If you’ve ever walked up to a contraption in the gym and thought, “I don’t have a clue what to do with this,” you’re not alone. We know some exercise machines are easier to get the hang of than others. We also know that learning how to use new ones will help keep your fitness journey interesting and sustainable.

Check out these 6 potentially intimidating pieces of workout equipment, and see which one (or two or six!) you might like to tackle next time you come in. 

Elizabeth Hughes, our Healthy Living Initiatives Coordinator at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, demonstrates how they’re not so scary after all.

1. Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder may look tricky, but it’s actually pretty simple. If you can climb, you can conquer it! This machine offers a total body cardio workout that’s hard to beat—especially if you’re short on time. It’s also low-impact, protecting your back and joints.

No Fear: Jacob’s Ladder is powered by your movement, so it won’t go faster than you are climbing!

First Time: Set a goal for three 2-minute intervals. Adjust the strap to your height (it controls brake and speed), and fasten it around your waist. Start climbing slowly just like you would on a ladder. To stop, simply quit climbing and coast to the bottom.

Mix It Up: Climb higher to move faster, stay low to go slow.

2. The Smith Machine

Exercisers sometimes think they have to be heavy lifters to use barbells. Not true! The Smith machine is the perfect place to get comfortable with a barbell or return to using one if it’s been a while. It provides stability and helps you maintain proper form, to avoid injury.

No Fear: The bar hooks into the machine, so you don’t have to worry about dropping it!

First Time: Try two sets of 10 reps. You can use the bar only or add weight. Go with what feels comfortable. Position yourself properly under the bar for squats: feet shoulder-width apart, hips back, weight in your heels. Squat like you’re sitting in a chair—your knees shouldn’t go past your toes.

Mix It Up: Use the bar for additional exercises like upright rows and dead lifts.

3. Glute Machine

For those with knee issues, this machine is a great, low-impact option to work the glutes. At first glance, it seems like quite an apparatus, but check out how simple it is to use.

No Fear: The pictures on the side of the machine will remind you how to use it.

First Time: Go for two sets of 10 reps on each leg. Pick the weight you can sustain with those reps. Adjust the abdominal pad to achieve a 90-degree angle at your hips. Adjust foot bar to desired start position. Rest one lower leg on the pad as you place your forearms down and grasp the handles. Place your other knee down, and push the bar upward with your foot. To repeat for opposite side, adjust the knee pad.

Mix It Up: Adjusting the foot bar closer makes it harder because you have a bigger range of motion.

4. Assisted Pull-Up

If you have lingering embarrassment from attempting pull-ups in P.E. class, you may have avoided this machine. But, that’s the exact reason you should give a shot! It’s great for any fitness level, and you can gradually decrease the assistance as your arms get stronger.

No Fear: You won’t get stuck hanging at the top because your feet are always touching the assist bar.

First Time: Try two different grips with two sets of 5 each. First, adjust the weight to your desired resistance. Face the machine, and stand on the assist bar. Grip the inside handles, and pull up in a slow and controlled manner until your arms reach at least 90 degrees. Return to start. To change grips, step one foot off of the bar, move hands to the outer handles at a comfortable width, and begin again.

Mix It Up: This machine is also made for assisted tricep dips!

5. Torso Rotation

Obliques can be tricky to target. That’s where the torso rotation machine lends you support. It can be extra helpful for those who are just beginning to work these core muscles.

No Fear: This machine might not scream “abs” at first glance, but you'll master it in no time!

First Time: Aim for two sets of 10 reps on each side. Select the weight to your desired resistance. Adjust seat height so that pads are positioned across upper chest. Select left or right start position. Grasp handles and pull chest against pads. Use the thigh pads for stability. To start, rotate upper body completely to opposite side and return. Repeat for other side.

Mix It Up: You can adjust the machine to start the exercise at a slight or full twist.

6. TRX Suspension Trainer

Suspension training is inspired by the military, which scares some people from trying it. But like most exercise equipment, it has the versatility to meet a wide range of fitness levels. TRX is a one-stop shop for your full body workout, using your own weight as resistance. You’ll develop strength, balance and flexibility.

No Fear: No trapeze artists needed! At least one part of your body will be firmly planted on the ground at all times.

First Time: Let’s start with three moves. First, adjust the straps to a proper length for you.

Move #1 Push-ups: From standing, lean out into a push-up position that feels doable. Slowly lower your body until your arms bend at 90 degrees, then push back up. Try two sets of 10 reps. 

Move #2 Mountain Climbers: Sit and put your feet into the straps. Turn over into plank position. Alternate bringing each knee up to your chest. Try two sets of 20 total/10 each leg.

Move #3 Rows: Try two different arm positions on this one. First, face the wall, plant your feet and lower down until your arms are extended. Palms facing each other, pull up, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Switch positions by facing your palms to the floor and pulling up with your elbows wide. Try two sets of 5 reps for each position.

Mix It Up: Experiment with placing your feet closer to and farther from the wall on push-ups and rows. TRX can be used for numerous exercises. Ask our staff to show you more!

Establish Healthy Habits with the Y

Looking for more workout ideas? Check out 9 Partner Exercises to do with a buddy. At the Y, it's our mission to provide our members and communities with the resources and support they need to be healthy in spirit, mind and body. Let us partner with you to reach your goals!