Discover the best gym equipment for women and how they work.
Gym machines women should incorporate into their workouts
Working out provides a wide range of health benefits, both physical and mental, for women and men. Whether you’re working out to build muscle, to lose a few pounds or to take on a new fitness challenge, launching and sticking with a fitness routine is a great way to boost your health.
If you’re new to the gym, starting a new workout among the sheer variety of gym machines and equipment can be daunting. But it shouldn’t be.
“No woman should feel intimidated in the gym,” says Alex Lyons, a certified personal trainer at HOA+ (House of Athlete Plus), a digital fitness platform, based in Brooklyn, New York. “Machines offer a way to learn proper form and tension mechanics, so you can continue to level up your fitness as you get stronger. They offer the ability to increase stability.”
It’s important to keep in mind that strength training becomes more important for women as they age in order to maintain muscle density and bone strength. Many women, particularly older individuals who are past the age of menopause, are at risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis, medical conditions involving decreased bone density and weak bones.
That’s why exercise plays an important role in healthy aging. Strength and resistance training not only builds muscle, but it also has an osteogenic effect, meaning it strengthens your bones and promotes bone growth, which – in turn – lowers the risk of osteoporosis.
“Once your comfort level increases, machines are a great way to mix up your routine,” Lyons adds, “especially with a combination of heavy weights, dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells, cardio and low-impact exercise.
“Whatever your fitness goals are, here are 7 of the best gym machines for women:
1. Smith machine
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.
This machine is made of a horizontal barbell that is attached to a steel track fixed along the frame of the apparatus, which restricts the user to vertical movement. As an alternative to free weights and barbells, the Smith is a safe place to start with squats when you need to build more stability and strength.
“Always start new exercises with lighter weight, higher numbers of reps and then increase your load slowly over time,” says Jonathan Jordan, an independent certified personal trainer and massage therapist in San Francisco. “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, the next progression is to increase weight, while reducing the number of reps. Jordan has his clients add weight in 10- to 20-pound increments and perform 12 reps for two to three sets.
2. Row machine
Rowing can be an incredibly effective exercise for everyone.
The device allows you to do hip extensions for the glutes 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.
“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,” Jordan says.
3. Glute ham developer (GHD) machine
There are several gym machines that are good for the glutes, the body’s largest muscle, but if you’re looking for one that helps you develop a strong back from top to bottom, the glute ham developer machine can help you achieve just that.
Also known as the GHD machine, this is a versatile and effective piece of equipment that helps strengthen the body’s posterior chain, a group of back muscles that runs from the top of your head to the bottom of your heels and consists of the latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, hamstrings, glutes and calves. Strengthening these muscles help with balance, stability and posture, but because the posterior chain involves large muscles that are integral for agility and lower body strength, it can improve overall athletic performance, help you lift more weight and make you faster – all while minimizing risk of injury.
“As you think about exercises to strengthen your glutes, the focus should be on standing exercises,” says Kristen Hislop, a certified personal trainer and owner of Hislop Coaching in the Albany, New York region. “It’s tougher to engage the glutes when you are sitting. We all do too much sitting, neglecting this muscle group. Sitting does not require glute engagement and often results in weakness. The hip flexors (top of the quads) tighten, which can cause pain felt down the chain (of muscles) to your feet and up into your back.”
There are several exercises you can do utilizing the GHD machine – including hip extensions, glute ham raises and sit ups – to target various muscle groups. Not only is the machine easy to use, but you’ll be able to increase the difficulty of the exercises as you progress by holding onto dumbbells, weight plates and medicine balls for an added challenge.
4. Hack squat
Strong legs are important because they’re the foundation of most of your functional movement. Whether you’re running, walking, hiking, swimming or playing a variety of sports, maintaining strong, healthy legs helps keep you active.
The hack squat machine targets all the muscles in your lower body, including the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. To use the machine, adjust the weight on each side to your preference. Lean back against the backrest and hook your shoulders under pads, placing your feet shoulder-width apart on a platform. After unlocking the machine, squat down until your knee reaches a 90-degree angle, then press through your heels back into the standing position.
“This is an amazing machine to practice a squat and be able to load up weight in a safe way,” says Jenn Costin, a certified personal trainer based in Madison, Wisconsin. “A lot of women fear squatting with a barbell from a safety standpoint, which is totally understandable. Learning the motion in a hack squat machine will help them to load up heavier weights, feel what it’s like to push a heavy weight, and it is an incredible lower body movement to begin any workout with.”
To avoid placing too much weight on your spine or if you’re unsure whether you’re training with the proper amount of weight, consult with a professional trainer.
5. Lat pulldown machine
Lat pulldowns target the muscles under the armpits, the latissimus dorsi, also known as lats. This large, flat muscle covers the width of the middle and lower back and connects the upper arm to the hip and the spine.
Using a lat pulldown machine is helpful whether you’re a workout beginner or a regular at the gym.
“I love working the lats, the area around the bra line, which is a problem area for many people,” says Whitney Berger, a certified personal trainer based in New York City and owner and founder of WhitFit NYC. “This move is awesome because it works the lats without tiring the arms, the triceps and biceps in particular.”
Using this machine properly is important in order to maximize the effectiveness of your workout.
- As you sit on the lat pulldown machine seat, adjust the knee pad so you’re snugly seated, with no free space.
- With both hands, grasp the bar with a wide, knuckle-up grip. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
- Make sure your feet are flat on the ground, really pressing down on the four corners of your feet, toes and heels.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together while maintaining an even level with your shoulders down.
- The crown of your head should be pointed up toward the ceiling, with your tailbone down to keep your spine and back straight and safe.
- Exhale as you begin the movement, using both hands to bring the weight down.
- Pull through your elbows so you can squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement and your shoulder blades are together.
- Slowly raise the bar back up to the original, starting position.
6. Leg extension machine
The leg extension machine, which is widely available in many commercial gym and apartment complexes, is a great option for people who are looking to strengthen and tone their quadriceps.
The quadriceps are a large muscle group that consists of four fundamental muscles in the front of the thigh: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius. Together, the quadriceps muscle makes up one of the largest muscle groups in the body.
Because this machine isolates knee extensions, this type of exercise helps strengthen the ligaments around the knee joint, specifically the patellofemoral joint, which is important for keeping them strong as you age.
“This is a vital movement that is with us throughout our life in our daily movements of simply walking and climbing stairs to more dynamic movements, such as running and jumping,” says Devin Trachman, a physical therapist and clinical director at Physical Therapy Central in Edmond, Oklahoma. “The leg extension machine can be safe for people of all ages and abilities. It is simple to focus on isolated quad strengthening because the machine takes care of the basics involving positional set-up and eliminating other muscle groups.”
The machine also allows you to easily progress to heavier weights as you are able.
7. Total Gym ELEVATE Core ADJ
The core trainer, manufactured by Total Gym, may look like 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.
Maintaining a strong and healthy core helps with flexibility and balance. A strong core also helps stabilize your lower back and is helpful in maintaining good posture, which is good for your overall health.
Your core includes the following muscle groups:
- Abdominals, the muscle that many people associate with a six-pack. This muscle helps with the stabilization of your internal organs.
- Back muscles, including the quadratus lumborum, which is located in the lower back. This muscle is often associated with lower back pain, mobility issues and posture.
- Diaphragm, a muscle that contracts and flattens during inhalation and exhalation. This muscle is located at the base of the chest.
- Glutes, a group of three muscles on your rear end. They help with hip extension and rotation.
- Pelvic floor, which are muscles that run between two sitz bones, the pubic bone and the tailbone. They support core function and stabilization and become more important as people age. Healthy pelvic floor muscles and tissues help with bowel movements, hip stabilization, sexual health and urination.
You don’t need a lot of upper-body strength to benefit from these machines. Since the Total Gym core trainer primarily uses a plank position to glide in and out, you are working major core stabilizers and improving overall core strength, Lyons says.