Free Weights vs. Machines: 5 Things to Know

Free Weights vs. Machines: 5 Things to Know


free weights vs machinesFree Weights vs. Machines? The answer to this question may depend on your fitness level, goals, and preferences. Both free weight exercises and strength training machine exercises have definite pros and cons.

1. Machines are safer.

Variable resistance machines provide beginners with a safe starting point as they get used to lifting and begin to build muscular strength and endurance.  Working within a single plane of motion, machines take on more control throughout the exercise, guiding you through the movement and thus reducing the risk of injury.  Translation: If you’re new to this whole thing, machines might be your best bet. If you’re working out on your own without a spotter, machines add extra safety.

Added bonus: Most fitness centers train their staff to help you use the machines, and may even offer you a free tutorial.

2. Machines isolate muscle groups

Machines provide a great option for those who are recovering from injuries. They isolate muscle groups to a greater extent than free weights. If you’re looking to strengthen a specific area of your body, this may be the way to go.

3. Free weights are more efficient

Research tells us that using free weights will get you stronger, quicker. Because many free weight exercises utilize multiple muscle groups simultaneously, you’ll also improve your coordination, joint stability, and balance. You may also lose weight quicker with free weights because these multi-joint moves burn more calories. Because you’re required to move throughout multiple planes and use a broader range of motion, free weight exercises are often more challenging than machine exercises.

4. Free Weights Can Be More Fun

With machines, you get what you get–which is the same movement over, and over, and over. This movement may feel unnatural or even uncomfortable to you. Dumbbells allow for more freedom of movement and more accurately mimic actions you’d perform in day-to-day life. Anyone with a set of weights can easily mix up their routine to keep their workouts from turning too ho-hum. And, diversity in your workouts keeps your body “on its toes” and less likely to experience a plateau in progress.

5. Free Weights Require Instruction

Because using free weights requires additional balance, coordination, and attention to form, you should learn about proper technique before jumping in. If you’re using heavy free weights, you’ll need a spotter to help you transition between moves. Conversely, you can make quick weight changes on machines by simply by adjusting the pin on a weight stack, allowing you to experiment with heavier weight on your own.

Bottom line?  Do what suits you.

What type of workout are you more comfortable with and more likely to stick to? Maybe you’ll do best with a mix of both free weights and machines. If you’ve been strength training for awhile, maybe branching out to free weights would keep your workouts fresh and improve your results. Either way, you’ll sculpt your body, burn calories and get stronger. And that’s way better than no strength training at all.

Source:Spennewyn KC. Strength outcomes in fixed versus free-form resistance equipment. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008;22:75

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