Several weeks ago, I outlined the first weight training routine for an absolute beginner at the gym and briefly described each exercise. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you know I insert a number of links to (hopefully) informative and helpful websites with added information on whatever topic I’m discussing. So if you’re diligent, you have clicked those links and should know a fair amount of information about those things I blog on by now.
Today, I thought I’d drill down into one portion of a beginner’s workout. This overall plan is “doable” for the beginner at any age and the only limitation is your physical condition. Before starting any exercise program, visit your doctor for a checkup and let your physician know you are planning to start working out.
Before addressing today’s specific topic, I want to briefly go over the beginner’s program I’m proposing. This isn’t the only way to start doing resistance training at the gym, but I think it’s a simple, straightforward way to become familiar with weight machines and to start adding gains to all of the muscle groups in your body using a single routine.
This full body workout can be performed two to three days a week.
- Leg Extensions
- Leg Curls (seated or lying)
- Leg Press
- Machine Bench Press
- Machine Chest Fly
- Machine Lat Pulldown or Medium-Grip Lat Pulldown
- Seated Machine Rows
- Machine Triceps Extensions
- Machine Biceps Curl
- Machine Shoulder Press
- Machine Ab Crunch
You can perform this workout exactly as listed or change things around, doing, for example, chest first, then back, then legs, whatever you want. You can even do one exercise for one body part, then shift to an exercise for a different body part rather than focusing on just one area and performing all the resistance work for that part. It’s up to you.
For each exercise, you can start out by doing anywhere from one to three sets and either limit yourself to a specific number of reps per set, let’s say 10, or lift to technical failure, which is to continue perform reps until you cannot continue without sacrificing form or shifting position. Remember, particularly as an older beginner, don’t attempt to do reps to absolute failure, which is the point where you’ve exhausted yourself for that set and cannot lift the weight one more time no matter what.
Working Your Pecs
Today, I’m going to talk about your chest day, or rather, your chest exercises. As you can see from the list above, there are only two exercises to perform, machine bench press and machine pec deck, otherwise known as machine flies or butterflies.
Both of the links above go to the relevant webpages at BodyBuilding.com’s site and include detailed instructions and videos on how to perform those exercises. That said, here’s how I approach these machines.
Machine Bench Press
The name used for this exercise is a little misleading since you don’t actually lie down on a bench as you would if you were performing this lift using free weights, but the action is substantially similar.
Usually you can adjust three things on this and many other types of weight machines, the height/position of the seat, the position of the handles, and of course, the amount of weight you’ll be lifting.
Let’s pretend you’re going to perform only one set of any exercise and shoot for performing anywhere between 8 and 15 reps in that set. Having never performed this exercise before, you will need to engage in some trial and error to find the right weight. This is completely expected and you should be able to “dial in” the right weight after a few attempts. Remember, it’s better to err on the side of ease and use a weight that’s too light (the first few times) rather than choose a weight that you can’t lift even once or one where attempting to lift it may result in injury.
Sit in the seat and notice if the height of the handles when you grasp them places your hands at the side of your chest. If your hands are too high, you’ll work your delts more and if they’re too low you won’t be stressing your pecs as much. Also, if the handles are positioned poorly, the stress on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders could cause an injury.
If necessary, adjust the height of the seat so that the handles are even with the sides of your chest. The seat adjustment should be numbered so either remember or write down the setting so you can use the same seat height in subsequent workout sessions.
The handles, when you grip them, should be positioned to where you feel a nice stretch across your chest without any pain or other discomfort. If you don’t feel a stretch, you probably have the handles set too far forward. If you are having a lot of trouble moving your hands back far enough to grip the handles, they’re too far back. Also, trying to push against handles that are too far back is another way to get hurt. As with the seat adjustment, remember or write down the setting for the handles so you set them in the proper position for later exercises on this machine.
If necessary, adjust the machine’s handles so you can comfortably grip them and feel a stretch across your pecs.
If necessary, adjust the weight by removing the pin inserted in one of the holes in the weight stack and place it underneath the desired weight. Each plate in the stack is numbered, so choose the amount you want and insert the pin under that plate.
Place your feet firmly on the floor and your back all the way against the seat back. Try not to arch your back as you press against the handles as you’ll put undue stress on your lower back and shoulders risking, you guessed it, injury. If you have to arch your torso this way to perform the exercise, it likely means you set the weight too heavy.
Firmly grip the handles and press straight forward, away from your body. The machine will guide the path your hands take. Push to the full extent of your arms and then in a controlled fashion, move the handles back toward you, almost but not quite sitting the weight stack back in its resting position. You want to maintain tension on your chest for the duration of the entire set, so never return the weight to its final resting position until you’ve completed the set or unless you are unable to continue due to discomfort or fatigue.
Unless absolutely necessary, never slam the weight stack down. It’s poor form and risks damaging the machine. If you can’t keep control of the weight during the exercise, you’re lifting too heavy. This exercise requires a lot of support from your triceps, so you might have to strengthen them before you can work more significantly on your pecs.
Continue performing reps until you reach the desired number, then in a controlled manner, return the weight stack to the starting position. When you’re finished, get up from the machine. You should have a small towel with you. If you’ve perspired on the seat, take a moment to wipe it off. It’s a courtesy to the other people who will use the machine after you and it’s just plain the right thing to do.
Pec Deck Flies
This is another seated exercise. As with the bench press machine, the seat, handles, and weight are also adjustable on this machine. The main difference with this machine is that the handles will be far out to your sides rather than near the front of your chest.
It is very important not to set the handles on this machine too far back. Do not set the handles so you are forced to reach far behind you to grip them. I saw a guy do this once and I stopped him before he tore up his shoulders. Only set the handles far enough back to where, when you grip them, you feel a stretch across your chest. Adjust the seat for the same height as you did the bench press machine and adjust the weight (remember, trial and error at first) so you can perform one set of anywhere between 8 to 15 reps or whatever number you’ve set as a goal.
Starting with your arms stretched out to your sides, grip the handles. Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor and your back is resting against the seat back. Then start pulling the handles in so that when fully extended, your arms are straight out in front of your and the handles are touching or nearly touching.
Then start returning the handles to the starting position but do not quite let the weight stack come to rest. Maintain stress on your chest as you continue to complete the reps in your set. This exercise requires a lot of support from your shoulders, so you might have to strengthen them before you can be more effective with the pec deck.
When finished, in a controlled manner, return the weight stack to the starting position and rise from the machine. Don’t forget to wipe the seat down.
Congratulations! You’ve just finished all of the resistance training for your chest for today. I know it might not seem like much as you read this, but if you’ve set the weight correctly and adjusted these machines properly, you’ll definitely know you’ve worked out, if not right afterward, certainly the next day.
I’ll write about other specific resistance workouts in later blog posts.
Oh, all the photos I’ve inserted are of young people. We don’t look like that. Also, I’d never workout with my shirt off or my midriff showing, even if I had the body for it.
You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.