10 Best Gym Machines for Weight Training

Personal trainer guiding woman seated cable row gym
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Weight training equipment is varied and diverse in type and function. You can even use your own bodyweight for exercises like pushups and squats. As far as physical equipment goes, you can use free weights like dumbbells and barbells, or bands and tubes.

Gym machines, frames, and workstations based on levers and cables are another option. Gym machines are a safe place for beginners to start, as the machine removes the instability inherent with free weights and barbells. Some machines are well suited for gym-goers with obesity, elderly populations, as well as the untrained. Here are our top gym machines and workstations for weight training.

Cable Lat Pulldown

The Lat Pulldown is a classic "pull" exercise, usually with a cable machine in which you pull a weighted cable (or lever alternative) to face level. This movement works primarily the latissimus dorsi (lats), the large muscles below the shoulder blade on either side of the back.

Seated Cable Row

Most gym-goers know the seated cable row. You sit on a platform and grasp a handle that you pull toward you, maintaining good form with a straight back while squeezing the shoulder blades. Like the pulldown, weight can be adjusted with pins or other mechanisms, depending on the type of machine. This exercise targets the latissimus dorsi muscles of the back as well.

Smith Machine

This rack with an adjustable bar of (usually) 10 kilograms, is a versatile frame that allows you to do bench presses and squats. The frame allows you to lock the fixed bar in place on hooks on either side of the front uprights. Although the Smith Machine is useful for amateurs and beginners, using too much weight on the machine can be dangerous unless a spotter is used—especially in a bench press.

Back Extension Bench

This is sometimes called a Hyperextension Bench. It allows you to hook your feet under a pad or pads, lower your torso across another pad, and lift again to return to the starting position. The forward movement flexes the back and the return extends the back. If you go past the natural line of the back on the return, this is called hyperextension.

This exercise works the abdominals and the lower back. Removing support for the torso creates a similar exercise called the glute-ham raise (gluteus-hamstring raise), which is a highly recommended exercise for the hamstring muscles.

Hack Squat Machine

Like the Smith Machine, the Hack Squat machine takes away the instability of the free-standing squat by providing a fixed path. This has benefits and disadvantages. Fixed path machines don't invoke extra muscles such as stabilizers and synergists. However, they do provide a little more control for beginners as long as heavy weights are not attempted.

Cable Pulley Station

The Cable Station is a large frame with extensible cable handles with pulleys at each end. The position of the grips can be moved up or down to suit various exercises. You can even grasp one with each hand to do chest exercises. Some systems incorporate a pull-up/chin-up bar at the top. Many different upper and lower-body exercises can be performed with this station. It has many uses in rehabilitation exercises.

Unilateral Low Pull

This paddle-type machine has independent grips on either side and a chest pad for support, allowing you to pull with either or both arms in a downward path similar to a swimming stroke. This station works triceps, shoulders, and lats.

Overhead Press Workstation

The Overhead Press seated workstation is another piece of equipment that replaces dumbbells or barbells for standard overhead lifts like the military press or push press, except from a seated position.

Pull up Bar or Frame

Most gyms have a pull-up/chin-up bar either as a stand-alone piece or incorporated into another frame. Pull-ups are very good compound exercises for back and arms, especially when the grip is varied from facing away to facing in. You can also choose a neutral grip on many machines.

Assisted Dip Workstation

This workstation has a sliding knee pad plus grips at the dip position and also above at the pull-up position. You can do assisted dips for triceps or pull-ups for arms and back—not bad for beginners who are a little weak in the upper body.

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