Free Weights Versus Machines At The Gym

When you are working out at the gym, there are a number of reasons you might choose to favour machines over free weights or vice versa. If you are not interested in building muscles, but just want to improving your toning, for instance, free weights are probably not for you. Equally, if you visit the gym for cardiovascular exercise then lifting weights might not be on your radar at all. Nevertheless, for those of us that are building muscle strength, perhaps as part of a wider fitness regime rather than specifically for body building, proper consideration ought to be given as to the advantage of both types of exercise. Remember that no one single piece of weight training equipment is best. It depends on your goals as well as lifting ability. Remember that both free weights and machines that use resistance will assist you with increasing strength. Ultimately, the choice boils down to the personal preference of the person training.

There are many plus points with machine-based weight training for strengthening your limb muscles and your core. Firstly, gym machines need little expertise to operate in a safe way. So long as you are not a complete novice, and have undergone a taster session with the gym, the strength building machines allow you to exercise in a way the does not need the attention to detail that free weights do. Unlike free weights, you don’t need to take the same degree of care with your balance and coordination to train. Most well-designed gym machines act as guides through the exercises so that your movement is controlled for you. The degree of control the machines allow for make them ideal for many relative newcomers to strength training. They are also good for more experienced gym-goers who are recovering from an injury, perhaps.

Of course, different machines will work very specific muscles or muscle groups. This is an advantage for a sportsman or woman who wants to build strength in a particular area. Swimmers, for instance, may like to improve their pectoral muscles, or rugby players work on their neck and should strength. The use of machines, designed specifically for these muscle groups, means that strength can be built just where it is desired without wasted effort elsewhere. The lower risk of injury from gym machines, as opposed to free weights, makes them ideal for sports people who do a bit of strength training mid-week ready for match day at the weekend, without ever wanting to become an expert in muscle building.

If you are a gym all-rounder and like to do cardio vascular exercise as well as building your muscles, then using the machines can also be advantageous. For many who want to build strength as well as all-round fitness, circuit training is the best way of achieving both. In circuit training you move from one activity to another will little break in between so that the body is under constant stress. This will build fitness by improving recovery time. By moving from one strength training machine to the next but using a weight that is relatively easy with a good number of repetitions within the time period of each circuit, you will build a surprising amount of strength, too. This a great method of improving muscular endurance as well as providing some variation to the usual workout routine.
Free weight training, on the other hand, should not be rushed. You need to consider the amount you are lifting is within your capability and that the weights are properly fitted before you begin. You also need to consider your safety when using heavy weights that could be dropped or cause muscle injury if you are not using them with full control. As such, free weights should not really be combined with a circuit training regime. However, free weights have many advantages over gym machines which you ought to not overlook.

Some trainers believe that machines create an unnatural movement in the body for the weight being lifted, usually because there is a transference of the weight. On the other hand, lifting a free weight creates a perfectly natural movement. Secondly, you probably need to spend more time on a machine to achieve the same amount of work that you would get out of lifting a weight directly. Weight for weight, when lifting directly, you will use more muscles than the ones that are doing the bulk of the work. This is because your body needs to do all of the stabilisation work necessary to lift the weight safely. These so-called stabilisation muscles are rarely, if ever, used with gym machines, particularly the ones that you sit on to work out.

Free weights offer a greater amount of versatility than machines. They afford a range of motion which can be varied with every repetition, unlike a machine which keeps everything more-or-less uniform. Dumbbell exercises are relatively easy to learn and even newcomers to free weights can pick them up with relative ease. With free weight exercises, you will notice the effect on your body more quickly than when you use machines. This is equally true for toning type exercises as muscle building ones, which use heavier weights to achieve their results.


  • Updated May 26, 2020
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