The universal weight machine, invented by Harold Zinkin, was made popular in the 1970s due to the number of different exercise options possible on that one metal-framed machine. Known for their safety features, most universal machines will include high and low cables as well as a chest press and leg extension and curl option. Perform all exercises in four sets of 10 to 12 reps with one minute rest between sets. Moderate weight is ideal for toning. Aerobic exercise and proper nutrition must also be a component to any toning program.
Toning Your Arms
Attach a straight bar handle on the lower hook, near the floor, for arm curls. Start with a moderate weight that you feel you can lift 10 to 12 times. Standing straight, keeping elbows to your sides and shoulders back, bend your arms at the elbows, bringing the bar up to your chest. Lower the bar slowly back to starting position. This works your biceps. To work your triceps, move the attachment to the high cable hook. Using the same body position, with elbows at your sides, lower the bar to your thighs. Return to the starting position with control.
Toning Your Back
For the seated pull-down function, attach the longer straight bar to the top hook. Set the knee placements to a comfortable setting so your legs can bend comfortably to 90 degrees under them to safely keep you in position. Set a challenging, but not difficult, weight. With an overhand grip and keeping safety in mind, lower the bar toward your upper chest by using both arms equally and leaning back slightly. By using the muscles of the upper back, you will feel the tightness between your shoulder blades and under your arms. This will also tone your shoulders and biceps.
Toning Your Shoulders
Attach the small straight bar to the lower hook setting that you used for the biceps curls. Adjust weight to a lower weight at first for safety reasons. After a few sets, adjust accordingly and make a note of the weight for future workouts. Standing with legs slightly bent and shoulder-width apart, grab the bar on either end with both hands with your palms facing down. Using the muscles of your upper back and shoulders, slowly bring the bar up the front of your body to just under your chin. You will feel this in your shoulders, neck and back muscles.
Legs and Butt
Leg extensions, for your thighs, and leg curls, for your hamstrings and butt, are usually an option on a universal-type machine. Leg extensions should be done in the seated position to prevent injury to your lower back. Use both hands to grip the handles on either side of your hips and slowly extend your legs until they are straight and parallel to the floor. The weight should be moderate and the motion controlled. Leg curls should be done lying flat on your stomach. You will not be able to lift as much with your hamstrings, so adjust to about 75 percent the weight you did for leg curls. Carefully lower your heels to the starting position so as to not hyperextend your legs.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Achieving a toned body requires the addition of aerobic activity into your workout program as well as a change in your diet. The MayoClinic.com recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity. Walking, jogging or cycling are great ways to burn calories and reduce overall body fat. There are no quick fixes or spot reduction; body fat will be reduced equally throughout the body. Eliminate fried food and other foods that have a high fat content. A healthy breakfast each morning to kick-start your metabolism is essential. A long-term approach to exercise and diet will result in a more toned and healthier body.
Michael Winchell has been writing fitness-related articles since 1993. He has a Master of Science in exercise science from University of Central Florida and has been certified by USATF Level II. Winchell is also an accomplished theater actor Off-Broadway in New York.