Fitness pros agree: Exercise machines are totally fine to use and may be especially helpful for beginners.
Kettlebell and bodyweight workouts might win the gym popularity contest right now, but don’t sleep on using gym machines. Sometimes exercise machines are actually better.
“It’s true that if you’re using free weights, you have to recruit so many stabilizing muscles,” says Shannon Fable, certified trainer and programming director for Anytime Fitness. “But when you’re getting started, using [the machines with weighted plates] and just learning the movement pattern is OK.”
If you’re returning from a gym hiatus or gaining back strength after an injury, weight machines are an easy way to get back in the game. Plus, you won’t risk dropping anything heavy on your foot.
“If you haven’t got full strength or balance or full range of motion, machines are much safer,” says Stuart Munro, certified personal trainer for the New York Health and Racquet Club.
With that in mind, here are the top machines three trainers suggest. Each machine will help you build strength and train your body to use the right muscles.
What you’re working: quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves
Why it’s worth it: All the trainers we spoke with agreed that this was their go-to lower-body machine. “If people use this with correct technique, it can help you move toward squats off the machine,” Munro says.
What you’re working: latissimus dorsi (the broadest muscle of the back), shoulder girdle
Why it’s worth it: If you’re interested in ever doing a pull-up, this is a great place to start. You’ll build your back muscles and start activating the entire posterior chain.
“Beginners can start with an under grasp (palms facing you), which uses more biceps and tends to be a little easier,” Munro says.
You can also bring your hands closer together or spread them farther apart (so your arms make a V shape) to make the move more challenging.
What you’re working: biceps
Why it’s worth it: “These are great for avoiding the swinging that happens with dumbbells,” says Rachel Mariotti, certified trainer and Precision Run coach for Equinox.
As with all the other movements on this list, you’ll get the most out of this one when you slowly raise and lower the weight. The cable here helps force you to do that.
What you’re working: triceps
Why it’s worth it: As with the lat pulldown or the cable biceps bar, you can switch the grip here — using a straight bar, a V-bar, or even a rope — to vary the move.
Building strong triceps is uber-important for push-ups and pull-ups and for maintaining balanced strength in your arms.
What you’re working: chest, biceps, triceps
Why it’s worth it: “The chest press machine is a similar motion to a push-up,” Munro says. If you’re new to working out, building up your chest, your biceps, and even your triceps will be helpful for doing compound movements later on.
What you’re working: core, hip flexors
Why it’s worth it: “This is easy to operate and a great way to work your abs by propping up on your forearms and simply lifting — not swinging — your legs up,” Mariotti says.
What you’re working: total body, particularly the posterior chain, and building cardio endurance
Why it’s worth it: While there’s nothing wrong with a treadmill, the rowing machine can be a great way to change things up, Mariotti says.
“It’s got the upper-body and lower-body aspect of resistance training and will help balance the whole hunch-forward-from-sitting-at-computers,” Munro adds.
Leg press one day, weighted squats with perfect form the next. Using these machines will help your body get stronger and prepare for the workouts ahead.
If you’re new to the gym or need a refresher, weight machines usually remove the guesswork with helpful how-to cards right on them. You can also ask a gym employee to show you the ropes. They’re there to help!