Limited to a Gym Full of Machines? Take Your Pick From 6 Top Options

Exercises using free weights or bodyweight exercises are better, but machines have their place. Six choices, with exercises, from STACK Expert Veronique Perron.

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You've got training goals and a workout, but where do you start? If your gym is limited to basic equipment, it's even more difficult to piece together an effective workout. You'll need to figure out the best exercise machines to build your strength, make the most of your time and get you on track and making progress.

Although it's typically better to perform free weight or bodyweight exercises, the machines have their place, especially when they're your only option. Here are the best ones, along with an exercise to perform on each.

Chest Press Machine

Using a machine rather than a bench means you don't need a spotter. The chest press machine allows you to use heavier weight without worrying quite so much about whether you can fully complete your sets. You'll work all the major muscles in your chest, your rear shoulders, the three heads of your triceps, your forearms and your grip. This is definitely the best machine for a great chest workout.

Suggested Exercise: Chest Press


  1. Sit with your back against the pad.
  2. Adjust your seat (if required) so that the center of your chest aligns with the arms of the machine.
  3. Keep your wrists straight.
  4. Exhale and push away from you, extending your elbows without locking them.
  5. Take a quick pause at the top of the movement and lower slowly to starting position.

Assisted Pull-Up Machine

This machine will help you gain the strength to eventually do Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups on your own. You work the strength of your grip as well as your back muscles, traps, shoulders, chest, biceps and triceps. With the machine counterbalancing your body weight, you can focus on form and lifting more reps—and work on slower eccentric Pull-Ups.

Suggested Exercises: Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Close-Grip Pull-Ups, Hammer Chin-Ups, One-Arm Chin-Ups


  1. Since this machine uses weights as a counterbalance, the more weight you add, the easier the exercise becomes. Try setting the weight to approximately 20 pounds less than your body weight.
  2. Stand on the platforms and grab the outer handles. Lift one knee at a time onto the padded knee rests.
  3. Keeping your abdominals engaged, spine neutral and shoulders pushed down, pull yourself up as high as you can.
  4. Slowly lower down until your elbows are still slightly bent.
  5. Pull yourself back up to repeat.
  6. To get off the machine, pull yourself all the way up first, then slowly lift one knee at a time, returning to a standing position on the side platforms. If the exercise is too easy, adjust the weight by lowering it to increase the difficulty.

The Cable Tower

When the gym is crowded and dumbbells aren't available, you can get the job done with the Cable Tower—a very versatile piece of equipment.

Suggested Exercises: Bicep Curls, Hammer Curls, Tricep Extensions, Tricep Kickbacks, Shoulder Press, Rear Deltoid Fly, Chest Press, Abdominal Crunches, Torso Rotation, Hip Abductions, Face Pull, Glute Kickbacks.

Guideline: These are only a few of the many exercises you can do with the Cable Tower.

Triceps Pushdown

Attach either a straight or angled bar or tricep rope to a high pulley on the tower.

  1. While holding the attachment, palms facing down, bring your upper arms down to your sides.
  2. Return slowly to the starting position with control.

Rear Deltoid Fly

  1. Take off all attachments, leaving just the snap hook at the end of the two cables.
  2. Adjust the pulleys so that they are both right above your head.
  3. Take the right snap hook in your left hand and left snap hook in your right hand.
  4. Stand straight with a neutral spine as you move your arms back with your arms out straight at shoulder height.
  5. Return to the starting position with slow control.

Lying Hamstring Curl Machine

Many people sit most of the day at work or school, which can cause tight hamstrings, leg cramps and lower back pain. Prevent this by building stronger hamstrings. Since the Lying Hamstring Curl Machine focuses strictly on your hamstrings, you'll strengthen these muscles while improving knee movements in a safe environment.

Exercise: Hamstring Curls


  1. Lie face down on the bench.
  2. Place your ankles under the pads and grasp the handles in front of you.
  3. Make sure your knees are not overextended under the pads. If they are, adjust the angle of the pads at your ankles.
  4. Slowly pull the weight with your ankles curling your feet toward your glutes.
  5. Gently return to starting position.

Lat Pulldown Machine

Using the Pulldown Machine, you engage multiple joints and target your largest back muscles, biceps and rear shoulder muscles. A wide grip targets the sides of your back (lats), and a close grip works the mid-back and biceps a bit more. If you want to develop wide back muscles (your lats), this is definitely the best machine for that goal.

Exercises: Wide Grip Lat Pulldown, Close Grip Lat Pulldown, Underhand Close Grip Lat Pulldown, Face Pulls


  1. Sit on the bench with your abs engaged and with a neutral spine.
  2. Grasp the bar over your head.
  3. Keeping your spine neutral, pull the weight down, keeping your elbows tucked to your side.
  4. Slowly let the weight rise again without locking your elbows, and repeat.

Smith Machine

The biggest benefit of the Smith Machine is that it allows you to use heavier weight without a spotter. The barbell is locked between two steel rails, allowing you to keep barbell in the vertical plane, avoiding any unwanted side movements such as knee dips during a Squat. Using the Smith Machine, you can also lean against the barbell. This allows you to put more focus on your quadriceps during Squats. You can also maintain a stronger position during Overhead Shoulder Presses.

Exercises: Squat, Front Squat, Hack Squat, Seated Overhead Press, Alternating Rear Lunges, Drag Curls, Close-Grip Bench Press, Deadlifts, Back Shrugs, Inverted Row


  1. Set the bar at the proper height for the exercise.
  2. Load the weight onto the bar while it's locked in place.
  3. Hold on to the bar with both hands and turn it slightly until it unlocks.
  4. When you have completed the exercise, lock the bar, remove the weight and then unlock the bar, lowering it to the ground to lock it at its lowest position.

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