What gym equipment do you gravitate toward when you feel the urge to work out? Are you a StairMaster guy or a treadmill gal? A dumbbell lover or a bicycle enthusiast? The rowing machine king or pulley queen?If you’re a man and prefer dumbbells, you’re in the majority. If you’re a woman and love the rowing machine most, you’re part of a very fit minority.

We observed 225 active gym members to document their use of gym equipment. So, which machines are more used by women and which by men? How about machines used by the fittest folks in the gym? And how does age factor in?

Stay tuned to find out.


You walk into the gym, stow your things in a locker, and head out onto the floor. Which machine do you head toward? If you’re like the majority of American gym-goers, the answer isn’t a machine at all. In fact, about 18 percent of our sample were using dumbbells.

The elliptical machine was the next most popular workout (with about 12 percent activity), followed by the treadmill (about 11 percent) and cables and pulleys (9 percent).

We also determined the fitness level of each gym member on a scale of one to five (one being the least fit and five being the most fit) by observing their overall appearance and workout. Despite the overall popularity of the elliptical machine and treadmill, the fittest gym members used the rowing machine, dumbbells, and incline bench press most frequently.

Perhaps this data reflect the fact that machines like the rower are more difficult to use (thus intimidating newer gym members) and require a higher fitness level. Or perhaps they simply offer a better workout.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, age is also strongly correlated with fitness level (regardless of which machines you use). Gym members between the ages of 20 and 25 were over 33 percent more fit than those over 55, and our research showed a near-steady decline over time.

Perhaps those fitness levels reflect the decline that age has on health, or perhaps they’re a reflection of millennials’ commitment to healthier lifestyles.

According to a report by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (iHRSA), “27 percent of millennials attended a fitness club in 2013, a higher percentage than any other age group.” This may not be surprising considering that millennials also eat better and drink and smoke less than other generations.


Split the data by gender and you’ll find distinctly different trends in equipment use. In fact, 100 percent of the women we studied said that neither the bench press nor the incline bench press were part of their workout routine. Men, on the other hand, were fans of both machines. The rowing machine also draws a decidedly male crowd – over 87 percent of rowers were male.

Male gym members also used the triceps machine, dumbbells, and hammer strength more frequently than female members. Women were much more likely to use the elliptical machine, and equally as likely as men to step onto a treadmill (50 percent of the use of these machines was attributed to each gender).

Aerobic machines (like the elliptical and the treadmill) had the highest percentage of female users. Designed to elevate heart rate, increase oxygen in the blood, and release endorphins, these machines are commonly associated with a sense of well-being.

Male gym members more frequently used weight-training machines, which may actually be a better overall strategy for fitness.


Here’s an interesting fact: Dumbbells aside, the popularity of workout equipment varies depending on the time of day. In the morning, more people make a beeline for the treadmill than any other machine. In the afternoon, the elliptical rises in the popularity rankings. And once evening hits, the cables and pulleys are used most frequently.

The vast majority of those studied (48 percent) worked out in the afternoons, possibly because most employees get off work around that time, or even because afternoon workouts come with the added benefit of already-warm muscles (which reduce the risk of workout injuries) and may help to overcome insomnia.


So, where do you fall in the gym-goer spectrum? Are you a rare rowing machine-obsessed woman with a high fitness level? A gym newbie hitting the treadmill, like the majority, for quick weight loss results? Or a not-so-rare male taking advantage of the weight machines?


We observed 225 people using gym equipment at three different gym locations. We noted which machine they were using, time of day, and approximated their demographic information. Perceived fitness level was observed on a scale of 1 to 5, with one being the least fit and 5 being the fittest.