Stepping into a gym for the first time can be a daunting experience. Resistance training is a key part of any program to get you slim, strong and lean, but even if you're geared up and ready to go, the free weights can be a step too far at first. If this is the case, starting with weight machines is an option to help you build confidence before switching to barbells and dumbbells. While no machines are categorically the best for building muscle, there are certain ones you should look for when setting out on your muscle-building routine.
Don't just spin your wheels in the gym, get them working by hitting the leg machines first. Your glutes, quads and hamstrings are three of the biggest muscles in your body, so by working them together you'll burn a higher number of calories and work more muscle fibers. The leg press is the queen of lower-body machines, as it works all these muscles, plus your calves and adductors. Most leg presses involve pushing a foot plate away from you, but if your gym doesn't have one of these, you could use a hack squat or V-squat machine instead, which are the machine equivalents of a squat. The leg press is superior to leg curls and leg extensions, as it works so many muscle groups. Trainer Shannon Clark recommends completing two sets of 10 repetitions with 60 seconds rest in between.
Pushing exercises work your chest, shoulders and triceps. Your best bets are the shoulder press and the chest press machines. Like the leg press, these are good choices, as they work multiple muscles, rather than focusing on just one. Keep your back pressed into the seat when doing these, advises Clark. Your gym may have different types of pressing machines, perhaps on an incline or decline as well as flat. These are fine to use too, but aim to stick with one machine for three to four sessions at least before switching things around.
Pulling machines work your back and biceps. Seated row machines mimic the movement performed on dumbbell or barbell rows, but are easier to stabilize on, as you're sitting down. The lat pulldown machine is another useful addition to your machine repertoire, as it's highly versatile. To target your back muscles more on the lat pulldown, use a wider grip, advises Liz Neporent of "Fitness" magazine.
Machines may be the safe option as a gym rookie, but pretty soon you should look to make the leap to big girl status and start hitting the free weights. Free weights lead to bigger improvements in balance and strength and are more versatile, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. To get around this potential drawback when starting out, include some body-weight moves such as pushups, lunges, squats and planks in your machine routine, while you build up strength and confidence before making the switch.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.