The Ultimate Guide to the Gym

You know those weight machines nobody is ever using? Here's how to use them right.


Master these and you’ll never have to fight for a machine again. Photo by Jamie Ducharme

You’ve seen them before. Those sad, always-empty pieces of equipment collecting dust in the corner of your gym. There’s a good chance you haven’t touched one in decades—if ever—most likely because you have no clue how to use them. While these machines may not be as popular as treadmills or free weights, the equipment can be a great way to ease into fitness, or simply beat the crowds of New Year’s “resolutioners” invading your gym.

“Machines allow you to focus on one muscle group at a time,” explains Nick Distelbrink, fitness director at Boston Sports Clubs. “So if you have very limited experience and you don’t know how to coordinate contractions simultaneously through different areas of your body, it’s a great way to focus on just one muscle group.”

We put Distelbrink to the test, and asked him to demonstrate exactly how each piece of equipment works. Here, we give you the ultimate guide to using weight machines at your gym:

Machine: Seated arm extension
What it does: This machine works the triceps without putting any strain on shoulders or other parts of the arm.

seated arm extension gif

Machine: Seated arm curl
What it does: This is a great alternative to traditional biceps curls with free weights, working the same muscles.

seated arm curl


Machine: Seated press
What it does: In addition to working the chest, bracing yourself against the back pad keeps your abs engaged and working.

Seated press GIF


Machine: Seated overhead press
What it does: After selecting weight, pressing it overhead, and holding for a moment, this exercise will tone your shoulders.

seated over head press GIF


Machine: Seated lat pulldown
What it does: As the name suggests, pulling weight down toward your waist works your lats, otherwise known as the back muscles.

seated lat pulldown GIF

Machine: Seated leg curl
What it does: Your hamstrings will get a workout as you brace your lower legs against the pad and lift the desired amount of weight.

seated leg curl GIF

Machine: Lying leg curl
What it does: The lying leg curl offers another way to target the hamstrings, this time by placing the pad on the backs of the legs and lifting.

Lying leg curl GIF


Machine: Seated arm row
What it does: Work the lats using similar technique to free weights, keeping arms close to the body and rowing the elbows back.

seated arm row GIF

Machine: Assisted close-grip pull-up
What it does: Providing a slightly less daunting version of the pull-up, this machine allows users to place their knees on the bench to lighten the strain placed on the lats.

Assisted close grip pull up GIF


Machine: Rear leg extension
What it does: Pressing weight back one leg at a time, hips squared, is a great way to work your glutes.

rear leg extension GIF


Machine: Hanging leg raise
What it does: If you’re tired of crunches, target the lower abs by using this machine to slowly pull the legs in to the body.

hanging leg raise