The top 5 gym machines for beginners: don't get lost on your first day in the gym

Gyms are confusing but we are here to help you find the best gym machines for beginners easier

top 5 gym machines for beginners
(Image credit: Getty Images)

First day in the gym can be quite a daunting experience. Especially if you visit the church of iron in January, there will be a lot of people there, all trying to get fit using gym machines you have no idea how to use. To make this experience slightly better, we rounded the top 5 gym machines for beginners so you can hit the ground running on the first day in the gym and start building lean muscle mass from day one.

What makes a gym machine good for beginners? Many of the below machines and equipment can be used at all skill levels, but the ones on this list in particular are better suited for people who are new to the gym environment. In general, as you get stronger and more comfortable in the gym, you will want to perform more exercises with free weights, using dumbbells, barbells and even kettlebells.

How to perform the most common gym exercises correctly

Until then, you can rely on beginner gym machines that take some of the load off your shoulders by stabilising weights, for example. Even with gym machines, try performing compound movements, they are better both for burning fat and for building muscles.

The most famous of these of these compound movements is the deadlift, the King of Lifts, and although you can perform deadlifts with a cable machine – one of the beginner gym machines listed below – it's probably best to build up some overall strength before you try heavy deadlifts.

Let's get right into it!

gym machines for beginners

Protein snacks, like high-protein brownies, are a great source of protein and are usually low on sugar and fat

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Eat right to gain lean muscle mass quicker

There are three key elements to effectively gain lean muscle mass: rigorous exercising, a healthy diet and rest. If you skip either if these, you might see slower muscle development and or even worse, injure yourself in the process.

Bulking is a popular word among bodybuilders, it means putting on weight so your body can transform your carb and fat reserves into muscle mass. This definitely doesn't mean you can gorge yourself on pizza and pasta all day long, though.

Once you found your maintenance calorie level (if you have an office desk-based job and you are an average built male, that's around 2400 calories per day), eat 5-700 more calories on top of that, mainly more protein and good carbs. That should be plenty to fuel your body to gain more muscle (and not fat).

Supplement-wise, you only really need two: protein powder and creatine. The former will help in the muscle repair process and latter will boost performance. Both are safe to use and there is a wide variety of offerings so you can choose a flavour you prefer.

With creatine, we recommend you get the unflavoured variety because it mixes well with any liquid and you only need a small amount to keep your creatine levels saturated. This means you can mix your 3-5 grams of creatine with anything in the morning (water, juice, even coffee) without having to worry about an aftertaste.

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The top 5 gym machines for beginners 

Drink a big glass of water around half an hour before your workout and have full gym water bottle in arms reach as you do the exercises. Stretching before and after exercising a bit is also beneficial, get a foam roller or a massage tool and relax your tense muscles.

 Try not to eat an hour before the exercising takes place and have a protein shake or a protein snack after you finished exercising. This will help muscle regeneration and will keep you full, too.

gym machines for beginners

Dumbbells are the most versatile fitness equipment possible

(Image credit: Escape fitness)

1. Dumbbell

Strictly speaking, dumbbells are not gym machines but they are one of the most versatile pieces of gym equipment you can ever use inside the confined walls of the church of iron. Also in your home gym, should you want to set one up.

Where to find dumbbells in the gym? Dumbbells can most usually be found in the free-weight area. The rubber floor will help you find the free-weight easier in commercial gyms. Dumbbells are stacked on vertical racks, most of the time.

What are dumbbells good for? You might think that dumbbells are good for nothing else but bicep curls, but this could not be further away from the truth. You can pretty much perform a full-body workout with dumbbells, starting from your calves all the way up to your traps.

What exercises can you do with dumbbells? You can use dumbbells to strengthen your triceps doing overhead extensionstriceps kickbacks or lying triceps extensions. Tone your shoulders doing shoulder presseslateral raises or upright rows or train your legs with squats as well as lunges and deadlifts.

Using a weight bench you can further extend your repertoire: bigger your chest muscles (or 'pecs') with bench pressesdumbbell flyers or straight-arm pullovers, not to mention the back exercises like one arm rows or reverse flyers. The possibilities are truly endless.

gym machines for beginners

Treadmills are brilliant for warm ups and cool downs

(Image credit: Adidas)

2. Treadmill

You can't – and shouldn't – avoid cardio even if you want to build muscles. Doing cardio is the best way to get your heart rate levels up and get your body ready for some heavy lifting. You could use a rowing machine for this purpose but at the beginning, a treadmill will work better.

Where to find treadmills in the gym? Treadmills are most usually lined up around the walls, most usually in front of mirrors or better, windows, so you can see something other than just your own reflection.

What are treadmills good for? Running on a treadmill is a great way to warm up before and to cool down after exercising as well. A 5-10 minute jog before your workout will get your heart ready and you won't feel that exhausted early on the workout.

What exercises can you do with treadmills? Use treadmills as a pre and post-workout treat. Don't try to sprint or do long sessions on the running machine, especially before the workout, that would just use up your energy. Once a week, have a cardio-only session in the gym (or outside, if the weather permits) and do 30 minutes-an hour running or cycling session.

gym machines for beginners

With the cable machine, you will be able to perform a range of exercises

(Image credit: BodyMax)

3. Cable Machine

Cable machines are the big brothers of home gyms. What's great about them is that they are good for almost every exercise you can do in the gym; you can do a a full body workout, using just one cable machine.

Where to find cable machines in the gym? Cable machines are usually close to the wall since they are rather bulky. Don't worry if someone is already using the one you were eyeballing: there are two pulleys on either side of the cable machine so tow people can use it simultaneously.

What are cable machines good for? In one word: everything. You can work your biceps, triceps, delts, pecs, abs and glutes, using one or both sides of the cable machine. even better, there are most usually handles on the top of the machine so you can even do things like pull ups or chin ups, too, not to mention a T3 favourite, hanging leg raises.

What exercises can you do with cable machines? Pretty much everything what you can do with a dumbbell or barbell. So, for biceps, you can do cable curls, for triceps, triceps pushdowns, for shoulders straight-arm pull downs, for abs kneeling cable crunches and for glutes cable kickbacks. Just to mention a few.

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gym machines for beginners

Smith machines are perfect for beginner lifters

(Image credit: Bodycraft)

4. Smith machine

Smith machines are large frames, sort of like a squat rack, but with a bar attached to two vertical poles. Exactly because of that, it can help you get familiar with exercises like bench presses and squats, because it takes significantly less effort to push the bar up and down when you don't have to 'waste' energy stabilising your body and the bar.

Where to find the Smith machine in the gym? Smith machines are most usually located either in the free-weight area or very close to it. Pro tip: don't use a collar to secure the weights on the Smith machine. The only way for the plates to come off the bar is if the whole gym flipped to the side.

What are Smith machines good for? Smith machines are great for familiarising yourself with heavy compound movements like bench presses and squats. You will need to build some muscle memory before you can start working out with proper free-weights.

One thing to keep in mind when you eventually progress into performing standard bench presses is that you will be able to lift less than much you did on the Smith machine. Drop at least 20% of weights, so if you did 40 kg on the Smith machine, try 30 kg with barbell bench presses.

What exercises can you do with Smith machines? You will mainly do bench presses and squats, but even once you are strong enough to do barbell bench presses and squats, you can still use the smith machine for calf raises and decline bench presses.

gym machines for beginners

Don't ignore leg day and push big with the leg press

(Image credit: BodyMax)

5. Leg/Calf press

Ignoring leg day is a running joke in gym circles, although one can't think of anything more unattractive than a strong upper body paired with flimsy legs. There are some seriously big muscles on your legs and they deserve to be treated accordingly. Before you start doing 100 kilo deadlifts and 80 kg squats, though, you can try building glute and quad strength using a leg press.

Where to find the leg press machine in the gym? Most of the leg machines, like the leg press and the hamstring curl machine, are bundled up together in gyms. Just look for the machines that look like medieval torture machines.

What are leg press machines good for? Leg press machines are primarily good for working your quads (thighs) and your glutes (bum muscle). They can be also utilised as a calf machine, if you slide your feet halfway off the leg rest and only use your feet  to push the weights.

What exercises can you do with leg press machines? The name is a bit of a giveaway, you will mainly use the leg press to perform leg presses. You can also use it for calf presses, too

Matt Kollat
Section Editor | Active

Matt Kollat is a journalist and content creator who works for and its magazine counterpart as an Active Editor. His areas of expertise include wearables, drones, fitness equipment, nutrition and outdoor gear. He joined T3 in 2019. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and more. Matt also collaborated with other content creators (e.g. Garage Gym Reviews) and judged many awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance's ESSNawards. When he isn't working out, running or cycling, you'll find him roaming the countryside and trying out new podcasting and content creation equipment.