Having spent the better part of the last 25 years in the gym, it’s sometimes easy to take for granted how to use the equipment I utilize in my daily weight lifting workout. For those of you with a little less gym experience, it might be good to review some of the equipment you might encounter when entering the gym.
One type of equipment you’ll encounter is selectorized, or circuit, training machines. These big metal monsters have an attached weight stack that allows you to select the amount of weight you’ll be lifting. Cables or, better yet, Kevlar belts connect the weight stack to the grips, allowing you to lift the weights.
Each machine works one body part and a machine with a good cam design helps maintain even pressure on the muscles throughout the full range of motion. For those just beginning, these machines offer a safe, effective place to begin learning about weight lifting.
Plate loaded machines are another type of equipment you should encounter in the gym. These machines do not have weight stacks. Rather, you place weight plates onto the machine to set the weight you will be lifting.
Typically, plate loaded machines are more effective muscle builders than selectorized machines. Their design forces a more isolated muscle contraction, which enhances muscle building. Also, these machines are often iso-lateral, meaning that each side of your body must lift the weight on that side. This helps create good symmetry and eliminates any discrepancy of strength from one side to the other.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of some of the machines in the gym, you’ll want to start incorporating free weights into your training. Free weights, simply put, are weights that are not connected to a machine, pulley, or cable. The motion, speed, and direction of the lift are controlled by the individual.
Dumbbells are individually held hand weights of varying poundage. Barbells are longer bars, usually weighing between 40 and 60 pounds. They are held in both hands and additional plate weights can be placed on each side to increase the poundage.
The benefits of free weights are numerous. In addition to providing extra ways to build muscle by using more muscle groups in each lift, they are also better for increasing bone density, developing better balance and control, and increasing the strength of the stabilizing muscles in the body.
Cable machines can also be used in the gym. Like selectorized machines, cables generally use weight stacks to provide resistance. Cables offer a variety of exercises that can be performed, depending upon the type of attachment that is used to provide the grip. Attachments can include ropes, angled bars, straight bars, handles, and cuffs.
Remember, when using free weights and cables, you control the range of motion and the direction of pull. Always make sure you know the proper form for the exercise you’re performing.
If you’re not familiar with some of the equipment around you in the gym, ask for help. Assistance is available and you’ll quickly learn how to properly use the equipment and include it in your routine. Doing so will allow you to get even more out of the time you spend in the gym.
Kent Pegg is a certified personal trainer and the owner of the Los Alamos Fitness Center. Direct questions about this column to him at 505.662.5232.