Resistance Training – Free Weights vs. Machines

In fitness, the question of whether to use free weights or resistance machines is common among those who strength train.  Although both sets of equipment have ultimately similar goals, they hold their own pros and cons.

If you have used the machines, then you know that they use systems of levers and pulleys and are a little more controlled than free weights. These weight machines are also called variable resistance machines.  They get this name from their function; these machines apply varying resistances to the joints and muscles at different points throughout the range of motion of the exercise. This is the distinction that makes variable resistance machines a good choice for those who are new to strength training or choose to workout independently. They provide a safer and more controlled environment that reduces the chance of injury by decreasing the amount of torque placed on joint and muscles. Because of the greater control, variable resistance machines are also more user friendly and make it easier to zero in on your target muscle groups. However, the downside to variable resistance machines is that they are expensive, making them less convenient for those who wish to perform their workout routine at home. Also, machines do not offer much variety which can make them feel repetitive after a few workouts.

Free weights, just like variable resistance machines, also have their own pros and cons. The benefits of free weights are substantial as they lead to faster strength gains, in part due to the increased amount of balance and coordination required. Free weights require activation of a variety of large muscle groups including joint stabilizers (muscle groups that protect against injury by controlling and limiting extra movement). The advantages are clear in the long run, as you will be working more muscles per exercise than with a machine as well as more providing freedom for a more functional movement.  Free weights also have their disadvantages. For instance, free weights are hard to master and require some time to learn.  You might be able to perform a full body workout with a couple of dumbbells and some creativity, but in order to do so, it is extremely important that you learn the proper technique before performing those exercises. Failing to take the time to learn the technique will add to the risk of injury caused by free weights.

The bottom line is that machines and free weights are both great for building strength. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of each to decide which pieces of equipment are right for your workout.


By: Mary S.

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