How to Use Weight-Lifting Machines

Using weight-lifting machines are a great way to start weight training; learn how to use them properly and get a sample weight-lifting routine sure to give you great results.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #4

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In today’s article I’ll explain how to use weight-lifting machines and I’ll give you a sample machine workout.

As you read this article, please remember that before lifting weights you should be warming up and stretching first.  Pay attention to the recommended sets and repetitions, and don’t plan any other big workouts, such as running up the side of a mountain, on the same day that you’re trying the workout I recommend. You’ll thank me later.

Finally, if you have no clue what I’m referring to when I say “sets and repetitions” you should read my earlier article, “How to Start Weight Trainingnow.

The Best Way to Start Weight Lifting: Use Machines

When you first walk into the gym and there are dumbbell rows, barbell racks, complex machines, big balls, little balls, and even half balls, it can make weight lifting seem like a pretty intimidating and confusing affair. In this article, you’re going to learn the best place to start--with weight lifting machines!

When you first begin weight lifting, your muscles and your joints will need to lift manageable loads. At least, that’s if you want to be able to get out of bed the next morning. You also will need to use simple-to-perform, introductory movements. As a personal trainer, I’ve found that if I hand people dumbbells, barbells, and medicine balls when they first begin a weight-lifting program, it’s a bit like Bambi on ice--awkward, uncomfortable, and even a bit risky.

Breathe out while you’re pushing or pulling something, and breathe in while you’re returning that something back to it’s original position.

For these reasons, the best place to begin, for the first 6-8 weeks of your program, will be with machines. Comprised of a series of adjustable weights, pulleys, and levers, a weight machine will guide your body through a basic movement, while still making you do enough work to get good results. Because a machine has those pulleys and levers, all you have to do is move your joints through a guided movement, with very little guesswork about what all your different body parts should be doing. In other words, you can focus on fitness, and not on having to balance, jump, duck, lunge, twist, or do any other potentially brain-confusing movements.

Most gyms have enough machines to target each of those pulling and pushing muscles that were discussed in my earlier article. Here are my five quick and dirty tips for utilizing these machines:

How Should You Adjust the Machine’s Seat?

Tip 1: Adjust the seat. Before getting started, make sure each machine’s seat is at the right setting for you. That will vastly improve the comfort and effectiveness of your exercises. If you’re a short person, choose a high seat setting. If you’re tall, choose a low seat setting. And if you’re medium…well, you get the idea, Goldilocks.

Which Weight-Lifting Machines Should You Use?

Tip 2: Work all of your muscle groups. When you lift weights, you should use a number of different machines to target all your muscle groups in one single workout. Do this same routine 2-3 days per week. A good place to start will be with 3 sets of 12 repetitions for every machine exercise. I’ll tell you which exercises you need to be sure to include and a sample weight-lifting routine at the end.

What Should You Do in Between Machine Exercises?

Tip 3: Don’t rest in between machines. In between exercises, don’t sit and rest for 60 seconds while chatting with your friend or nosing around a magazine. Instead, move directly to the next exercise, so that one muscle group is working while another is resting. You’ll get way more bang for your buck and will maximize the effectiveness of your time at the gym. Just make sure you wipe up after yourself as you go.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.