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Free Weights vs Machines: A Comparison

Posted Nov 28 2009 10:01pm

As you peruse through websites on the Internet, you’ll lose count of the number of ‘health experts’ suggesting a whole set of exercises in training that will help you achieve objective a, b and c by the use of free weights or machines.

The truth is that everyone’s body is so different that the results can vary which is why these so-called tried & tested methods don’t work. So, when it comes to doing any kind of training, it’s important to start with the basics while putting together a personalized routine that will suit your specific needs. Everyone’s different… right?

Weight training for dummies… anyone?

So in order to understand the type of strength training implements to use, let’s briefly discuss the differences between the two.

Free Weights Vs. Weight Machines: Differences
Possibly the biggest difference between these two from the user’s point-of-view is the risk of injury if not used carefully. This is why machines are recommended for beginners!

So your next question might be… why? (Not unless you’re one of these veteran gym rats… he he)

Weight machines use gravity as their primary source of resistance but only some exercises while using free weights employ the same. Another important difference is that while using machines, one can only use the machine to perform specific fixed movements but with free weights the possibilities are endless for every muscle group. Interestingly, free weights are considered superior to weight machines, as the user in the case of the former do not stick to a fixed movement while in use (like machines) requiring more effort from the individual’s muscles.

So, most trainers recommend free weights over machines for several reasons, unless there is a safety risk involved.

Free Weights Vs. Machines: Pros & Cons
So, which of these two options are better?

The honest answer to this question is ‘it depends’.

As mentioned earlier, most of our bodies and circumstances are different, so the answer to that question cannot be a generalized one but has to be approached on a case-by-case basis.

Let me illustrate with a couple of examples:
Case #1: Beginners
Now, if you’re a beginner… and you want to work out with weights… using dumbbells will require you to have a ‘spotter’ every time you work out. And why this is important is because you might injure yourself if the exercise is not done correctly. Hence, machines are recommended for beginners.

Case #2: If you’re recovering from an injury
If you’ve just had an exercise-related injury, it won’t be too smart to get back to free weights, as the chances of you aggravating that injury are far greater while using dumbbells than machines.

Case #3: Working out at Home
However, if you’ve decided to work out at home, using machines might not be such a good idea as they take up a lot of space. In this case, dumbbells work out much better as they’re portable and save space as well.

Case #4: Short of time
In the case when you are running short of time, it is advisable to use machines as you can save time, as the movement is easy to execute… and you can move on to the next machine.

So you see that working out with machines or free weights have their advantages or disadvantages in particular cases, but the bottom line is that both machines and free weights are equally useful in workouts, although the serious trainer still goes with free weights. It just depends on what you need…

In Closing
What really matters though is to know what you’re working towards, and then accordingly use either a combination of machines and dumbbells or one of them to meet your goals. Other people’s advice or recommendations don’t matter, unless it is from a recommended fitness expert. Yes, I mean the guys who’ve written ‘Weight training for dummies’.

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