One of the longest standing debates in the fitness industry is whether you get a better workout using free weights vs. machines.
To end the suspense early here, the best possible answer is……it depends!
How do Free Weights & Strength Machines work differently
Very few will argue that free weights generally provide a more complete workout for the body, with the two main reasons being that they focus more so on support and stabilization.
Because of having to control more of the weight and the movement, free weights not only target a specific muscle group, but also bring into the equation other muscle groups that play a role in the support and stabilization of the weight.
Machines, on the other hand, do a lot of the support and stabilization work for you. They let you focus on a very specific movement and muscle group, which puts less stress on your muscles. This obviously puts a limit on the overall strength building benefits vs. free weights.
Free Weights vs. Machines: Different benefits for different people
From what you’ve read so far, it may seem like free weights have a big advantage, but that’s not the case for everyone.
Free weights can be dangerous and they do take a great deal of practice to master. Not everyone walks into the gym with the skills and technique of a seasoned weightlifter.
It is very easy to make a mistake in technique or simply the amount of weight you to decide to lift. An exercise with poor form and bad technique is generally more harmful than it is helpful. You may be moving the weight, but you’re probably failing to target the muscle group you wanted to in the first place, and you could even hurt yourself.
Machines, on the other hand, can make technique less of a concern. They are designed to let you isolate and target improvement for a very specific muscle group. They also let you adjust resistance to your needs much more easily than free weights. Above all, they are much less likely to cause serious injury if you are inexperienced.
Do I need to choose between Free Weights and Machines?
Machines and free weights generally both play a role in an ideal workout routine. Free weights can play an important role in overall muscle-building and machines are a great way to isolate the work in particular muscle groups. Each mode is better at different things and there are plenty of machine-based exercises that can have a considerable effect.
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.