Most exercise machines are designed to accommodate a variety of body types and provide a wide range of resistance or weight settings. Unfortunately, most people never return the machines to their “neutral” setting when they finish with the machine. Unless you properly adjust the machine before you begin your workout, you won’t get the most benefit from the machine and in some cases, you might actually injure yourself.
Properly adjusting an exercise machine includes paying attention to the following:
1. Making sure the machine is clean and in good working order. Yes, I know that maintenance is “not your job” but you’re the one that’s going to get hurt if the machine is not working properly so you need to give each machine a critical “looking over” before you get on it. In addition to making sure the machine isn’t covered in sweat from the guy that just finished using it, you need to also look for obvious mechanical stuff like jammed, frayed, twisted or broken cables, weight plates that look like they might fall, missing or broken parts, and so on. If you notice something obviously wrong, get the attention of the gym staff so they can put an “Out of Order” sign on the machine.
2. Making sure you know how the machine moves. If you’ve never used a particular machine before, get one of the gym staff to show you how to use it. Make note of how the machine moves – especially note the pinch points, where the weights or bar hit, and so on. You want to make sure that you keep your hands, fingers, and feet away from those areas when you’re on the machine.
3. Adjusting the machine to your body type. Most machines can be adjusted to fit a wide variety of body types, from tall to short. Make sure you adjust the seat and the arm or leg rests to your body size and type. You should be comfortable moving the muscle group that the machine targets through its full range of motion. If you don’t adjust this properly, your workout won’t be very effective or you’ll run the risk of injury. A little time spent adjusting the machine can really make a difference in the quality of your workout.
4. Alignment, alignment, alignment. Make absolutely sure your body is aligned properly on the machine. If you adjusted it properly in the previous step, it should be. There should be no sideways motion or pressure on any joints. Keep in mind that even though the machine might be adjusted properly, your body type might still have problems maintaining proper alignment. For example, when I was significantly overweight, I used to try to exercise on a stationary bike. As soon as I got on the bike and bent over to grab the handle bars, the flab around my gut would drop down between my knees preventing me from keeping my legs aligned properly. The only way for me to pedal the bike was to push my knees out to the side. Instead of pedaling straight up and down, I was literally pedaling out to the side. After a couple of minutes, my knees were killing me. If you can’t physically keep your joints in alignment – for whatever reason – don’t use that particular machine.
5. Exercise or Weight Level. The last thing to check is to make sure the machine is on the proper exercise level or that you have the right amount of weight on the machine. You can injure yourself if you assume that there’s a lot of weight on the machine and there’s actually very little. The same applies if you assume there’s very little weight and there turns out to be a lot. In both cases, you’re not prepared and can easily sprain or strain something. If you’re on a treadmill, you can easily get knocked off your feet if the machine unexpectedly starts off at a fast pace. Make sure you check what exercise or weight level the machine is at and adjust it to where you need it to be.
By keeping these points in mind, you’ll be able to maximize your workouts in addition to reducing your risk of injury.