What better place to start than at the beginning? Staring at the number on the scale or the cursed measuring tape, you know you need a change. And the first step toward a healthier lifestyle is education. Whether you’re a gym newbie or someone who has taken a considerable amount of time off from exercise, the key will be to educate (or re-educate) yourself on what it takes to transform your body.
“In this program, we’ll use only machines,” says Jimmy Peña, MS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “This way you can concentrate solely on pressing or pulling, without having to worry about balancing the weight, as you do when using free weights. Concentrate on good repetitions, controlling the weight on the downward or eccentric movement and smoothly reversing directions on the positive or concentric motion, and squeezing at the top (aka the peak contraction).”
This program will take you through 10 total exercises that work your body from top to bottom. During the first two weeks, you’ll perform more reps with lighter weight loads to get you used to the movement and taxing the muscles. Weeks three and four will use the same exercises but increase the intensity through weight load rather than upping the number of repetitions — meaning you’ll lift heavier weight for fewer reps.
“Most of these exercises are compound moves, meaning they require movement at more than one joint, so you’ll be handling heavier weights than is possible with single-joint movements,” Peña says. “Lifting heavier weights helps burn more calories and build more muscle. It’s the perfect place to start.”
Perform this workout every other day. During the first two weeks, you’ll lift weights that allow you to complete 12–20 reps with good form but still challenge your muscles. For your straight sets in week three, you’ll increase the weight and reduce the number of repetitions to 10–12. In the final week of the program, you’ll select a heavier weight with which you can complete only 8–10 reps with good form.
LEG PRESS Targets: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes Start: Place your feet hip-width apart on the platform of a leg-press machine. Movement: Press away from the platform through your heels until your knees are just short of lockout. Squeeze your quads and glutes hard for a second before returning to the start position.
LEG EXTENSION (not shown) Targets: Quadriceps Start: Sit on a leg extension machine with both thighs in contact with the seat, ankles under the resistance pad and your knees at 90-degree angles. Movement: Inhale as you straighten your legs to full extension, exhale at the top, then lower under control to the start position.
LYING LEG CURL (not shown) Targets: Hamstrings Start: Lie facedown on the leg-curl bench so your knees are just beyond the end of the bench. The resistance rollers should rest against the backs of your lower legs, just above the ankles. Movement: Inhale, then bend your knees to bring the rollers as high as possible toward your glutes without lifting your hips off the bench. Hold for 1–2 seconds, then lower to the start position under control.
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Lat Pulldown and More Beginner’s Exercises
FRONT PULLDOWN Targets: Back Start: Take a wide overhand grip on the bar. Sit down and position your thighs under the pads, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Movement: With your lower back slightly arched, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar down to your upper chest. Pause for a one-count, then slowly reverse the motion.
CHEST PRESS MACHINE (not shown) Targets: Chest; shoulders, triceps secondarily Start: Set the height of the bench to a point where your arms are parallel to the floor when fully extended. Your hands should be slightly outside shoulder width. Sit with your back against the support pad and your feet flat on the floor. Movement: Inhale and push the handles away from you, exhaling as you pass the most difficult part of the lift or when your arms are extended. Pause and return to the starting position. As your hands approach the bottom, quickly change direction and repeat the movement.
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MACHINE BICEPS CURL Targets: Biceps Start: Sit on a biceps curl machine with both feet on the floor and your chest against the pad. Grasp the handles so your arms are slightly bent with the backs of your upper arms flat against the pad. Movement: Bend your elbows against the resistance until they form 90-degree angles. Don’t let your upper arms come off the pad during reps.
TRICEPS EXTENSION MACHINE (not shown) Targets: Triceps Start: Adjust a triceps extension machine so your chest and back are both supported. Place your arms across the top of the pad so they’re parallel to the floor, hands grasping the handles, elbows bent about 90 degrees. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Movement: Extend your arms against the resistance until your forearms are parallel to the floor, making sure your upper arms don’t come up off the pad. Squeeze your triceps briefly before returning to the start.
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MACHINE CRUNCH Targets: Abs Start: Adjust a crunch machine so you can sit tall with your feet planted on the floor, your arms crossed on top of the pad and the ability to use a full range of motion. Movement: Contract your abs and move your shoulders toward your knees. Hold for a two-count, then slowly return to the start position.
CALF RAISE MACHINE (not shown) Targets: Calves Start: Stand on a calf-raise machine with your shoulders under the pads. Place the balls of your feet on the platform so that your heels can move through a full range of motion. Lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your Achilles tendons and calf muscles. Movement: Push onto the balls of your feet and rise as high as possible.