Simplifying Strength: Weight Machines

Remember the first time you ever walked into a gym?


You saw all those large metal machines around the room with their strange moving parts and thought, “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”


Maybe now you’re a pro at strength machines, but for many people they are still an enigma.  Today I’ll be weighing in (get it?) on this type of equipment and how it can help you in your training routine.


Weight Machines


The first thing about weight machines, for all of you gym novices, is that they are not as complicated as they look.

In fact, most of the common weight machines out there are designed to simplify a range of motion in order to exercise a particular muscle group.  Each machine only performs one or two different movements, so they are easy to learn and require minimal skill.

Now, before you go and hop on  that new, shiny lat pull machine, I do recommend that you first ask a trainer at your gym to show you how to use them correctly.

You want to make sure you know two things: How to perform the exercise with proper technique, and how to adjust the machine to fit you.  These tips will help you to maximize the gains of that exercise and minimize the risk of injury.


So here’s my breakdown on using machines:



  • Great for beginners.  Since machines only move in the direction they are designed, you don’t have to stabilize the resistance in multiple directions like with free weights.  This makes the exercises a great deal simpler for the novice weight lifter.
  • Focuses on primary muscle groups.  As I said above, machines require less stabilization as you move through an exercise.  This allows you to focus more of the work on the primary movers, the muscle groups the exercises are designed to work.



  • Takes away from secondary muscle groups.  Although it can be helpful to use a machine with a controlled, stable direction of movement, strengthening those secondary muscle groups is still necessary.  Doing a shoulder press with a machine will strengthen your deltoids and triceps, but doing the same exercise with free weights will work those same muscles plus the upper and lower back, the abdominals, and muscles forming your rotator cuff.
  • Limits the range of motion you exercise.  The body can move in an infinite combination of directions.  Weight machines are designed to only move in one.  So using weight machines exclusively will limit your strength training to just those particular movements.  Using different forms of resistance will help you work a greater variety of movement.
  • Inconsistency. There are thousands of different designs for strength machines out there.  Some are amazing, some are not.  It’s kind of a luck of the draw when you join a gym.  You can still make improvements with any strength machine, but each one is designed differently, and that can change the nature of the exercise.  That’s part of why it’s important to learn how to adjust machines to fit you best.


Don’t be intimidated by those big clunky machines this week when you exercise.  Anyone –  from the novice to the dedicated weight lifter – can benefit from using them.


Written by Ross Elliott

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