Free weights vs machines have been a topic of debate for a long time concerning which provides the better workout. Which is better for you often comes down to personal preference. I use both in my workout routine. However, these are the facts about both methods that you need to know to help you decide.
Free weights can be defined as any weight that is not attached to another structural device and is raised and lowered by using the hands or arms in weightlifting exercises. Free weights move in a three dimensional space. Examples of free weights are barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls or ankle weights.
What is an Exercise Machine?
An exercise machine is defined as any machine used for physical exercise. These range from simple spring like devices to computerized electromechanical rides. In this article, ‘machines’ refers to resistance training devices that have pin loaded weight stacks, fixed lever arms or resistance rods.
For my resistance training, I use the Bowflex Home Gym which utilizes resistance rods. Weight machines and resistance machines only move in two dimensions.
I have found that when using a resistance machine, I am better able to isolate certain muscle groups. Machines are easier to learn and perform the movements correctly because the motions are guided for the lifter by the way the machine is made. One must only push or pull the weight following the path determined by the machine.
Machines are very user friendly. They have pin loaded weights or resistance rods, comfortable seats and usually need very little professional help to operate. You can go from one type of exercise to another and change the weight very easily.
One of the biggest downside to machines is their cost and they also can take up lots of floor space. In addition, machines are made to fit the average sized person. I am 6 foot tall so they usually fit me, however, if you are short or tall, it could be a problem. You may not get the full range of motion from some of the exercises.
Machines will reduce your workout time. This is because it takes less time setting up at the beginning of your routine, less time changing weight and less time putting everything away.
Machines do have moving parts including cables, straps and pulleys. With moving parts, there is an increase in maintenance and parts failing. Cables can fray and pulleys can break.
I like using free weights in addition to my resistance machine workout. Using free weights better simulates movements that you use in real life. Lifting barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells from the floor is similar to lifting a bag of groceries or a suitcase from the floor. The following are some reasons you should use free weights or add them to your exercise routine;
Using free weights simulates free-form. This means that you are using the same forces and muscle activity that you use in everyday activities. When using free weights, you must maintain balance and control thus using many more stabilizing muscles than you would on a weight machine.
An example of this is when you are doing something like squats with your barbells; you must not only perform the exercise but also balance the barbell on your back and maintain your balance so you don’t fall over.
Fuller Range of Motion.
Free weights allow you to move through a fuller range of motion and in multiple planes for each exercise. Your body does these types of movements naturally everyday as you carry out your normal activities.
Most of us have one side stronger than the other. Free weights force the weaker muscles to do their share of the lift. With machines, your dominate side will be allowed to compensate for your weaker side.
Endless Number of Exercises.
Machines do have limits for the exercises that they will let you do. Some muscle groups can be missed for this reason. With free weights you have an endless number of exercises you can do. There are so many exercises with dumbbells and barbells that you will be able to work any and all of your muscle groups.
One really big difference is the cost. Free weights cost a lot less and take up less space that a resistance machine. You can find free weights for sale at really good prices on the internet or even on places like Craig’s list. You can also get good prices just buying retail at your local retail stores.
I started with free weights back when I was a teenager. Wow, such a long time ago. At that time free weights vs machines was not an issue. That was mainly because barbells and dumbbells were all that I could afford at the time. The quantity and diversity of types of machines didn’t exist then. Now, however, if you can afford it, I would recommend beginning on resistance machines. If you can’t afford to buy one, join your local health club. Machines are easier to learn on and to perform the movements correctly.
After a few months, you should trade your machine exercises for free weights. You should do both for the best results. The free weights will demand more strength and control and caution should be taken to use them correctly to avoid injuries. As always, consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Which you use the most should be a personal choice based on your overall goals, experience, available time and any health issues or injuries. Try using free weights and I think you will be glad you did.