Facing your fear of resistance machines Facing your fear of resistance machines

Resistance machines can be intimidating if you’ve never been shown how to use them. All those pulleys, ropes and pins… they look more like extras out of a 1960’s sci-fi film than easy-to-use exercise aids.

But if you want to tone up, change your body composition and raise your metabolism to burn fat more efficiently, you need to increase your muscle mass. If you want to increase your muscle mass, you need to start strength training… and there’s no better place to start than with resistance machines.

Resistance machines are much safer than free weights. Unlike free weights, there’s no possibility that you’ll drop the weight and injure yourself. The machine has gears and pulleys that stabilise the weight while you complete the exercise, ensuring the movement is jerk free and controlled. They also allow you to get a feel for the muscles you’re activating, so if you do decide to make the transition to free weights, it will be easier for you to complete the exercise correctly.

Understand how the machines work

If you’re feeling a bit apprehensive, take some time when you’re at the gym to watch how other people are using the machines. Which way are they sitting? Where have they placed their hands and legs? Make it your goal to try one new machine each time you step into the gym. The first thing you should do when you approach a machine is find the instructional panel. This will tell you how to operate the machine and which muscles you will be working, making it easy for you to know what to do. You can always ask a staff member to show you how to navigate the machine too.

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when you approach a new machine is working out how to choose a weight. The ‘how’ part is easy; on most machines you’ll find a stack of weights at the back of the machine with holes in them and a pin resting in one of the holes. To select the weight you want, simply take the pin out of the hole it’s in, and place it in the one that’s labelled at the weight you want to lift.

The difficult part will be choosing how much to lift.

Choose your weight

The easiest way to work out how much you need to be lifting to get results is trial and error. You should be able to do 10-12 reps, with the last few feeling really difficult.

But first things first: the bigger the muscle, the bigger the weight you can lift:

Legs, butt, chest, back = big muscles = bigger weights.

Arms (triceps + biceps), abs, shoulders = small muscles = smaller weights.

For example, on a leg press you should be able to push about half of your body weight. But if you’re performing a bicep curl, 5kg might be all you can manage.Here’s a rough guide to some common machine weights:

  • Leg press: 30-50kg
  • Lat pull down: 20-30kg
  • Chest press: 10-20kg
  • Upper back rows: 10-20kg
  • Leg curls: 10-20kg
  • Abductor: 5-10kg
  • Adductor: 5-10kg

To increase muscle mass, we recommend beginners start by performing 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Again, this is an incredibly general guide. The best way to determine how much weight you can lift is by trying it out and seeing what works for you. Place the pin in at the approximate weight you think you can lift for 12 repetitions. If it’s too easy, increase the weight, if it's too hard, decrease it. The eighth repetition should feel really hard, like you couldn't possibly do another. Once you've found that, you've found your weight.