That’s all I have to say about that.
Today I want to discuss the use of weight machines – the clunky, weight-stacked machines you would find at a typical gym – vs. free weights. After reading about them in my ACSM certification book, I wanted to recap the reasoning for why I’m such a big fan of free weights.
In my opinion, (and for my personal goals) most weight machines aren’t as helpful for those with moderate to advanced strength training experience (AKA non-beginners).
1. Machines aren’t designed to “fit” every person. The proportions are ideal for an “average” person (what’s that?) and they don’t adjust too much. They aren’t always comfortable for shorter people (like me!) or anyone with special physical considerations.
2. Free weight exercises can be easily modified to work for anyone.
3. Machines have a fixed range of motion – you must follow the ROM of the machine, which often creates limitations. These movements don’t usually reflect a functional movement.
4. Free weight exercises allow full range of motion.
5. Free weight exercises allow other muscles to act as stabilizers and assistant movers. What does this mean? Instead of isolating one muscle on a machine, using free weights allows other muscles to help lift. (Sometimes weight machines are useful if you want to isolate a muscle; in a rehabilitation setting, for example).
6. Free weight exercises are good for balance. Try some single leg deadlifts and you’ll learn a little about balance (I certainly did!). You won’t reap those benefits as much when sitting on a leg press machine.
This is not to say that NO weight machines are helpful. I personally like the single leg glute machine…
…the assisted pull-up machine (only until I can do pull-ups on my own!) cable machines, and Smith machines. (Is the word “machine” starting to sound weird to you too?) If you really want to use a machine, I’m more partial to anything that allows you to train your limbs separately. For example, if you are going to use a bicep curl machine, try to find one that allows you to raise and lower each arm separately rather than together. The dominant arm can compensate for the weaker arm when you’re lifting one bar instead of two separate ones, causing uneven gains in strength.
Sometimes machines ARE better for beginners, or again, in rehabilitation settings.
As with anything, proper form is important with free weights. Don’t know any free-weight exercises? Afraid of them? Don’t know what proper form is? Try talking to a gym-loving friend, someone working at your gym, or a personal trainer. Or, pick up a book and learn a little more about strength training and proper exercises. I like this one.
To sum up: personally, when I’m trying to gain strength, I run for the free weights (plus, you can start your own, relatively inexpensive collection if you need to get your sweat on at home.) When used appropriately, certain machines can be useful. A good program considers your goals and needs and includes a variety of exercises.
All in all, strength training is a vital part of any workout routine. Whether you are a beginner or you’ve been doing this for years, always consider your personal goals and use them to create the ideal training program FOR YOU.
Something is better than nothing.