The first time you walk into a gym it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many different things going on and everyone seems to know what they’re doing.

Most gyms are laid out in the following way:

  • Cardio area (has treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, etc)
  • Weights area
  • Group Fitness Room
  • Locker Rooms

Some gyms also have things like racquetball courts, pools, or special rooms for things like “express line” machine training, but these vary from gym to gym.

Fitness equipment can be split into two basic areas, first, there is aerobic or cardio fitness equipment which is designed to give you a fitness workout to burn off calories and lose weight. Secondly, there is strength/muscular fitness equipment which is designed to tone, or increase in size, your bodies muscles.

Most gyms and health clubs have a combination of aerobic exercise machines (e.g., treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers) along with free weights (barbells and dumbbells) and strength-building machines.

When you first go to a gym, it’s considered completely normal to ask for a tour – you won’t look like a total newbie just because you don’t know where everything is your first time in. I’d highly recommend this – while it’s fun to just wander, you might miss something awesome or important that the staff would have shown you.


Identifying Gym Equipment:


Cardio Machines

A typical health club houses a variety of cardio machines. The machine that is best for you is the one that you like to use the most! If you will ride a bike for 30 minutes but get bored on the treadmill after 15, then stick with the bike. Better still, try alternating machines — never use the same one two times in a row — to avoid exercise ruts.


Strength-Building Machines

Machines allow you to perform a wide variety of exercises. Some machines are designed to work individual muscles, while other machines consist of a multi-station that works the whole body. Most home gym machines are multi-station machines because they are much cheaper and take up less space then having different machines for each muscle group.

Machines have advantages and they have disadvantages. They are generally easier to use and safer than free weights. But free weights tend to stimulate more muscle because you have to use more stabilizer muscles in order to balance the free weights.

The best situation is to include both free weight and machine exercises in your workouts, this way you can get the best of both worlds.


Free Weights

Free weights are the most basic form of bodybuilding equipment. The reason they are called “free weights” is because there are no attached pulleys, cables, pins, or weight stacks. They consist of barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates.

Free weights aren’t better than machines, just different. Whereas each machine is designed for one particular muscle group, a pair of dumbbells can work practically any muscle, depending on how you use it. Plus, free weights are less confining than machines, and they better mimic the things you do every day. If you are thinking about investing in home exercise equipment, consider that a set of free weights can potentially do the work of a dozen machines.


EZ curl bar

The EZ curl bar is designed for working the biceps and triceps. It is a shorter than a barbell and has angled hand placements. This is good for working the muscles from different angles and reducing the stress that a straight barbell can place on the wrists.



The most common piece of equipment in any gym is the bench. There are three types of benches – flat, incline, and decline. Some benches are adjustable (i.e. they can be adjusted to either flat, incline, or decline). Some benches have racks on one end for holding a barbell, while other benches do not have any racks. The benches that do not have any racks are generally used for dumbbell exercises.


Preacher Bench

This bench is designed for working the biceps. It has an angled pad that you’re your upper arms on. This pad prevents you from swinging the weight so you can isolate the bicep muscles.


Stability Ball (Swiss Ball)

Any exercise that you would normally do on a bench can be done on the stability ball. You can do exercises like bench press, dumbbell flyes, shoulder press, lateral raises, pullovers, crunches, reverse crunches, etc… This is an excellent piece of equipment. The ball can move and roll so it increases your balance and strengthens the small stabilizer muscles.



There are several different types of rack found in the gym. There are racks that are used for storing weight plates (also called weight trees). There are racks for storing barbells, dumbbell racks, etc.

There are also racks for doing exercises such as the power rack or squat rack. There is also a special rack/machine called the smith machine, which is a combination of a machine and free weight barbell.


Leg Press Machines

While many, including myself, believe that squats are the best overall leg exercise. The leg press is best machine leg exercise. Most leg press machines are set on a 45-degree angle. With the leg press you can safely lift heavy weights without worrying about slipping or falling. It places less stress on the lower back and knees than squats.


Hack Squat Machine

This is a good variation of the traditional barbell squat. This is good for developing the outer sweep of the thighs.


Leg-Extention Machine

This machine is excellent for isolating the quadriceps muscles. Many people like to use this exercise for pre-exhausting their quadriceps and warming up the knee joints before moving on to squats or leg presses.


Leg-Curl Machine

This machine is one of the best hamstring exercises. Some gyms may have a leg extension and leg curl machine built into one machine, like in most home gym machines.


Cables and Pulleys

Most gyms have an assortment of cable and pulley machines. Usually, there is a weight stack that is connected to a long cable that has a small handle or bar at the end. You can perform exercises for your entire body utilizing pulleys.


Tubing and Bands

Exercise tubes are long, thin rubber tubes with handles on each end. Bands are just giant rubber bands or straps. You can build plenty of strength with these cheap gadgets, and you can use them at home, at the office, and even on an airplane. Used properly, they can strengthen just about every muscle group you can work with free weights or machines.





Weight lifting gloves can protect your hands while working out. If you have not worked out before you may get blisters, which will be replaced by calluses over time. Whether or not you use gloves is personal preference. For about $15 you can get a pair of weightlifting gloves in most any sports store.




Elbow, knee, and wrist wraps are common in the gym. People may use these if they have an injury or sore joints for added support. Many power lifters wrap their knees when doing heavy squats.

If you do not need wraps it is best not to use them. Over time they may cause your joints and surrounding muscles to become weaker because they are being supported by the wraps. However, if you do develop sore joints you can use elastic wraps. This will help keep the area warm and provide extra support while giving your joints a chance to heal.


Weightlifting Belt

This is a basic bodybuilding accessory. The purpose of a belt is to provide protection and support for the lower back. It is best to save the weightlifting belt for when you need it, you shouldn’t wear it during your entire workout. Use it for heavy squats, dead lifts, heavy rowing exercises, etc. Overuse of a weight lifting belt may weaken the lower back because the muscles are always supported and do not get a chance to be worked like the rest of the body.


Wrist Straps


Wrist straps are short, narrow pieces of strong material (usually about 20 inches long and 1 inch wide). They are wrapped around the wrist and then around a barbell or dumbbell to improve the grip. Wrist straps are most commonly used for exercises such as deadlifts, shrugs, chin ups, and heavy rowing exercises. They prevent a weak grip from limiting your workout poundages.


What you use depends on your experience and your goals. Ideally, invest in a session or two with a certified personal trainer who can explain how to use the equipment safely and even suggest some routines that will help you improve your fitness.