Don't skip out on those twice-weekly weights sessions to get a manicure instead -- the benefits of strength training can’t be overstated. They help control weight, boost bone strength and decrease muscle loss, not to mention keep you looking your best. But if you’re new to weights, the dumbbells, barbells and resistance bands – all considered “free weights” -- can be confusing and intimidating. Machine weights have both pros and cons, but for beginners, a weight-machine workout can help you adjust to lifting while using proper form.
Advantages of Machine Weights
While would-be bodybuilders tout the benefits of free weights, a machine-weight workout has its perks, too. It's just right for beginners because the machines are typically safer and easier to use, according to the American Council on Exercise. The weights follow a preset path, ensuring your body moves correctly while completing the exercise -- and minimizing the risk. If your goal is to rehab an injury or strengthen a specific body part -- for example, if you want your biceps to look fierce in that tank top -- machine weights do a better job of isolating a muscle or muscle group. However, be aware of the drawbacks if you solely complete machine workouts. You won’t strengthen your stabilizer muscles, and if you're petite or super tall, you might find that you don’t fit in the machines correctly.
Get started by adjusting the seat and chair back of the weight machine so you fit comfortably -- don't make an already-painful workout miserable by squeezing into a machine that hasn't been set up properly. Next, adjust the weight stack so it offers appropriate resistance. The goal is to lift an amount of weight 60 percent of your one-repetition maximum, which is the most weight you can lift one time on the machine. The last two reps of the set should be strenuous, according to "Fitness" magazine, meaning you can barely lift the weights while keeping the right form.
Although the weight machines are on a set path, making it more difficult to use incorrect form, keep some technique pointers in mind. When sitting on a machine with a chair, press your back flat into the pad behind you. On exercise such as the shoulder press or leg extension, avoid hyperextending your knees and elbows. Although proper form is easier with a machine weight, it’s still possible to risk injury. Use smooth and controlled movements, and don’t allow the weights to loudly bang down onto the top of the stack.
Get your heart race quickly, and burn those calories in less time, with circuit training. A series of strength exercises often done on machine weights, circuit training burns 30 percent more calories than a standard strength-training workout, according to “Fitness” magazine. Start at one end of the cardio machine and complete one set of eight to 12 reps, and then immediately move to the next machine that targets a different muscle group without any rest. To get your heart rate up even higher, you can sprinkle a small burst of aerobics, such as jump roping, in between each weight machine.
- Fitness Magazine: Make the Most of the Weight Machines at Your Gym
- American Council on Exercise: Free Weights vs. Strength-training Equipment
- Bodybuilding.com: The Ultimate Beginner's Machine Workout For Women
- MayoClinic.com: For Weight Training, is it Better to Use Free Weights or Machine Weights?
- WebMD: Take a Shortcut to Fitness With Circuit Training
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity
Kelsey Casselbury has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Penn State-University Park. She has a long career in print and web media, including serving as a managing editor for a monthly nutrition magazine and food editor for a Maryland lifestyle publication. She also owns an Etsy shop selling custom invitations and prints.