upper back.
  • Torso: abdominals, sides of torso (obliques), and lower back.
  • Legs: front and back of thighs, calfs, and buttocks.

Exercises to Do

  • Upper body: Bicep curls, tricep extension, shoulder press, bench press, and bent-over row.
  • Torso: Abdominal curls (hands across chest), “Bird-Dog” (on hands and knees, lift opposite arm and leg 5 – 10 reps, then opposite arm/leg), and side-plank.
  • Legs: Squats or Lunges, and heel raises.

Technique is important!

  • Learn the proper technique for each exercise before proceeding.
  • Exercise both sides of the body. Whatever you exercise on the front of the body, proceed with the corresponding exercise for the back of the body.
  • Breathe! Exhale when the exercise is the hardest, and inhale when the exercise is the easiest.
  • Move your joints through a full range of motion when performing each exercise.
  • Move in a controlled manner. Do not let momentum move the weight.


  • Maintain a straight spine when performing all exercises.
  • Do not hyper-extend your spine.
  • When picking weights up from the floor (or putting them down), use your legs, not your back.

Using a spotter

When lifting very heavy weights, you should use a spotter in case the weights become too much for you to handle. A spotter can offer feedback about your technique, and give you a margin of safety to avoid injury.

Important Points to Remember

  • Before you buy: Consider the space you have in which to safely engage in a weight training program.
  • When you buy: Consider your exercise motivation in terms of the cost of the weights. Also consider the size of the handles as they fit in your hand.
  • Excellent for fitness: Using free weights is an excellent way to improve your fitness. You can increase the rate at which you burn calories, increase your muscle strength and size, and increase the strength of your bones. Increased strength through weight training can also improve the quality of life for older adults.
  • Your abilities: Consider your level of fitness before you purchase your weights. Be careful not to buy weights that are too heavy (or too light).
  • Make it a habit: Since you are considering buying exercise equipment, structure your lifestyle to make time to exercise and it will eventually become a life-long habit.