It’s no wonder universal weight machines are popular items in hotels, apartment complexes and homes all over the world. They’re super handy and offer you a way to get in a complete weight workout by just using a single machine — one with many parts, of course. Whether you’re looking for a lower-body, upper-body or total-body workout, you can get what you’re looking for if you know your way around a universal weight machine.
Universal Machine Basics
Universal weight machines are the large, multisided contraptions in small fitness facilities that often look intimidating and confusing. However, they’re actually pretty basic. Most of their attachments, seats and machines are exactly the same as you’d find in your local gym, just attached to a larger device. At the center are weight plates that allow you to adjust your level just like you would on an individual machine, and each one is attached to a sturdy cable that helps you perform smooth, consistent motions.
It’s easy to get a great upper-body workout on a universal machine. Because arms are more commonly worked in smaller machines, the machines generally have more options for upper-body moves. Most machines offer you the ability to work your back through lat pulls and your chest through flies. But with the lat bar, you can also do sets of triceps pushdowns. For the biceps, you can attach the lat cable to the base of the machine and do standing curls. And if you want to work the shoulders, you’ll find a good option if the machine has a shoulder press.
Your options for lower-body work on a universal machine will likely be more limited than the upper body unless the machine is top-of-the-line. However, you’ll undoubtedly be able to get in a great quad workout with leg extensions, as they’re standard for most universal machines. Higher-quality machines will come with hamstring curl equipment, but you may have to do some adjusting to enable it since it might be an adjustable option on the leg extension attachment. Still, if there’s no hamstring curl option, check the pulley attachments and look for an ankle strap. If you find one, wrap it around your ankle and do some standing leg curls.
Consult the Guide
One of the best things about universal weight machines is the picture guide. Most facilities will have a poster on the wall outlining the exercise options. This is a great tool that may lead you to exercise options you didn’t know existed. The guide may also have helpful safety tips that can keep you from getting injured when maneuvering around the equipment. Be sure to follow it, and you’ll no doubt get a high-quality workout.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.