Machines vs Free weights?

August 4, 2009 by  
Filed under The Fitness Bug


This ongoing debate regarding free weights (low-tech apparatus) vs. machines (high-tech apparatus) for strength training never does seem to end. While each can help you build strength there are definite pros and cons for each. I have had experience with both, which I’m sure most of you have. But to answer the question on the superiority of free weights versus machines, it is first important to know what one’s goals are. I personally like to use free weights more, as i know they will give me quick results. My upper body I am not to concerned about when working out, but my lower body muscles take much longer to develop and grow, so using free weights works in my favor. Since every one is not like me, I will outline the pros and cons of both.


The most important component in any strength training program is safety. If you are new to strength training or if you are working out alone, variable resistance machines are your best bet. While machines can be a viable option for serious weight training, they are best for beginners, senior and recreational athletes.
For those that have injured your selves from working out incorrectly, variable resistance machines are preferred. They provide a more controlled motion and specifically isolate certain muscle groups. Machines also allow you to track progress and provide objective feedback while increasing the protective participation of the healthy limb or muscle groups.

To sum it up

  • Faster workouts – Ready to go stationary apparatus
  • Reduced risk of injury – Great for beginners (Doing it all wrong)
  • Easy to use – Self explanatory, no personal trainer
  • Useful when recovering from an injury – Isolate particular muscles, can maintain activity in your sport


  • Increased risk of pattern overload injuries – From repetition of working the same muscle groups
  • False sense of strength gain – (why i like free weights)
  • Mistaken sense of safety – Forgetting about common sense, not knowing your limits
  • Locked-in-place body movement patterns – Forces unnatural body motion

Free Weights

Free weights promote quicker strength gains and they require more balance and coordination than the weight machines. Free weights recruit more muscle groups than variable resistance machines, which tend to only isolate specific muscles.

Free weights are also more versatile than machines because they allow for more variations in range of motion, motions that we use day-to-day. Free weights require balance, and they tend to promote more activity of the joint stabilizer muscles. Finally, they are considerably less expensive than most of the machines on the market. You can perform a complete strength training routine with a few dumbbells, and a little imagination. (Home vs Gym)

However, free weights require the help of a spotter, and result in more injuries than machines. Careful instruction and training is necessary to master the art of free weight lifting. (Beginners… take it slow!)

To Sum it up


  • Increased use of stabilizing muscles – Abs, Erector Spinae and some leg muscles
  • Similarity with everyday activities – e.g. bent-over rows, bicep curls and step-ups
  • Improved balance – Ever tried using or incorporating an exercise ball?
  • Increased use of brainpower – Proprioreception (your brain tells the body where it is)
  • Convenient and inexpensive – For the traveler, the busy, the broke guy, home exercisers


  • Increased risk of injury when not using proper form – Make sure you know what you are doing
  • Decreased efficiency – i really do hate waiting for others to finish with the weights

Although i prefer using free weights for most of my workouts, an ideal training program should incorporate both free weights and machines on alternating training days. In order to get the most from both muscle strength gains and joint stability, you should focus on free weights for some exercises and machines for others.

The bottom line is that you should use the strength training equipment that suits your training needs, is safe, and is convenient. However, if you are comfortable using free weights like myself, you may see greater strength gains here than with machines.

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