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How To Exercise In A Fitness Center With Confidence

Not sure what machines to try? We’ve got you covered!

Jan 31, 2020

You can get a great workout from exercising in a fitness center.  All the different equipment will give you a ton of variety to fit your preferences, especially when the weather keeps you stuck inside.  But let’s face it—If you don’t have much experience with fitness centers, they can be a little intimidating.  The machines may seem all the same to you–rows of shiny padded chrome torture contraptions.  Devices that will either give you pain or allow you to look like a fool.  It doesn’t have to be that way!  Let’s get acquainted the with a typical fitness center and discover how to make the best use of your time there.

This is what a typical strength-training machine circuit looks like.  A little instruction adds a lot of confidence!This is what a typical strength-training machine circuit looks like. A little instruction adds a lot of confidence!

First and foremost, don’t try to figure it out yourself.

If you’ve ever used your school fitness center either through physical education class or sports training, you may be familiar with some of the equipment.  Even so, if you haven’t had instruction on a particular machine, ask for it.  One sure way to either get hurt or look like a fool is to guess how to use an exercise machine.  Don’t risk it!  If you’re at school, ask a teacher or coach.  If you’re at a fitness center like your local YMCA, places like that usually offer members a free orientation.  In fact, they may require it before you’re allowed use the equipment.  This means they’ll show you around the place, introduce you to the machines and maybe even help you adjust your settings.  Take advantage of this service if it’s available to you–even if you think you can figure everything out yourself.

A well-equipped fitness center will have a variety of cardio machines.A well-equipped fitness center will have a variety of cardio machines.

Cardiovascular Equipment

Cardio equipment has come a long way, with options for everyone’s taste.  Try the treadmill if you like walking or running.  Hop on the recumbent, upright or spinning bikes if that’s more your thing.  You’ll also see stair climbers, elliptical machines and variations of all of these.  Some may even allow you to watch TV or run on the virtual terrain of your choosing. 

Exercise should be challenging, but not painful!  Listen to your body's signals.Exercise should be challenging, but not painful! Listen to your body's signals.

Tips

  • Get someone working there to show you how to get the machine running, and don’t worry about the bells and whistles. 
  • Usually there’s a “quick start” button to get going right away, and then you can use the up and down arrows to adjust how hard it is.  You can use this setting until you feel ready to explore the more advanced options.
  • Listen to your body, especially if you’re new to exercise.  On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you working?  Stay at a 5 or 6 if you haven’t exercised in a long time.

The rowing machine is a great workout for all fitness levels.The rowing machine is a great workout for all fitness levels.

What To Try: The rowing machine

Although the rowing machine is gaining popularity, it’s often overlooked.   There may be only one of them, placed unassumingly among the rows of stationary bikes and elliptical machines.  Many people don’t know this, but it hits about 85 percent of your muscles and can burn about 600-1,000 calories per hour.   What’s more, it works all your major muscles simultaneously.  In a nutshell, you burn more calories and work more muscles, in less time than other cardio machines.  The rowing machine is suitable for all fitness levels, easy to operate, and is one of the only cardio machines that will give you a low impact, non-weight bearing cardio workout at a high intensity .

 On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you working?  Stay at a 5 or 6 if you haven’t exercised in a long time. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you working? Stay at a 5 or 6 if you haven’t exercised in a long time.

Strength Training

Cardio exercise is an awesome calorie-burner and improves cardiovascular health, but it’s only half the equation.  If you want to look better, feel better, do more, and live vibrantly for decades to come, strength training together with cardio is where it’s at.  Doing strength-training moves gives you more muscle and less fat, which can boost your metabolism by as much as 15 percent.  The more muscle you have, the more calories you’re burning, all the time.  This helps to keep you at your optimal healthy weight.  Think you’ll bulk up?  That’s a myth.  You’ll be lean and mean, but bulky—No.  Here in this article, we’ll focus on using equipment to strength train, but keep in mind that simple moves like squats and pushups are great options too.  You don’t need any weight to do them, and you can do them anywhere. 

Fitness center staff is always happy to help, and totally worth it!Fitness center staff is always happy to help, and totally worth it!

Tips 

  • ALWAYS use the guidance of an adult. 
  • Perform the exercises slowly, especially if you’re new to exercise.
  • Do each exercise for 8-12 repetitions, possibly more with less weight if you’re new to exercise.  By the time you get to the end of each set you should feel tired.

Body-weight exercises like pushups are a great option if machines aren't your thing!Body-weight exercises like pushups are a great option if machines aren't your thing!
  • Try adding a simple strength routine two to three times a week.  Don’t exercise the same muscle groups two days in a row.
  • Focus on the machines that target large muscle groups of the upper and lower body which work multiple muscles at once, as opposed to just smaller, secondary muscles like the biceps and triceps.
  • If you want to try free weights like dumb bells and bars, or cable pulley machines, use the guidance of a personal trainer, or at least a knowledgeable adult.  These more advanced methods require specific instruction and, in some cases, spotting from another person.

You'll need the guidance of a personal trainer or a knowledgeable adult if you would like to work with free weights.You'll need the guidance of a personal trainer or a knowledgeable adult if you would like to work with free weights.

Machines to try (Get someone to show you.):

As with all machines, start on these with a comfortable weight, and don’t increase it until you are comfortable with the technique.

Strength training machines are a perfect for beginners as well as seasoned exercisers.Strength training machines are a perfect for beginners as well as seasoned exercisers.

Leg Press

There are two versions of this–horizontal and at 45-degree angle–and both are effective in working your quads, hamstrings and glutes.

Pictured is a typical leg press machine.Pictured is a typical leg press machine.

The leg press works your quads, hamstrings and glutes.The leg press works your quads, hamstrings and glutes.

Lateral Pulldown Machine

A strong back is important!  This machine allows you to perform pulldowns to strengthen not only your lats, or the muscles along the outside of your upper back, but also your biceps, deltoids, trapezius, pectoralis minor and rhomboids.

The lateral pulldown machine works much of the upper body.The lateral pulldown machine works much of the upper body.
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