This week, we took a tour of the gym (led by a personal trainer) to show you how to use some of those intimidating machines!

Machine Myths

If you’ve ever been to a gym before, you’ve no doubt noticed a major gender discrepancy. Typically, the cardio room is packed with women running on the treadmill or sweating on the Stairmaster, while the weight room is filled with men lifting free weights or doing reps on foreign-looking machines.

Why do women shy away from the weight area? Are we afraid of bulking up? I think by now that myth has been dispelled, and most women know that weight training is a very important aspect of any fitness regimen. It’s something more than that—most women are intimated by the weight area, because they don’t know the proper exercises to do or how to use the scary-looking machines.

The problem is, that mentality isn’t helping anybody. After a weight-training session, you’ll continue to burn calories for two days—not the case with cardio. In an effort to help women everywhere embrace the weight room, we went to New York Health & Racquet Club and met with Cisco, one of their top personal trainers. He walked us through some exercises that address most womens’ trouble areas —legs, abs and arms—and showed us exactly which pieces of equipment in the weight room we should be utilizing everyday. Keep reading for the step-by-step!

Roman Chair


This piece of equipment that usually lurks around the mats also works your core—70% of the lower abs and 30% of the upper.

Instructions: Steady your back against the chair, and lift your legs from a 45 degree angle to your chest. Exhale on the way down from your diaphragm.

Intensity: 12-15 reps; 1-2 sets; 2-3 times per week

Trainer Tips: Make sure to keep your shoulders down when performing this exercise. You should not feel stress on your lower back—if you do, your abs aren’t engaged properly.

Kettlebell Swing


While plenty of women have finally come to terms with free weights, the kettlebell is a different story. This is a piece of equipment you definitely want to know, though—this specific exercise burns twice as many calories as running at 6.0 on the treadmill!

Instructions: Start with knees slightly bent, shoulder-width apart, holding the kettlebell static. Then quickly swing up above your shoulders. Form is key! Beginners should use a 10-12 lb kettlebell.

Intensity: 12-15 reps; 1 set to begin; 2 times a week, increasing sets as you go

Trainer Tips: You should feel this exercise in your glutes and legs, not in your arms.

Tricep Rope Push Down


This exercise is easy to master, but can seem intimidating at first glance because it is performed on one of those huge weight machines.

Instructions: Attach the rope to the pulley and start with 20-30 lbs of weight. Stand with feet slightly apart and hands gripping the rope. Keeping elbows locked, pull the rope down until arms are straight.

Intensity: 12-15 reps; 1-2 sets; 2-3 times per week

Trainer Tips: These are great exercise for giving arms definition—not bulking up. Be sure to exhale as you pull down!

Arm Curl


Instructions: Attach the bar to the pulley and use 10-20 lbs of weight for beginners. Keep elbows at your side and curl the bar up to your chest.

Intensity: 12-15 reps; 1-2 sets; 2-3 times per week

Assisted Chin-Ups


At first-glance, this is absolutely one machine most women will walk right by at the gym. It’s big, and definitely confusing to figure out what to do without some guidance. But hey—that’s what we’re here for! These chin-ups will work your upper back and shoulders.

Instructions: Adjust the weight so that you will feel comfortable. Position your arms in pull-up position on the outside bars and step onto the bar attached to the weights. In a controlled manner, use your arms to lift yourself up until your head is above your hands.

Intensity: 12-15 reps; 1-2 sets; 1-2 times per week

Trainer Tips: This is one of the only machines where lighter weight means less resistance—the more weight below you, the more weight helping to push you up.

Assisted Dip


On the same machine as the assisted chin-ups, you can do assisted dips to work your triceps.

Instructions: Again, adjust the weight so that you will feel comfortable (this is the same deal—more weight, less resistance). Grab the lower arm bars and step onto the bar attached to the weights. Slowly lower your upper body and lean slightly forward, until your arms are bent at 90 degrees. That’s one dip!

Intensity: 12-15 reps; 1-2 sets; 1-2 times per week

Trainer Tips: Make sure to exhale on your way up during this exercise. 

Smith Machine Push-Ups


If there is one exercise that has intimidated women from the get-go, whether from gym class in middle school or a boot camp class now—its push-ups. With the Smith Machine, women can do assisted push-ups and adjust the machine as strength increases.

Instructions: Position the bar on the machine at a level that you feel comfortable. Place your hands at slightly greater than shoulder width apart and create a plank. Lower into a push-up.

Intensity: 8-10 reps; 1-2 sets; 1-2 times per week

Trainer Tips: The lower you place the bar, the more difficult the push-up. 

Smith Machine Pull-Ups


We’ve gone over this before—most women can’t do a pull-up. That is, until the Smith Machine!

Instructions: Grab bar and place legs at a 45 degree angle. Using your arms, lift your core into a plank.

Intensity: 8-10 reps; 1-2 sets; 1-2 times per week

Plate Loaded Kneeling Leg Curl


This machine works your hamstrings and the back of your thighs.

Instructions: Position your body on the machine with your hands gripping the front, and adjust the weight to a level that you feel comfortable with. Take two seconds to lift the bar, and three seconds coming back down. Flip the bar to the other side to work your opposite leg.

Intensity: 12-15 reps; 1-2 sets; 2-3 times per week

Trainer Tips: Squeeze your glutes at the top of every move, and make sure to use your legs to bring the bar up. If you are curving your back, you’re doing it wrong!

If you have any questions about any of the moves represented above, feel free to leave them in the comments below and we’d love to help! Plus, look out for more tips from our personal training session with Cisco coming soon!

Arielle Sidrane is the Associate Editor of Spa Week Daily.

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