Russ Howe PTI's Dropset City

No Free Weights? No Problem!

Need a killer full body workout using only machines? Here you go! If you’re stuck in a hotel gym with no free weights, you can still train hard.

This article:

5 min read

Today I’m going to show you how to get a killer full body workout using only machines.

This comes after website subscriber Ben wrote in:

“Hey Russ,

I’m stuck working away and the hotel here only has a basic setup with a few machines, no barbells, no kettlebells, and no dumbbells.

Can I still train hard here? Or is it best to just do the basics and hopefully not get too far behind until I return to my normal gym next month?”

– Ben, New Zealand

I feel your pain, Ben.

Yes, gyms with no free weights do actually exist!

But don’t panic, any piece of training kit can be turned into a great piece of training kit with the right know-how, and today I’ll show you how to create a brutal little circuit you can rely on to keep your gains ticking over while you work away.

rise of the machines workout

Rise Of The Machines

Watch the video above for a thorough guide to today’s session, or keep reading for a step-by-step walkthrough on the blog.

This workout will hit your entire body, and consists of only 5 exercises; seated row, chest press, lat pulldown, shoulder press, leg press.

I deliberately chose these five stations because most gyms, even very basic ones, come equipped with all of the above.

Plus, between these exercises you can target all of your main muscle groups, which will give you a serious bang for your buck despite the fact you’re more limited in terms of choice than usual.

The method of today’s workout is what makes it so challenging…

We will be using my 525 Method.

Set the weight to something you’d normally expect to hit 20 reps with. Perform 5 reps with a slow 5/5 tempo (5 seconds up, 5 seconds down), then head straight into 25 reps at regular tempo. Turn it into a dropset if you must.

full body workout using resistance machines

Seated Row x5/25

Most people lug the weight around on this exercise and never really feel it working the muscles in their back.

So before you start, I want you to get into the habit of breaking each rep down into two segments.

First, retract your shoulders down and back.

Then pull your elbows down and back until they’re behind the line of your torso.

By setting your shoulders in position, you will avoid the common mistake of swinging the weight, and by focusing on moving your elbows you will fully engage your lats.

Whenever I have a client do this with me in the gym, they usually report it’s the first time they’ve ever felt their lats actually working on a row. You’ll never want to go back to the old way of doing it.

resistance machines

Chest Press x5/25

Shoulder position is key here.

Keep your shoulders pinned back against the bench, and chest out.

Resist the urge to lean forward off the bench to complete the rep. If that’s happening to you, it’s a sign that you need to drop the weight a little.

In all my years as a personal trainer, I’d say the number one cause of shoulder issues is not shoulder exercises, it’s performing chest press movements incorrectly (bench press, machine press, and machine flyes are the worst culprits).

full body workout with machines at gym

Lat Pulldown x5/25

Go back to the technique we used on the seated row machine.

Draw your shoulders down and then focus on pulling your elbows down to your sides.

This will fully engage your lats and also go a long way to eliminating the number one mistake you’ll see on this exercise if you take a look around your local gym; people load the machine up too heavy and swing their entire body to move the weight.

Keep your chest up as you reach the lower reaches of the rep, if your shoulders begin to round it means the weight is too heavy to control.

resistance machines workout

Shoulder Press x5/25

I like to avoid both the top and bottom of the rep here.

The bottom because it’s too low, and becomes very tough on the front deltoids rather quickly.

The top because I like to stop short of a full lockout in order to keep tension on the shoulders the whole time.


Leg Press x5/25

Feet high and wide to engage all the power muscles in your lower body, particularly the glutes and hamstrings.

Achieving a 90 degree angle on the leg press is considered a full rep.

Ignore anybody who tells you that you must descend as low as you can physically go, to the point where you’re bending and shifting in the seat just to escape the bottom of the next rep. That would do more harm than good.

Keep your feet flat, hit that ninety degree bend then power yourself back to the start position, keeping a slight bend in your knees to avoid putting pressure on the joint itself.

full body workout using only machines

Give this workout a try!

If you are in an empty gym, perform three-to-four rounds of this circuit (hit all exercises, rest for two minutes, repeat 3-4 times over).

If you’re in a busier gym, don’t worry about doing it in a circuit style. Simply hit your full 3-4 rounds on one machine, then move to the next.

Either way, it is a highly effective full body workout using only machines, and will push your results to a new level despite the fact you’re quite restricted in terms of equipment and exercise selection.

Be sure to get yourself on my free email list below for more of these tips.

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