Free weights vs machines – which is better?

Free weights vs machines - which is better?

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: free weights vs machines

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

Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and any other piece of equipment with a wide range of motion are examples of free weights. They make your entire body work.

  • What are machines?

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

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, coordination 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 are limited to a single plane. Unlike machines, free weights allow people of different physical proportions, be it height or 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-weight exercise is more difficult to learn than machine exercise, and you may need someone to show you how to do it correctly. Injuries can occur as a result of poor technique. Keep a close eye on your form.

  • High risk of injury when not done properly

It is easy to move a body part or joint out of alignment if you use the incorrect form. This can result in injury, so know exactly what you are doing and that you are using the appropriate weight.

  • Lifting heavy weights necessitates the use of a spotter

If you do not have a partner or someone to spot you, some exercises can be difficult to improve, which can stifle your progress.


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 muscles as well as bulking them up. Machines can be used to improve various muscles and work the body in a variety of creative ways and they can be also used as an accessory movement.

They 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 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

Machines can make you bigger and stronger, however, they cannot teach you complete human movement patterns that you will need to move.

  • They ignore small stabilizing muscles

Machines restrict your movement to a specific path, which means you cannot move the way your body was designed, ignoring the stabilizing muscles and risking injury or poor posture in the long run.

Machines are a lot harder to set up for a 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 strength 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 a 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?

Almost everyone can benefit from free weight and machine training to build a strong and athletic body.

Athletes – Compete at various levels of sport and give their best performance. Training with a combination of free weights and exercise is the best way to achieve this goal!

Bodybuilders – The most effective 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 – Because of how functional free weights are, they can help speed up the recovery process. They may also be able to assist you in regaining your footing more quickly.

Final Thoughts On Free Weights vs Machines

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