How to Use Gym Equipment for Beginners

Stepping into a gym for the first time can be intimidating for anyone.  With so many different types of weight lifting equipment and cardio machines, how do you know where to start? It’s not really as complicated as it seems at first glance. However, if you’re a newbie, just glancing at the instruction cards might not be enough. If you are wanting to learn how to use gym equipment for beginners, take a deep breath.  Any fitness journey has to start somewhere. Yours starts here!

Get A Tour!

The single best way to improve your experience at the gym is to ask for a tour.  Most gyms offer a tour of the facilities for new members.  Even veteran gym-goers might find unfamiliar equipment when they change gyms. Not only does a tour give you a frame of reference to find your way around the gym the next time you visit, but it also helps build your confidence!

During a tour, gym staff should explain how the different fitness equipment works and demonstrate how to make adjustments to the gym equipment. Circuit Fitness is happy to provide an orientation to all our new members! Or feel free to check out the virtual tour!

Heed Any Posted Instructions

Learning how to use gym equipment is critical for beginners. It’s possible to hurt yourself if you do exercises incorrectly.  Also, you’re not likely to get the full benefit from the exercise if you’re not using the correct form.

Each machine should have instructions posted by all the machines.  Instructions typically include which muscle groups the machine targets, how the machine works, and where its adjustment points are. Look for these instructions. Take the time to read through them and if there’s something you’re unsure about, ask a staff member!

Look For The Adjustment Points

No one’s body is exactly the same as another.  Differences in height, length of arms and legs – even torso length – affect range of motion.  Each machine must be adjusted to meet individual needs. Makers of gym machines try to accommodate as many body shapes as possible with different adjustment points. Typically, adjustment points with bright, easily identifiable handles can be found on the seat, chair back, or by the machine’s moveable parts.

After you adjust the seat height and weight, start with a light weight to make sure you’ve adjusted correctly.  Your body should feel stable and comfortable during each exercise. If something doesn’t feel right, check the adjustments again and try a different position. If you’re not sure if it’s your form, or the machine’s settings, ask an employee for help.

The Equipment

Gym equipment breaks down into two basic categories: cardio and strength training equipment. If your fitness center doesn’t prepare a workout plan for you, you’ll need a combination of both types of exercise to get a complete workout.


The most common cardio machine is the treadmill. You can control the treadmill’s speed and incline to adjust it to your personal walking or running pace. Another machine almost anyone can recognize is a stationary bike.  After adjusting the bike’s seat height, sit down, keeping your back straight, grab the handles and begin pedaling to start the bike.  Like treadmills, most stationary bikes will allow you to select predetermined workouts or adjust the difficulty.

A machine that a beginner might not have seen before is an elliptical trainer.  These can be a little tricky the first time since it involves moving both your arms and legs at the same time.

Hold the handles as you step onto the large pedals – they will move as you bring your knees up in a running motion.  The coordinated motion can feel overwhelming at first, but that really only lasts for a few seconds.

Strength Training

Most fitness centers have a variety of weight machines. Usually, a weight machine targets a single group of muscles. They work slightly different muscles in the arms, legs, shoulders, and/or chest. Some of the equipment you might see includes the following:

Chest Press Machine

  • Targets the upper body – pecs (chest), shoulders, and triceps (back of the upper arm)

Adjust the seat, so the grip is at chest height. For better posture, rest your back on the seat. Without locking your elbows, grasp the handles and push the bars outward to full extension.

The Smith Machine

A Smith machine can help with a bench press, shoulder press and squats exercises. This is an assisted weight training machine that helps you lift more, while reducing the chances of injury.  It consists of a barbell that’s contained within the machine, so a Smith machine looks like free weights, but isn’t. When lifting all weights, but especially with a Smith machine, pay attention to proper posture and form.

Bench Press Machine

  • Targets the upper body – pecs (chest), shoulders, and triceps (back of the upper arm)

The main difference between a bench press machine and the chest press is the lifter’s position. Using this machine as you lay on your back engages small stabilizer muscles that you may not use when performing chest presses. Note: bench presses with free weights are not recommended without a spotter, as they can be very dangerous.

Shoulder Press Machine

  • Targets the shoulders and triceps

Position your body so that the grips are between your ear and shoulder. Holding the grip, press the handles over your head with the upper arms vertical and elbows slightly bent. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.

Lat Pull-Down Machine

  • Targets the lats (one of the largest back muscles), shoulders, and biceps

Including the lat pull-down machine in your workout helps improve posture while toning and strengthening the back muscles. This is also a good machine to use if a fitness goal is to do pull-ups. The lat pull-down can be a step before using a pull-up machine.

Leg Press Machine

  • Targets the lower body – quads, glutes, and hamstrings 

The leg press lets you exercise these muscles in a controlled manner, the seat forcing you to keep your back straight. Load the amount of weight you want to lift. Place your feet at equal distance on the pressing platform. Disengage the safety levers either side of the seat. Then, start extending your legs, pressing the weight while keeping your knees unlocked. Slowly return to the original position.


Although there is more to how to use gym equipment for beginners, it is important to remember for beginners, that it might take more than one workout before you start gaining more confidence and learn how to use all the equipment.

Remember: the hardest part of going to the gym is opening the door and walking in!  You can do it!  Call Circuit Fitness Today to start your journey in a friendly and caring environment. If you are also interested in the 5 components of fitness check out our post, what are the 5 components of fitness.

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