Gym equipment guide for beginners: All you need to know to start at the gym

How many times have you ‘started’ going to the gym?

How many New Year’s resolutions have you made to the same effect?

You know you should be doing it – you want to be doing it, yet, you just don’t actually do it.

As beginners, we were all afraid of the gym. People looking at you, getting lost between the locker room and the gym floor, having to shower with other people around, and ultimately: we were all afraid of looking stupid and uninitiated among a bunch of fitness junkies who lift iron for a living.

First of all, let’s bust that ‘fitness junkie’ myth. The majority of people going to the gym actually have no real idea of what they are doing. They do their sets haphazardly, they have no plan, and all they know is they want to look (and feel) good, without any actual clue how to get there.

After reading this guide, you will instantly have an edge over all of them: you will know what each piece of gym equipment is, how to use it, which muscles it targets, and most importantly: how not to get injured.

Let’s jump right into the deep end of the pool, and teach you everything there is to know about all that scary gym equipment:

Squat rack

Squat Rack / Power Cage

The squat rack (also known in the form of a power cage) is rightfully considered the king of all gym equipment.

If I told you it acts as a mechanical spotter for exercises with free weight barbells, you probably wouldn’t understand me, so let me put it in layman’s terms: it’s essentially a rack that will keep you from falling, dropping the barbell on your head or legs, and helping you achieve the right form.

Squats are some of the best exercises you can perform and are considered a standard in most routines. They can (and should) be modified to suit you, and the squat rack is an excellent tool to help beginners master the exercise.

Suggested exercises:

  • Barbell Back Squat
  • Barbell Deadlift

Number of reps: Do up to 5 sets of 8-12 reps each




The barbell is essentially a bar you put weights on, to coin it in the simplest terms.

Barbells are a great tool for maximizing strength development, and in combination with dumbbells and cables, you can work your muscles more completely.

As with any other exercise, handling the barbell properly is very important. This means thumbs around the bar at all times.

Suggested exercises:

  • Squats
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Bent-Over Rows
  • Overhead Shoulder Press

Number of reps: Do up to 5 sets of 8-12 reps each

Cables and pulleys

Essentially, any machine that has a cable and wheels falls into this category.

They work on your upper body and are a great way to do isolation exercises. As already mentioned, when complemented with barbells and dumbbells, they provide a full range of motion and keep your muscles entertained.

Suggested exercises:

  • Cable Flies
  • Triceps Extension
  • Chest isolation exercises
  • Bicep isolation exercises

Number of reps: Do up to 5 sets of 8-15 reps each


Dumbbells are freestanding and easy to use weights – and essentially, a set of dumbbells is the only piece of gym equipment you actually need. They allow you to perform a complete workout without actually getting into or onto a machine.

As you work out more and more and build up your strength, you will naturally progress from lighter to heavier weights, which is why a set is recommended: no point in lifting the same weight over and over again.

Suggested exercises:

  • Dumbbell Bicep Curls
  • Overhead Press
  • Goblet Squat
  • Dumbbell Pullover

Number of reps: Do 3-4 sets, and keep your reps in the 12-20 range

Bench press

The bench press is the most powerful exercise you can do for chest development.

It is also among the most popular pieces of gym equipment around the globe, and you will often hear gym goers ask each other “how much do you bench?”. Not that it matters anyway.

As we keep repeating, proper form and executing movements correctly is paramount, as a mistake can cost you a shoulder, elbow, chest or wrist injury.

When starting out, make sure you only actually use the bar, and slowly add on the weight, up until you can’t do more than 8 reps. Don’t try to push yourself too much too soon, and let your body get familiar with the movement before you try to bench any serious weight.

Number of reps: Do up to 5 sets of 8-12 reps each

LAT machine

LAT Machine

The LAT machine is a great way to work on your back, as it allows a wide range of movement, depending on the way you grab the bar, the bar you use and the placement of your hands on the bar, working on different areas of your back.

The LAT allows you to simulate a pull up bar in a different setting, and provides much more control over each movement, making this the ideal machine for gym beginners.

Suggested exercises:

  • Wide-Grip LAT Pull-Down
  • Behind-the-Neck LAT Pull-Down
  • V-Bar Pull-Down
  • Reverse Close-Grip LAT Pull-Down

Number of reps: 3 sets of 8-12 reps for each

Dipping bars

Dipping Bars

Dipping bars are, as the name suggested, bars that are fixed to the ground, and which are mainly used for performing dips.

And dips are a great exercise to build, primarily, stronger chest muscles. However, the bars are also a good choice for performing other types of exercises, targeting your back or even legs. 

Suggested exercises:

  • Dips
  • Bodyweight Rows
  • Leg Raises

Number of reps: 3 sets of 10-20 reps for each

Leg curl machine

Leg Curl Machine

As the name suggests, the leg curl machine is a great way to work on your lower extremities.

Whether you do it sitting up or lying down, it is a fantastic way to activate your hamstrings.

When using the leg curl machine, make sure you adjust it to fit your height, and hold on to the handles of the machine for support.

Number of reps: Do 4 sets of 8-15 reps

Leg extension machine

Leg Extension Machine

The leg extension machine is a great add-on to your basic squat and will work on your quads.

As with the leg curl machine, you need to adjust it to fit your height.

Number of reps: Do 4 sets of 8-15 reps

Sidenote: These two machines can come in the form of a single machine, or they can be used separately, so check what your gym has on offer, and choose the one you like better: there really is no specific difference whether you do both sets of exercises on the same machine, or use different ones.

Seated row machine

Seated Row Machine

Another great choice if you are looking to work on your back, the rowing machine is also a fun way to engage your lats, rear delts and erector spinae, as well as your biceps and forearms.

What makes this machine a somewhat better choice than free weights is the fact that you are working with the same level of resistance throughout, which means all your muscles will be worked evenly.

You can do the rows with both hands at the same time, or work for each hand separately, and the variety of grips you can perform allows for different levels of movement.

Number of reps: Do 4 sets of 8-15 reps

Shoulder press machine

Shoulder Press Machine

The shoulder press machine is a variation of the seated barbell shoulder press and is used to work your shoulder muscles, as the name suggests. A great choice if you want to isolate your shoulders in a more controlled environment.

The important thing to note is that you should perform this exercise slowly and focus on the movement, rather than trying to push more weight with sloppy and sudden jerky movements.

Number of reps: Do 5 sets of 8-12 reps



Finally, we have the treadmill, a machine you need no introduction to in all fairness.

A great way to work on your cardiac strength and burn some fat, always a good warm-up choice, the treadmill should be your friend, but you should also not overuse it. You can easily get trapped in doing nothing but cardio, so leave off the treadmill, and move on to some of the other machines as well.

Suggested exercises:

  • Walking on an incline
  • Jogging
  • HIIT exercises
  • Lunges

Exercise time: 30-40 minutes if you are looking to jog, 5-10 minutes of light running as a warm-up

A note on reps, sets and weights

While all of the exercises we have listed should be performed in similar rep and set ranges, the one important thing you need to remember is that the weight and resistance you choose as a beginner is of crucial importance.

Start out slowly, use only weights you are comfortable with and that is only a bit heavier than you can comfortably lift. The number on the weights does not matter one bit – the entire point of the exercise is to work your way up, rather than reach a certain number.

Don’t be intimidated by anyone else’s numbers and weights – you are here to do what suits you, not what someone else is lifting. What is easy for you, maybe heavy for someone else, and vice versa.

Final thoughts

Don’t be afraid to start working with any of these machines. If you start smart and low enough, allow your body enough time to get used to the movements, you will soon get the hang of them, and start seeing the benefits of your workout.



Category: Fitness

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