Free weights vs machines – which is better?

Free weights vs machines - which is better?

Free weights vs machines – which is better for you

So, when you walk into the gym should you jump into pumping iron using barbells and dumbbells or you should just walk up to the first easy machine you see. Before, we dive into the pros and cons of both free weights vs machines, you should know that you can build muscle using both.

What is the most effective way to train when it comes to building muscle, burn fat or gain strength – using free weights, or machines? We get all answers to this in today’s post.

Let us compare both approaches;

First, let’s look at these categories of equipment.

What are free weights

Free weights include barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or any other type of equipment that does not limit the range of motion with you can use. They make your body work as a whole.

What are machines

Machines are fixed object that you can use to pull or push through a certain range of motion that bees can use sitting or standing. For example, leg extension or a pull down.

Before, we dive into the pros and cons of both free weight vs machines, you should know that you can build muscle using both free weights and machines for optimal size and strength.

Free weights

Free weights vs machines - which is better?

Pros of using free weights

  • They strengthen stabilizing muscles

When doing free weight movements your stabilizing muscle contracts in order to keep the body steady which is essential for balance, co-ordination and athleticism and this can have great carry over if you engage in sports and other activities.

  • Free weights are more functional

Free weight is more functional compared to a machine; with free weight it controls movement not only against gravity but in all directions unlike machines which is limited to a single plane. Unlike machines, free weights allows people of different physical proportions be it height, weight to get a perfect workout.

  • Produces testosterone and growth hormone

Testosterone is released by incorporating heavy compound exercises such as deadlifts and squats. When you use large muscle groups free-weight exercise your testosterone increases which gives you a great opportunity to build stronger and bigger muscles.

  • Burns many calories

During free weight movement a large range of muscles are used making them work harder to burn more calories in the body.

  • Free weights are cheap

You do not need to spend a lot of money trying to get free-weight equipment and it does not require much setup compared to a machine.

Cons of free weights

  • It takes skill to learn the right techniques

Free exercise has a higher learning experience than machines and you may need someone to show you the right technique on how it is performed. Improper technique can lead to injury. Pay close attention to proper form.

  • High risk of injury when not done properly

If you use the wrong form it is easy to move the body part or joint out of proper alignment. This can cause injury so make sure you know what you are doing and use the right weight.

  • You need a spotter to lift heavy weights on some exercises such as the bench press and squats

Some exercises are difficult to improve if you do not have a partner or someone who can spot you and this can down your progress. s


Now, when should we include machines in our workouts compared to free weights?

Free weights vs machines - which is better?

Pros of machines

  • Machines can be used for rehab purposes

Machines are safer to use especially for those who are rehabbing from an injury, machines restricts the range of motion making it easier to safely train a target muscle with less pain.

  • Isolation of muscles

Bodybuilding is about sculpting the muscles as well as making them big and strong, machines can be used to properly isolate certain muscles and to work the body in a number of creative ways.

  • Machines can be used as an accessory movement

Machines should not be exclusively used to try to build muscle but in conjunction with other compound movements. They will aid in providing additional stimulus for a maximal hypertrophy. This is effective as an accessory movement.

  • Machines are easier to learn

Machines are structures with instructions and getting proper form on a machine is not really difficult. Beginners can feel safe and pick up proper form fast using machines.

  • Increasing workout intensity

When it comes to training past failure towards the end of your session, machines can help you continue training safely. Other types of intensity boosting techniques such as forced reps, negative, drop sets too can be done using machines.

Cons of machines

  • Non-functional

Although machines will make you bigger and stronger, they don’t train complete human movement patterns that are needed for you to move.

  • They ignore small stabilizing muscles –

Machines limits your movement to a specific path and usually that means you’re unable to move the way the body was designed thereby neglecting the stabilizing muscles which can cause injury or poor posture on a long run.

Machines are a lot harder to set up for an home gym and even expensive to buy unlike free weights which are easier to set up and are cheaper.

So, what’s the best?

Free weights are best when:

  • For overall strength.

You want to focus on muscle damage that is best done with heavier weights (70-85%) and moderate repetitions (5-10 reps / set) using exercises where you can place the targeted muscles in an stretched position.

You want to do more with a few exercises.

Machines are best when:

  • You want to focus on a particular muscle with mind-muscle connection.
  • You want to use the method of muscle fatigue / failure

Free weights and machines are both good when:

  • Focus on one part of the body

Alternating between free weights and machines can help you target a particular muscle, such as your shoulders. You can use a free weight shoulder press during your heavy training sessions then you can continue with a fixed machine shoulder press for more endurance training which stimulates growth.

Who should use both free weights and equipment?

Most people: almost anybody can benefit from using both free weight and machines to build a strong and fit body.

Athletes – To compete in different levels of sport and perform at their best. The best way to achieve this training is o train with a combination of free weights and exercise is the way to go!

Bodybuilders – The best way to grow muscle and build strength is to use both free weights and machines. You can start with free weights to build up strength and muscle then use machines to sculpt the muscles for a proper definition.

Rehab – Free weights can speed up the recovery process because of how functional they are. They can also help you get back on track faster.


It is advisable to use a combination of both in your workout to provide optimal results.

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