Choosing the Right Weights?

I’m a middle-aged man in good health. What machines at the gym will benefit me most?

– September 21, 2004

An ideal workout should include three different types of exercise: aerobic for cardiovascular conditioning and calorie burning, stretching or yoga for flexibility, and strength training to tone muscles and build strength. I recommend a brisk 45-minute daily walk as the best aerobic exercise. Your pace should be fast enough to walk a mile in 15 minutes.

I asked fitness expert, Dan Bornstein, what machines are most useful for a middle-aged man. He recommends “multi-joint” exercises, explaining that the more joints you’re moving, the more muscles you’re working. If you haven’t worked out using machines before, ask one of the trainers on the floor at the gym to show you the ropes and help you determine how much weight to use on each machine. Even better, if you can afford it, hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to teach you proper form. Here are Dan’s specific recommendations:

  • Leg Press: Here, you’re lying down on a reclining chair with your knees bent and your feet on a platform. Your goal is to straighten out your legs, pushing the weighted platform away from you. This works the quadriceps muscles in the front of your thighs, the hamstrings in back of your thighs and the glutes, the muscles in your buttocks.
  • Lat Pull-Downs: For these exercises you’re seated facing the machine. You reach for a bar suspended above your head and pull it down to chest level in front of your head. Changing your grip, you can pull the bar down in back of your face to shoulder level, but approach this one carefully, as you can strain muscles in your neck. These exercises work the latissimus dorsi muscles in your back as well as your shoulders, biceps and forearms.
  • Seated Row: On a machine that simulates rowing, you bend forward to grasp a bar and then pull it back until you’re in a seated upright position. This works your upper back muscles as well as your biceps, forearms, shoulders, lower back, quads and hamstrings.
  • Chest Press: Here, you lie on a bench and push up a barbell attached to the machine. This works your chest and arm muscles, especially the triceps, as well as your anterior deltoids.

Dan recommends doing two sets of 12 repetitions for each exercise using a weight heavy enough so that your muscles are tired by the time you’ve completed two sets. If the two sets are easy, you’re not using enough weight; if you have trouble maintaining proper form through both sets, you’re using too much weight.

Good luck with your new workout program.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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