Free Weights vs. Machines: Is One Better Than the Other?

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The Basics

Strength training causes muscles or muscle groups to work against a force that provides a resistance that is strong enough to increase strength. The resistance may be from gravity or exercise equipment such as free weights, machines, and cable systems.

There has been a lot of debate over which type of strength training is best. The best plan may be to try them out and decide which one meets your needs. A mix of all types of strength training may offer the most effective workout.

Health Benefits of Strength Training

Strength training can lead to:

  • Greater muscle strength, power, and endurance
  • Stronger connective tissue
  • Increased bone density
  • Lower body fat
  • An increased rate at which calories are burned
  • A lower risk of injuries
  • Improved balance and coordination

Build a Program

There are many things to think about before you start a program. People who are new to training should start with a simple program. As you gain confidence and strength, you can vary your exercises, the number of repetitions and sets, and the length of time you rest between sets.

Choose the equipment that is right for you:

  • Machines —Machines place your body in a fixed position. This provides you with stability and balance and allows only the targeted muscle(s) to be worked. Exercises on machines can be learned easily. There is also less room for error and a low risk of injury. People who are injured like machines because they control range, motion, and speed. Keep in mind that if you are shorter or taller than most people, then you may need to adjust the equipment before use.
  • Free weights —Proper form is more challenging with free weights than with machines. This is because you must use balance and stability to focus on a muscle. They also require control and coordination. Keep in mind that there is more room for error and a greater risk of injury. But free weights are easy to buy and can be used a number of ways. This is good for people who like to workout at home.
  • Cable systems —These are a hybrid of free weights and machines. Some cable systems let you do more than one exercise on a single piece of equipment. This allows for a full-body workout.

Free weights and machines both offer benefits. The one that is best for you is often based on the outcome you want to achieve. A mix of both may be the best solution. Some muscle groups are hard to isolate with free weights. In this case, machines are a better option. Machines also let you lift heavier weights. Free weights let your body move more naturally and allow you to make small changes in form. They are also standard items that can be found in every gym.

Using Your Body

Free weights and machines are not the only options. Push-ups and dips are just two ways you can use your body's weight as a resistance. Bands can also be used to enhance the effect. One bonus is that they can be taken anywhere, such as when you are away on a trip. Talk to a trainer to get exercises and tips.

Learn How to Use Equipment

You should always get training on how to use exercise equipment. A trainer can teach you how to use the equipment, watch you use it, and provide you with feedback. This will lead to better results and lower your risk of injury.

Not Just for Jocks

Weight training is often linked to youth, flat abs, and big biceps. In fact, it is very helpful to people who will never find themselves on the front cover of fitness magazines. The right training is needed for safety and effectiveness. The results will be better strength, endurance, and quality of life.

RESOURCES:

American College of Sports Medicine
http://www.acsm.org

American Medical Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.amssm.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
www.csep.ca

Health Canada
http://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Selecting and effectively using free weights. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/selecting-and-effectively-using-free-weights.pdf?sfvrsn=822f5a06_2. Accessed June 25, 2021.

When strength training, is it better to use machines or free weights. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/68/when-strength-training-is-it-better-to-use-machines-or-free-weights. Accessed June 25, 2021.

Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 6/25/2021