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Shy When It Comes to Fitness Equipment? Don’t Be With These Tips

This post with tips on how to use fitness equipment is a part of our second-annual New Year, New Rear Week to help you to be fitter, healthier and a touch (okay, a lot!) more awesome in 2015. Read all New Year, New Rear posts here!


Hitting the gym for the first time or hopping on a new piece of equipment can be an intimidating experience. Will you look like an idiot? Not be able to get the thing to work? Fall off of it? While we’ve already shared why you should never be afraid to start working out, we recently chatted with Angela Corcoran, education director at Cybex Research Institute (Cybex makes one of our favorite pieces of cardio equipment ever—the Arc Trainer!) for her top tips on making the most of the gym. Not only does she have fantastic tips on what to do when first trying something new, but she also has recommendations on how to get the most out of any piece of cardio fitness equipment!

Q&A: How to Use Fitness Equipment

When an exerciser is about to get on a new piece of equipment for the first time, what should her first step be? For a new exerciser, it is important to realize that you will have to build a baseline of general conditioning first. Start with 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise three days per week. The Arc Trainer is ideal because it gives a full-body workout at a good intensity without the knee or back pain sometimes experienced on the elliptical or treadmill. Build up to 30 minutes, five days per week and then work on extending the time up to one hour most days of the week (federal guidelines suggest this is the appropriate amount of physical activity daily). You know you are at the correct intensity when you can say, “Yes, I am okay,” but not sing or carry on a long conversation.

Once you have built a solid base of cardio, add in resistance. Pick a circuit of machines that work all of your major body parts. A good combination would be: bench press, overhead/shoulder press, wide grip pull down, narrow grip row, leg press, elbow extension, Cybex Eagle Abdominal. Do 10 to 15 reps to fatigue (i.e. you should not be physically able to do more than 15).

Remember to take it easy on yourself though. When you are going through this transition, remember that the human body’s ability to stay the same is what has allowed it survive in the same form for more than 10,000 years. Change takes time, and it can be uncomfortable. Take a multivitamin, eat good quality food, rest and treat yourself to massage once a month.

How can a new exerciser feel more comfortable and confident in the gym, especially when using new equipment? There is no magic answer to this. I recommend remembering that the equipment they are using is very hard to break. Get on it, try it out, push all of the buttons, move all of the handles. If you are too uncomfortable in your place of exercise to do this, switch gyms! The people employed by your facility are there to help you, not make you feel like a motor moron. Most gyms offer at least one complimentary session with membership. Take advantage of it.

Are there are certain pieces of cardio equipment that are easier for a newbie to operate than others? Yes. The Cybex Arc Trainer is my absolute favorite piece of gym equipment and always has been. My favorite pre-set program is the weight-loss program. Just get on the Arc, push weight loss and follow the prompts. Make sure you put in your weight however—unlike other equipment, the Arc actually uses your weight to set the resistance in the pedals.

What are a few features that many people don’t use on equipment but should? On cardio equipment, when the machine is setting your resistance, make sure to look at strides per minute, rotations per minute or speed. Often when resistance is increased, pace will decrease. Try to keep your pace consistent. So for example, 140 strides even when the resistance increases.

Any other tips, tricks or thoughts? Stick with your decision. Starting an exercise routine is hard. Be in a state of exercising, not a consistent state of starting to exercise.

Great tips, Angela! What’s your favorite piece of fitness equipment? Which one will you try this year? —Jenn

FTC disclosure: We often receive products from companies to review. All thoughts and opinions are always entirely our own. Unless otherwise stated, we have received no compensation for our review and the content is purely editorial. Affiliate links may be included. If you purchase something through one of those links we may receive a small commission. Thanks for your support!


  1. dspangler says:

    Dear Fitbottomedgirls,
    Along the same lines,, Health is wealth. In today’s world, so many people are leading a rather sedentary life and also working at very boring or stressful jobs, and exercise and maintaining body fitness is often pushed to the back burner.
    Keep up the posts!

  2. Andrea C says:

    This is such a great article for beginners! When I first started out the gym was so intimidating!

    Its great to remember you don’t necessarily need to get crazy with big machines if you’re just beginning. Pick up a DVD, get some running shoes and a yoga mat and there is your starting point. Everything else can be added in slowly once you get some confidence!

  3. Chelsea says:

    Great article! So man people are intimidated at the gym because they dont know how to go about using the equipment!

  4. Kristy says:

    I think another good tip is to not try everything at once. Do what you know how to do and then just add one new machine each time. It’s less intimidating than trying to use a gym full of equipment you’re not familiar with all at the beginning.

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