Some women aren’t comfortable lifting free weights and barbells, but they still need to mix resistance training with cardio to get in optimal shape, says Robin Cortez, the San Diego-based director of team training for Chuze Fitness, which has clubs in California, Colorado and Arizona. An array of machines provide good alternatives for women “who are intimidated by barbells and bumper plates and squat racks,” Cortez says.
Resistance training is any type of exercise that helps increase muscular strength as well as endurance. Muscles are exercised while employing some kind of resistance, which could be free weights, weighted gym equipment, bands and your own body weight. Resistance training is useful to maintain tone and build strength and endurance.
Also, as women age, they naturally lose lean muscle mass which plays a crucial role in the number of calories their bodies burn at rest each say, says Jenny Harkins, a certified group fitness instructor and owner of Treadfit, a fitness brand based in the Chicago area.
“Oftentimes, we hear women say they have put on weight because their metabolism is slowing down as they get older,” Harkins says. “What is actually dropping is their basal metabolic rate, most likely from a drop in lean muscle.”
The only way to improve your body’s efficiency in burning calories is to drop body fat and increase lean muscle mass, which you can do by engaging in strength training. Here are 10 user-friendly gym machines women can use to get in shape:
— Smith Machine.
— Water Rower.
— Glute Machine.
— Hack Squat.
— Total Gym Core Trainer.
— Stationary Bike.
— Seated Reverse Fly Machine.
— Pull-Up Assist.
— FreeMotion Dual Cable Cross.
This device can be a good option for people who are returning to weight lifting after an injury, or individuals who are just beginning to work out, says Jonathan Jordan, an independent personal trainer and massage therapist in San Francisco.
This machine, comprised of a vertical bar fixed within steel rails, is an alternative to free weights and barbells. For instance, the Smith is a solid place to start with loaded squats when you need to build more stability and strength before other modalities like dumbbells and free-standing barbells.
“Always start new exercises with lighter weight, higher numbers of reps and then increase your load slowly over time,” he says. “I start clients squatting on the Smith with just the bar at first and find the ideal position that allows the deepest, pain-free squat. Start with the bar for about 15 reps of two to three sets.”
If that feels good, Jordan has his clients add weight in 10- to 20-pound increments, doing the same amount of sets but fewer reps, about 12.
Rowing can be an incredibly effective exercise, Jordan says. “When done properly, it is a metabolic, total body workout that strengthens a lot of areas the average desk-bound professional needs to work on.”
For example, the device allows you to do hip extensions for the booty and hamstrings, and all the pulling you’ll do is good for the mid-back and arms. The water rower is also good for women who suffer postural issues from spending hours sitting and typing at their desks, he says.
[ SEE: 8 Signs You’re Overtraining. ]
This device allows you to target your glutes. With some glute machines, the exerciser stands and lifts weights backward with her foot. With others, the individual lies on her abdomen, her forearms resting on pads, places a foot on a platform and lifts, one foot at a time. Users of the machine can choose how much weight to lift.
“Women who work desk jobs are generally weak in their glutes from long periods of sitting,” Jordan says. “This can lead to chronic back pain and other issues. So glute activation and strengthening work is a must. I suggest starting with higher reps of 12 to 20 and lighter weight.”
Plenty of women want to tone their lower body — and this machine is for them. The exerciser places her back against the back pad of the machine and hooks her shoulders under shoulder pads, placing her feet on a platform. There are weights on a bar above the shoulders. The user lowers the unit, bending her knees, then raises it.
Cortez says women are at risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis, medical conditions involving decreased bone density and weak bones “and need to use total body resistance training (in which muscles work against a weight or force) to fight off these risks.” Hack squats are a good way to do resistance training.
Total Gym Core Trainer
The name of this device suggests a complicated contraption, but this machine is simple and easy to use. It consists of a rolling glide board with a pad and handles at the top that allows users to exercise a variety of planks, crunches and pikes, all of which help strengthen the abdomen, back, hips and shoulders. Women can design their own exercises based on their strengths and ability.
You don’t need a lot of upper-body strength to benefit from these machines. The exercises you do on the device “more closely mirrors what we do throughout the day, making the machine relevant and beneficial in improving our functional abilities outside of the gym,” Cortez says.
Running on a treadmill is a great way to get your heart rate up and to burn calories in a quick and efficient manner, Harkins says. “The treadmill is a versatile machine for women looking to lean out,” she says. “But adjusting the speed and incline throughout a workout, women can hit multiple muscle groups.”
Riding a stationary bike — either alone or in a class like SoulCycle — is an excellent way to work up a healthy sweat. “It’s a great option for women looking to burn calories and firm up without running,” Harkins says. “Spinning at a moderate pace is not only easy on the joints but provides a great cardio workout. Women can ramp up the fat burn by including bursts of intensity and resistance. Changing your hip placement and working in bursts of sitting and standing during your ride will hit all muscle groups in your legs, glutes and core.”
Seated Reverse Fly Machine
“The reverse fly exercise is one of my favorites, especially for the deskbound person or chronic texter,” Jordan says. Most folks in today’s technology-centric world have poor and painful upper body posture (forward shoulders and neck, rounded upper backs). They are tight and locked up in the front of the shoulder and neck and weak in the mid-back which can lead to pain and injury.
The reverse fly can help with all this by teaching us to depress the shoulders, tuck the chin/hold the neck neutral and focus on retracting the shoulder blades and strengthening the rhomboids and rotator cuff. You can do this exercise using dumbbells and cables standing or bent over, but the fixed, seated machine can be a safe place for folks to start if they are new to the move, tired or not yet strong enough to stabilize the move standing.
Many women say they can’t do a pull-up, but that’s not necessarily true, Cortez says. “Unassisted and untrained, sure, pull-ups can be incredibly difficult if not impossible. But, with this machine, we’re afforded a starting point,” she says. “The machine offsets a person’s weight, so you can start small. Gradually, you can increase the weight that you pull while you decrease the amount the machine assists with, and there you have a fighting chance of ultimately executing a pull-up on your own.
FreeMotion Dual Cable Cross
With its sturdy metal body and arms, this machine vaguely resembles a miniature version of the power loader the heroine Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, used to conquer the monster at the end of the 1986 movie “Aliens.”
Its array of cables allows you to do a variety of resistance exercises — one reason Cortez loves it. “The sky’s the limit on this machine,” she enthuses. “Simple, complex, basic, difficult — you can do about anything on this machine. You can perform exercises while seated, standing, kneeling, supine — talk about multi-purpose!”
You can work on every part of your body with this machine.
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Update 09/19/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.