Book or Web Recommendations for Using Gym Equipment
May 17, 2007 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I've been a member of gym now for the last few months. I've gotten some training on some of the myriad of machines at the place, but I'd like to know more about using them in-depth. Can anyone recommend good books or web sites that focus on the various exercises you can do and/or exercise machines you can work out with at a gym? P.S.: am not much interested in a *lot* of heavy weight-lifting using barbels and such, just mostly the other devices.
posted by Kellyu to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I liked "Weight Training for Dummies," though it also has sections on other types of weight training.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:45 PM on May 17, 2007

Worth a visit by anyone using a gym.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 2:57 PM on May 17, 2007

Just wondering, is there any particular reason you're against heavy weights with barbell work?

Machines really don't give 1/10th the results of even moderate free weight work. I guarantee you will see better results from 6 months on a properly constructed free weight program than putzing around for years on machines.

a fantastic way to learn free weights would be this book
posted by I like to eat meat at 2:59 PM on May 17, 2007

I agree with meat. Use free weights.

Free weights force your secondary 'stabilizing' muscles to work. So you work more muscles and muscle groups than you ever get a chance to hit using a machine. Second, machines are designed with a standardized body type in mind (eg. male, 6', 180 lbs), so if you have a body type that is far from that standard, it can make utilizing the machines uncomfortable or even dangerous (odd physics/trajectories).

My 2 cents
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:10 PM on May 17, 2007

What gym do you go to? I am in DC and do high intensity training (the Arthur Jones Method) and cardio. I recommend The New High Intensity Training by Ellington Darden, PhD
posted by parmanparman at 3:44 PM on May 17, 2007

IANA (I am no Adonis), but one thing that a physiogist told me that has helped me out a bit is to go against what most gyms tell you to do-- three sets of increasing weight-- and to do decreasing weight instead, focusing on technique rather than weight. Of course that really wasn't your question. I'm reading this thread for the same reason you posted it.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:58 PM on May 17, 2007

In my experience and are consistently where I get my info from. If you plan to get serious enough that injuring yourself enters the realm of possibility I recommed getting a personal trainer to make sure you have the basics down and then go it on your own with those sites until you need another upgrade.
posted by GleepGlop at 4:51 PM on May 17, 2007

2nd personal trainer. I don't think that a website will be able to tell you accurately that you're lifting in a way that's going to injure you. Just pay for an hour and make sure you learn what you're doing.
posted by crinklebat at 5:34 PM on May 17, 2007

I'm going the other way. "Free weights" are necessary is such garbage. They work. So do other methods. In fact, your body can't distinguish between a leg press, a squat, or a cheetah chasing you for dinner. If you survive, if there is an overload you get stronger.

One rule: if someone says something like "This is right" or "this is the only way to do x and y", have them explain it to you. If they don't understand the principles involved, know they're just following prior examples.

Ellington Darden has some decent books on the matter. Including how to use 'equipment' and not freeweights.
posted by filmgeek at 5:50 PM on May 17, 2007

Mistress Krista at is awesome on the topic of weight training, especially for women. Her advice is good for anyone, though.
posted by Miko at 8:00 PM on May 17, 2007

Response by poster: To "I like to eat meat" and other s who mention free weights: I am wary of using barbel and weight training, worried about joint pains in the long term. I have read a lot about this in Matt Furey's stuff, and he is very against free weights. He's instead into using your own body weight to exercise. It seems to me a "middle path" between weights and Furey's ideas would be machines. Do you think Furey's ideas have any value or "carry weight" excuse the pun).

To "Jedi": I'm about 6' and my ideal weight would be about 185-190 (though I am overweight and need to lose 45 pounds or so).

To "parmanparman": I live in the northern VA area, not DC, so is this program available in gym around there?
posted by Kellyu at 8:18 PM on May 17, 2007

As far as I can tell, Matt Furey has no formal qualifications and his statements on free weights are there to help pimp his training programmes, which he sells for a great deal of money. I wouldn't trust anything he says any more than I would trust... me. But do trust me. At least I'm not trying to sell you anything.

If I were concerned about joint damage, then I'd AVOID machines in favour of free weights. You can control the path of a barbell or dumbbell - the machine forces you into one path which may be far from suitable for your proportions.

Having said that: you really should get your gym's fitness instructor to demo anything you're interested in. Different manufacturers' machines all vary in usage. Also, many of the machines you might see are pretty damned specialised, and probably only useful to you if you have a specific problem. That's probably why the person who gave you your first programme only showed you a small subset of the available kit.

It sounds as though you're bored and ready to move on to something new - talk to a trainer and get yourself a new programme (using some new machines by all means).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:10 PM on May 17, 2007

Unfortunately, there's a misconception among a lot of women (and men for that matter) that weight-lifting, especially with free weights, will make you HOOOOGE. I'm not saying that that's the case here, but it's just something I've noticed. Of course, looking through weight-lifting and exercise sites and magazines, I can't blame people for thinking that. Most of the advice out there is crap, and the models they use are.. well.. yeah.

I use free weights and machines, but primarily free weights. The great thing with free weights, like people mentioned above, is that they offer a much more comprehensive workout. For example, for leg day, I only do squats, deadlifts, leg-extensions and leg curls, and I'm done. Maybe I'll throw in toe/calf raises with a machine.

I've found free weights are actually better on my joints. I'm don't "throw" the weight around as much, and the flow is more natural, extending through the entire range of muscle movement. If you're concerned about your knees, maybe switch to ellipticals for cardio if you haven't already.

Some books I've found useful:

Strength training anatomy (there's a women's version too: Women's strength training anatomy)

The Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique

Oh, and, linked above, is an awesome site.

If you're concerned about getting too muscular using free weights, my unprofessional opinion is don't worry about it. A lot of it comes down to genetics. I can lift a decent amount, and I'm only about 140lbs (5'11").
posted by formless at 12:33 AM on May 18, 2007

Agreed with formless: I'm female, about 150, and I lift too. I'm not huge at all. But boy do I love the muscle tone and core strength I get from free weights. Don't fear them!
posted by Miko at 4:53 AM on May 18, 2007

I would really recommend checking out web forums dedicated to fitness and researching there. I would definitely avoid any forums on sites that push a certain program, regimen, or a single person's products. a popular one

Assuming you are a guy, dropping to about 150 pounds at your height would leave you basically looking emaciated.

If you are really carrying an extra 45 pounds of fat as you say, the focus should be on lifting HEAVY free weights, and focusing on big lifts like squats, deadlifts, rows, etc. to build muscle, and you will drop a lot of the fat along the way, since you are new to training.

for a 6 foot guy to look athletic, you would want to be your weight at least, but with muscle. the only real way to build the 30-50 pounds of muscle you need is through old-school free weight training. machines, bodyweight exercises, etc. will not take you there.

Heck, all of this information still applies if you're a woman, but your target weight would be lower. The training would be the same, but you just would not be putting on muscle like a man even if you trained the exact same way. you don't have the hormones for it.
posted by I like to eat meat at 7:14 AM on May 18, 2007

Kelly (poster)
Body weight based exercises are great - but still suffer from limitations - generally, with say, dips and chins, women are at a disadvantage due to weight/strength ratios. But there's no special magic in it.

If I had joint problems, I'd advocate moving slower with proper form. Keep in mind that people post knee surgery (same/next day) do leg extensions because of how safe they are. Know what exercise that they don't do? Squats. Why? too much shearing forces at the knee.

Take a look into super slow training. Not fun, but easy on the joints and the full benefits of any other sort of training. Bonus, any joint discomfort is much easier to realize, becuase you're moving slow.

Ken Hutchins the 'inventor' (used loosely) of superslow, does some certifications - there's a super slow place in Sterling, VA. Even if it's far away, you might want to go for a couple of workouts just to see how sensible it is (although it's a bit severe in rhetoric.)

Weight training won't make you big (unless you have the genetics for such.) Women really can't build big muscles - and all of the women body builders (and frankly the men) are on massive amounts of drugs.

posted by filmgeek at 9:31 AM on May 18, 2007

Response by poster: Yeow, I've got a lot to think about with all this fantastic information. Thanks, thanks, thanks so much all for sharing!! Will have to check out the books suggested. The "superslow" method sounds quite interesting; have never heard of it before.
posted by Kellyu at 1:07 PM on May 18, 2007

I agree with the freeweight advocates above 100%. The forums,, and T-Nation are all great sites with a lot of useful info (though the site design at T-Nation leaves a lot to be desired). I thought I'd just chime in to make a minor point:

If you find that your triceps are limiting your bench press, you might try pre-exhausting your chest using a pec dec, cable flyes, or dumbbell flyes before moving on to compound exercises like the bench press. Use a wide grip on the bar when you do hit the bench.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:06 PM on May 18, 2007

As far as I can tell, Matt Furey has no formal qualifications and his statements on free weights are there to help pimp his training programmes, which he sells for a great deal of money.

Just a small side point here, Kellyu, but Matt Furey is widely regarded as a snake-oil salesman. He makes some interesting points, but I'd personally trust him as far as I could spit a rat.
posted by lekvar at 3:10 PM on May 18, 2007

Mod note: please stop the freeweight derail or take it to metatalk
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:12 PM on May 18, 2007

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