Trainers: 7 gym machines that build muscle, good for beginners – Insider

Forget the treadmill — if you only use gym machines for cardio, you’re missing out on some serious gains, according to personal trainers. 
Weight exercise machines can be great for  beginners because they don’t require as much technique, mobility, and stability as free weights, according to Desmond Jack, Fount Performance Advisor and NASM Certified Personal Trainer, US Army Retired.
And with a little guidance, you don’t need to be intimidated at the gym by unfamiliar equipment, he told Insider. 
“Give yourself a pat on the back. The fact that you’re even thinking about doing it is brave,” Jack said.
Working out with machines can also help you build a strong foundation as a beginner so you’ll be better prepared for other types of exercise, Cassie Costa, NASM certified personal trainer and C4 Energy Brand Ambassador, told Insider.
“Using machines will help your body get stronger and prepare for the workouts ahead. If you’re a beginner to the gym or need a refresher, weight machines usually are very helpful with the guided instructions right on them,” she said.
If you’re ever unsure of how to use a machine, always ask a gym employee for guidance — and it never hurts to invest in a personal trainer to start your fitness journey, if you can afford it. 
Here are more tips and tricks to make the most out of some of the best machines for building strength and muscle, according to the trainers. 
Costa said the lat pulldown machine is one of her favorites to effectively build and strengthen the back muscles
The exercise works the latissimus dorsi or lats, a large muscle group starting near the back of the armpit and extending down the torso to the pelvis in a wing shape. 
Exercises like pull-ups work the lats, but may take time for a beginner to achieve. 
The lat pulldown can be more approachable if you start with light weight and work your way up, according to Jack. 
“Start off with a weight you can effectively executive for 10 reps,” he said. 
To do the exercise, grab the bar with your hands wider than shoulder width apart, knuckles facing up. As you exhale, pull the bar down to about chin level, keeping your core tight and feet on the floor. Return the bar to the starting position with control. Avoid leaning back or using your hips or legs to drive the movement. 
“The bottom of the motion should be where your elbows can’t move downward anymore without moving backward. Be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades,” Costa said. 
The leg press machine can be a simple, approachable way for beginners to get a lower body workout, especially if you start with the horizontal (not incline) type of machine, Costa said. 
With the leg press or any other machine, be sure to start with lighter weight until you get used to the equipment, and find a gym employee or even a peer if you’re unsure, according to the trainers. 
“The biggest thing is an ego check,” Jack said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Different variations of the leg press can emphasize muscles like the quads or glutes, but the basic mechanics of the exercise are the same. 
From a seated position, place your feet flat on the platform, and push evenly through your feet as you straighten your knees. When fully extended, but not locked out, hold the position for a moment before returning back to the starting position. 
A key part of the leg press is remembering to brace your core, and breathe through the exercise, according to Costa.
“When exhaling, extend your legs while keeping your head and back flat against the seat,” she said. 
The bench press, with a barbell or dumbbells, is a popular exercise for gym rats to build a bigger upper body, but beginners should consider trying the chest press machine, according to Jack. 
The machine is effective because it provides tension through the full range of the movement, targeting your chest, shoulders, and triceps, he said.
Beginners may get more out of the machine because there’s less effort needed to stabilize the weight than in a bench press, and it’s also safer because there’s no risk of dropping a weight on yourself.
To use the chest press machine, sit with your back against the seat and grab the handles, keeping your wrists and forearms in a straight line. Push out, straightening your elbows to full extension, without locking them out. Pause at the end of the rep, then return with control to the starting position. 
For more upper body muscle, the cable machine can help target specific arm muscles. 
For example, cable curls are a great biceps exercise, Costa said. 
To correctly perform a cable curl, grab the handle with palms facing up, starting with your arms extended down by your sides. Bend your elbow to curl the handle up toward your chest, being careful not to shift forward or back. Slowly lower and repeat. 
To build muscle with any resistance training exercise, focus on increasing the effort over time, Costa said, a principle called progressive overload.
Start slow, and make gradual increases to the amount of weight or number of reps you perform each week for best results, she said. 
Cable machines can also be used to build other upper body muscles such as the triceps, the muscle group on the back of your upper arm. 
Jack said the overhead extension is an effective exercise to perform with a machine, and is a safer option than dumbbell exercises like skullcrushers since you don’t risk dropping the weight. 
To perform the overhead extension, use a cable with a rope or bar attachment, gripping the attachment with your arms overhead and the cable behind you. Slowly lower your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows pointed up, and then back to full extension. Avoid arching your back. 
Triceps pushdowns are another option on the cable machine, but some research suggests overhead extensions build more muscle
Regardless of what exercise you chose, remember to use control when returning to the starting position of any machine exercise, Costa said. 
“Don’t clang the weights,” she said. “Always breathe throughout the movement by consciously inhaling and exhaling.”
If you’re looking for an ab workout, crunches can be a waste of time, the trainers said. 
The hanging leg raise machine is a better bet, according to Costa. 
It looks like a chair without a seat, and you use it by bracing your arms and back against it as you use your core strength to lift your legs into the air, parallel to the ground. 
Hanging leg raises are a great way to build your abs since they require you to stabilize through your whole core, including your hip flexors, and use your own body weight for resistance, experts previously told Insider. 
The exercise is particularly good for targeting the lower abs, bodybuilder Sunny Andrews told Insider. 
Costa said the rowing machine is another beginner-friendly option for a full-body workout. 
Before starting, be sure to adjust the machine and make sure you feel comfortable with the movement, she said. 
Then, as you exercise, focus on engaging the proper muscle through each portion of the movement.
“Muscle-mind connection is one of my biggest tips to everyone I train. Move with intention,” she said.
To properly use the rower, sit in the seat and grasp the handle. Start the movement by driving through your legs, and then start to pull the handle toward you using your upper body, including your arms and back. Return to the starting position in the opposite order, extending your arms and then bending your legs back to repeat the movement. 
Done correctly, the rower can help you build strength and cardio at the same time by raising your heart rate while putting tension on multiple muscle groups like the back, core, legs, and arms. 
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