If you like to keep it simple, start your weight room routine with strength machines. They are a great way to build your basic muscular fitness. Muscular strength, endurance and power are all important components to make you a well-rounded athlete.
Free Weights vs. Machines
Machines are simple to use, require only a quick set-up, and can be very helpful to make you stronger. Contrary, free weights like dumbbells or barbells are an excellent way to gain functional fitness, but need more attention to posture and form. Ideally you mix it up, find some machine exercises you like, and compliment them with free weight moves.
Which Machines Should I Use?
A mix. To become and stay a well-balanced athlete, using a variety of upper- and lower body exercises is recommended. You could even use various machines to target the same muscle group. For example if you want to build your glute strength, use the leg press, the glute kick-back and the hip extension machine.
How Many Exercises Should I Do?
A good starting point for a weight room beginner are 8-10 exercises. The goal is to exercise each muscle group two to three times per week. The simplest way to target all muscles is applying a whole-body routine. Do this type of routine at least one to two times a week and include four exercises for the upper body, four for the lower body, and two for your core.
How Often Should I Hit The Weight Room?
2-3 times per week would be great. Leave at least 48h between the workouts to ensure ample time for recovery. If you have a very busy week, go to the weight room once a week, and complement it with body weight exercises at home. For example push-ups, squats, sit-ups, lunges and planks are great ways to get you in shape outside the weight room. Easily done within a few minutes and very flexible about time and location.
How Many Reps and Sets Should I Do Each Workout?
2-4 sets of 8-12 reps. This is the standard recommendation for beginners to improve muscular fitness. However, even a single set per muscle group will improve the muscular strength of a beginner. Some is always better than nothing!
How Much Weight Should I Load?
Aim for muscular fatigue vs. failure. If you go with the 8-12 reps recommendation, your picked weight is ~60-80% of your 1 RM. Your 1 RM = your 1 Repetition Maximum, the amount you could lift one time. Your goal should be to lift the weight up to 12 times, and fatigue should occur between 8 and 12 reps. Stay away from a weight leading you to muscular failure, since this would simply increase your likelihood for an injury.
Examples Of Basic Machine Exercises
1) Leg Press
Start with your feet shoulder width apart on the leg pad. Find a seat setting to get your knees into a 90 degree bend.
Inhale, engage your core, and when you exhale, extend the legs and push the plate away from you. Stop the extension before a full locked end position of your knees happens. Instead return the weight slowly and inhale.
Focus on the distance between knees – they should stay the same through the entire move – no caving in!
2) Seated Chest Press
Start with the levers at your chest level (adjust the seat height), grab them on top and bring your elbows to the side. Inhale, engage your torso and extend your arms while you exhale.
Again, avoid a fully locked end position of your joints. Instead return the weight to the start position while you inhale.
Focus on a steady, fluid move through the entire move.
3) Shoulder Lateral Raise
Start with the joints of the machine lined up with your shoulder joints (adjust the seat height). In an upright position, inhale, engage your torso, exhale and lift your arms on your side.
Bring your upper arms up to shoulder level, not higher. Exhale, and slowly return the weight to the start position.
Focus on a fluid move on the way up – if you are jerking, reduce the load.
In part 2 we will talk about a proper warm-up and show four more machine exercises.