The Machine-Only Workout Routine a.k.a. The “No-Free-Weights” Workout Plan

Stuck in a gym which has no free weights? Stop doing that “circuit training” and implement my No B.S. workout plan to build and retain muscle.
Milos Vujnovic Posted In Training Routines

So lately few of Iron Serpent readers asked me about how they can train at a gym which does not have a power (squat) rack and other basic strength training equipment like barbells and dumbells.

Although I’d recommend to immediately switch gyms if your current gym doesn’t allow chalk and does not have a power rack – I do understand that some people can’t afford a more costly gym or have some other reasons preventing them from switching to a different gym at the moment.

If you’re just starting out and would like to start a weekly routine which you can follow, feel free to do this workout – and you can also check out my article about your first day at the gym.

With that said, here are few routines which you can start out in a gym which has mostly machines (and no free weights at all) – also, please scroll down below to see more details on this routine including weekly schedule and rotational days:

Workout A Workout B
Chest Press 5×5 Leg Press 3×8
Seated Row 3×8 Standing Hip Extension 3×10
Shoulder Press 4×6 Leg Curl 3×10
Cable Pushdown 3×8 Back Extensions 3×8
Cable One-Arm Curl 3×8 Standing Cable Crunch 3×12

If your gym has dumbells, here’s how you can modify the routine above – as an example, you can do this routine after 4-12 weeks of doing the machine-only routine:

Workout A Workout B
DB Bench Press 4×6 Leg Press 3×8
Seated Row 3×8 DB Squat 3×8
DB Overhead Press 4×6 DB Lunge 4×6 (6 reps each leg)
Cable Pushdown 3×8 Back Extensions 3×8
DB Curl 3×8 Standing Cable Crunch 3×12

Get this workout routine in a pocket-sized printable format... or in a digital spreadsheet.

Weekly schedule

Both routines are to be performed 3 days a week while rotating your days every new week like this:

Week 1 Workout A Workout B Workout A
Week 2 Workout B Workout A Workout B
Week 3 Workout A Workout B Workout A
Week 4 Workout B Workout A Workout B

So, in a nutshell, one week you’ll be doing your A-B-A cycle then the next week you do the B-A-B one.

Rest days are in between each workout day and additional 2 rest days are after the whole cycle as follows:

Workout A – rest day – Workout B – rest day – Workout A – rest day – rest day
Here’s an example how that would look like on a week…

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Workout A Rest Day Workout B Rest Day Workout A Rest Day Rest Day

Warmup sets and work sets

Each exercise is listed with a work set and a number of repetitions. 3×8 (or 5×5) means 3 work sets of 8 repetitions. The first number is the work set while the second one is the number of repetitions which you’ll perform.

Before starting on your work sets it’s necessary to do several warm-up sets leading to the main work set, which means that if you’re lifting 80lbs, you can use the following example:

  • 20lbs, 2×5
  • 40lbs, 1×5
  • 60lbs, 1×3

After completing those warm-up sets, you can start on your main work sets.

If you’d like to calculate your warm-up sets more precisely, check out my Resources page under the “Online Apps” section for a warm-up calculator.


Progressing on both routines is quite straightforward. For the machine-only routine, here’s how it would look like:

Chest press, Rows, Shoulder Press, Leg Press
Try adding +5 pounds (or 2.5kgs) each workout while keeping your technique on point.

Other Exercises (cable exercises, back extensions)
Try decreasing your rest time – for example from 3 minutes to 2 minutes, then to 1 minute. Another way to progress would be adding +2 repetitions on your work sets, for example, instead of 3×8, you can do 3×10.

For the “dumbells” routine:

You won’t be able to quickly progress on dumbell exercises – it’s usually every 2nd workout in my experience. With that said, once you’ve made sure that you’ve completed your work sets without your form (technique) breaking down, try using heavier dumbells for your next workout (dumbells are usually by +5 pound increments larger) – so if you did your work sets with 30 pounds, try using 35 pounds dumbells for your next workout day.

Rest time

For your main exercises (first 2 exercises in each day), try resting out for no more than 5 minutes (it’s usually 2-3 minutes). In my opinion, it’s better to have a longer rest period and do your sets with good form (technique) rather than resting for 1 minute and doing your work set with bad form.

On the other hand, if you’re resting for more than 5 minutes that might mean that you’re using way too heavy weight and that your body isn’t recovering from the next work set – so try lowering your main work weight a bit.

For other exercises (after 2 main exercises), rest time should be no more than 120 seconds.

Things to keep in mind

Always warm up before and stretch after your workouts. If you’re interested to see my dynamic warm up (before I start my workouts) click here to read it.

Keep your abs braced hard (take a breath in your belly and contract your abs hard like somebody would punch you in the stomach) and don’t allow to your back to overextend by utilizing hip hinge movement pattern.

Closing statement

I hope that the routines which I’ve created will help you on your upcoming (or current) training journey. Once you’ve moved over to the gym which has free weights like barbells and dumbells, feel free to check out my free strength training routine for total beginners, The Vigorous 5×5.