Nothing like getting to the gym and staring down two dozen pieces of equipment like foreign puzzle pieces, then walking over to the treadmill, again. Sigh. You’re better than that. Utilize that gym membership and all the muscle groups waiting for a challenge. There are several pieces of equipment that are versatile for ultimate strength and conditioning. You’ll be surprised how quickly you pick up on it and you’ll giggle at the thought of having ever been confused or intimidated.
Barbell: An Olympic size barbell weighs 45 pounds, or some are lighter like 35 pounds. You can check by looking at the end of the bar. Using the bar weight itself is totally fine. You always want to warm up with it by doing a few push presses, front and back squats and Romanian deadlifts. If that sounds like another language to you, don't fear. Follow Skinny Mom founder and CEO, Brooke Griffin through the dumbbell deadlift guide that can be replaced with a barbell.
Squat rack: This rack can be used for squats, yes, but for inclined push ups, chest and shoulder stretches and more. As far as squats are concerned, you want to get the settings to a level that’s about shoulder height. For a back squat, you’ll step under the bar, press the fatty part of your upper back against it, get your hand position and push the bar up. Then you’ll need to walk back a few steps to perform your squats. The same goes for front squats, except you just walk up to it instead of under it.
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Smith Machine: If you’re new to barbell squats, this is an ideal piece of equipment. The entire design of the machine is based on having a built-in spotter. When using the bar, get into position, twist the bar backward about 45 degrees until it releases. Then it will move freely up and down. If you get stuck at the bottom of a squat, just rotate the bar forward until it clicks it and you’re safe.
Dipping bars: Bodyweight dips are tough! You can work your way up to it by looping a band around both bars so it stretches across. Put one knee on the band so it can help lift you up from your dip. Dips mainly work the shoulders and triceps, but will also give your abs a spark. Work your way to it with these stair dips.
Cables and pulleys: This machine looks pretty intimidating because of its size and because there’s really no wrong way to use it. When you use this machine, your motions will be big, so chances are people can see you. But as mentioned, there are so many different exercises you can do. Try using just one pulley to perform a woodchopper, or face the machine and stand on one leg while you pull up and down. You can increase the weights for more resistance. Watch some other people use it to get inspired and begin with little to no weight. Click here to see the wood chopper with a resistance band.
Leg Press: You know what looks good? A pair of strong legs and backside to match. This machine is simple, but it’s intimidating if you can’t get into a good position. The leg press machine is all about the hamstrings, quads and glutes. You need to lie down with your hands at your sides, palms down. The closer to your body the better. Tuck your shoulder blades in closely to each other like you would for a bench press. Experiment with foot distance, but something between hip and shoulder width is ideal. Try not to lock out your knees at the top. Instead, keep your muscles completely engaged.
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Roman Chair: This contraption is simple, yet looks really confusing. Your calves go underneath the cushions that look like a cylinder. Then rest the top of your quads against the other cushion. You want to be able to bend freely at the hips, so scoot yourself up or down accordingly. Put your hands across your chest or above your head like you would for a crunch and bend all the way down and back up again. Don’t let your back round out at the bottom. For a bigger challenge, add a dumbbell or plate by holding it behind your neck. This is excellent for the back and core.
Wrist wraps and belts: Obviously, these aren’t machines, but they are definitely intimidating. There are two styles: one to wrap around your wrist and the barbell or pull-up bar; one to wrap around your wrists only. The latter come in handy for any kind of overhead presses, heavy kettlebells or inversion work. The first style is for improved grip on the bar.
Then there’s the weight lifting belt. The belt is not primarily used to protect your lower back as many people think. The main purpose is for breath and diaphragm control, which in turn helps to protect the lower back. Stick to the Velcro kind; it should be able to handle any pressure you put on it with deadlifts and carries. You want it to be quite tight – think corset. If you plan to use one often, go ahead and buy your own so it fits you appropriately.
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