A guide to different gym equipment

Joining a gym can be intimidating for first-timers. It can often feel overwhelming not knowing what the different machines, weights and stations are for, and it is common for people not to ask for help or advice due to feeling embarrassed or for fear of ‘looking silly’.

While the majority of good gyms will be sure to give you a tour of the facilities, introducing you to machines you might not be familiar with, and generally answering any questions or concerns you have, it is a good idea to have a basic idea of the kind of equipment you can expect to find – especially if you’re new to exercise, cardio or weight-training.

This is why we’ve put together a basic guide to the different kinds of gym equipment you can expect to see in a gym, including free weights, weight machines and cardio machines.

Free weights

Free weights are the most basic form of gym equipment and are key in strength training. The reason they are called ‘free weights’ is because they are not attached to pins, pulleys, cables, or weight stacks, but exist stand-alone. The main types of free weight are barbells, dumbbells and kettle bells. You’ll find racks of these in most gyms, usually increasing in 1, 2 or 5kg increments.


The barbell is a long iron bar that is between 4 and 7 feet – weight plates are placed on either side of the bar. Barbell exercises are performed by holding the barbell with both hands. Many gyms also have a barbell rack that has an assortment of fixed weight barbells. You would use a barbell for exercises such as squats or bench press.


A dumbbell is a short barbell, usually 25 to 40 centimetres long. Most gyms have a dumbbell rack that has an assortment of fixed weight dumbbells and exercises are performed with a dumbbell in each hand. You would use a dumbbell for exercises such as bicep curls or shoulder rows.

Kettle bells

Kettle bells are cast iron balls with a handle attached to the top. As the weight of a kettle bell isn’t evenly distributed, they work your core extremely well, as well as being fun and very easy to use. Exercises such as kettle bell swings and goblet squats are done with this weight.


Weight machines

Weight machines have a few different advantages and disadvantages compared to free weights. They’re generally easier to use and, therefore, safer; but unlike free weights, they don’t work your stabiliser muscles required for balance.

Here are just a few of the most common machines you’ll see:

Military press

On this machine you sit facing either forward or backwards and press a weighted bar upwards. This effectively works your shoulders and upper arms.

Lat machines

These machines usually have a bar hanging from a rope which you pull down in front of or behind your neck, working your back, arms and chest. It’s an easier version of a push up or chin up and is a great place to start.

Leg press

These are machines where you sit and push the weight away from you using your legs. Simulating a standing squat, they are great for toning the butt and leg muscles. Most leg press machines are set on a 45 degree angle and allow you to lift heavy weights without worrying about slipping or falling. They also place less stress on the lower back and knees than squats, making them good for those with injuries.

Cardio machines

Probably the most recognisable machines, these include treadmills, stationary bikes, rowers, climbers and elliptical trainers (cross trainers). The main purpose of cardio machines is to raise your heart rate level and get your blood pumping while burning calories.

Elliptical cross trainers

This machine mimics stair climbing, walking and running, but as your legs move in an oval (elliptical) pattern, there is no impact on your joints. This provides a great way for people to do cardio without damaging their joints.

Tread Climbers

The tread climber mimics the action of walking upstairs with two pedals to press up and down. Very challenging, they burn more fat than most other cardio equipment and are great for toning the butt.


This popular brand of stair climbers simulates the act of walking upstairs on a stationary machine. Great for the cardiovascular system, they increase endurance and stamina.

Bikes and treadmills

These are perhaps the most popular pieces of gym equipment, providing a great cardiovascular workout and burning plenty of calories. Bikes are good for working the quadriceps and hamstrings while treadmills challenge the upper body as well.

Other common equipment


The most common piece of equipment in any gym is the bench. Some benches are adjustable, and can be set to flat, incline, or decline. Some benches have racks on one end for holding a barbell, while other benches do not have any racks.

Swiss ball

Swiss balls are large blown up balls you can balance on and do exercises like bench press, dumbbell flyes, shoulder press, lateral raises, crunches, and more. It is extremely versatile as it can move and roll, plus it improves your balance and builds smaller stabiliser muscles.


There are normally multiple bars at the gym. These can include the dip bar and chin up bar, for example.

When signing up at David Lloyd Clubs, you’ll receive a full induction and tour of the gym to make sure you are familiar with all the equipment. Find your nearest club here. If you require further assistance, we have a number of excellent personal trainers who will be able to help you get to grips with gym equipment and how best to use it.

Morgan Cooper

Morgan Cooper