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- ACE Fitness: Fit Facts -- Free Weights vs. Strength-Training Equipment
- ExRx.net: Exercise Instruction
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What Gym Machines to Use for Tone
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There are more equipment choices than you might ever need in a gym. While the staff is usually available to beginners as they start a training program, having a basic understanding of each type of gym equipment allows you to enjoy a safe and effective workout for toning your body.
When seeking to develop muscle strength and large amounts of muscle tone, the two main choices are weight machines or free weights. Each has advantages and disadvantages. There is no rule against using both. Weight machines allow you to lift heavier weights because you don't have to stabilize your body. Machines move in only two dimensions, however, so they don't accurately mimic real life movements. In addition, you must adjust them to fit your height and dimensions. Machines have adjustment instructions on the side and you can ask a gym staff member to help you.
Free Weights and Cable Machines
Free weights are any object that you can move in a three-dimensional space, such as dumbbells, medicine balls or barbells. Cable machines use a weight stack like traditional weight machines, but mimic free weights with a cable and pulley system that does not support your muscles in a fixed position. Free weights and cable machines offer more variety, but there is a learning curve. With free weights, you must learn the exercises and monitor your movements so you don't injure yourself with an incorrect exercise form. Some cable machines have instructions on the side like traditional weight machines, making them easier to use without assistance. Using free weights and cable machines builds functional strength and muscle tone because you control the movement in three planes of motion.
Low-impact Cardio Machines
Cardio machines are an effective way to tone your muscles and burn calories for a leaner look. Selecting a low- or high-impact cardio machine is important because a high-impact machine places more stress on your joints. Low-impact machines, such as stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, adaptive motion trainers and arc trainers, help you burn calories and improve aerobic conditioning by getting your heart rate up without risking injury. These machines are beneficial for people with bone conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. Walking on a treadmill is also low-impact. While bikes, arc trainers and treadmills only tone your legs, an elliptical cross-trainer or adaptive motion trainer tones your upper body. Ask a staff member if your gym has an arc trainer or adaptive motion trainer and if so, how to use the machines.
High-impact Cardio Machines
High-impact cardio machines get your heart rate up faster and challenge your cardiovascular system more than low-impact machines, which leads to more stress on the muscles for better toning. The increased stress on your joints keeps the joints strong, too, which reduces the chances of developing osteoporosis. High-impact machines include stairsteppers and stepmills. Running on a treadmill is also a high-impact activity and burns more calories than walking. All of these machines focus on the lower body. They don't tone the upper body, but the burning more calories helps you lose body fat to better reveal muscle tone.
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