Free Weights vs Machines
In any gym, there is a combination of machines and free weights.
Naturally, many people get confused about which is the best option.
In this article, you'll know the advantages and disadvantages of both. This way, you can make the best decision according to your objectives.
Let's start with a simple definition of both:
- Free weights: Weights that are not attached to any appliance (barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells are some examples)
- Machine: They have a defined range of motion. You only need to focus on pushing/pulling the weight, for there is no freedom of movement (the leg extension and pec fly are some examples).
Cable machines have characteristics of both, so they are excluded from this "fight". It is a machine, however, there's freedom of movement in the execution.
Before we move forward with the debate of free weights vs machines, there' s one thing you need to do first...
The most important thing is that you set your goals. What do you want to accomplish working out?
To be a bodybuilder?
To be a weightlifter?
Is it a complement to help in another sport (football, for example)?
Is it just a hobby so you're in shape?
Answering the question above is a crucial step, not just in choosing between machines and free weights.
It also helps you decide everything else that has to do with your training and nutrition.
- Works the full range of motion - Free weights provide total freedom when performing an exercise. This allows you to gain more strength, muscle, mobility and healthier joints;
- Works the stabilizing muscles - Controlling the weights is all your responsibility. This means that you'll work your core, shoulders and back stabilizers a lot, for example;
- Works various muscles at the same time - A vast majority of free weight exercises are compound movements, which means that you'll work various muscles at the same time;
- Better muscle development - Various studies show that free weight exercises are more efficient for muscle gain, by recruiting more muscle fibers;
- Strength gains - When it comes to strength training, there's no debate. The best way to gain strength is by using free weights;
- Burn more calories - Since free weight exercises recruit more muscles and require stabilization, they burn more calories than machine exercises;
- More efficient - If you're short on time and still want good results from working out, you should choose free weights. Free weights work several muscles at the same time, eliminating the need to do a lot of exercises;
- Allow for a lot of variation - With just one set of dumbbells and a barbell, you can do dozens of exercises.
- They are harder to learn - The learning curve for using free weights is bigger than the one for using machines.
- Greater risk of injury when done incorrectly - The stabilization of the exercises is all done by you. That being, if they are done incorrectly there's a chance of you getting injured. To prevent this, you should learn the correct form of each exercise and not be in a rush to increase weight. This process doesn't happen overnight. You need some patience and, eventually, results will show up.
- Easy to learn to use - As movement is restricted by the machine, learning how to use them is much simpler than free weights;
- Isolates muscle groups efficiently - If you have some muscle that is not as developed as the others, using a machine to isolate it helps you to develop that muscle. If you are recovering from some injury, free weights may be too much for that muscle. Therefore, using machines is a good way to increase strength and help in recovery.
- Removes all exercise stability - When using machines, you are not working your stabilizing muscles, which causes weaknesses when you are not using the machine. This can also lead to chronic injuries and/or poor posture;
- Sometimes they put the body in unnatural and uncomfortable positions - Since there is no freedom of movement, the machines do not take into account the different body types, which can lead to injuries.
Fortunately, you do not have to choose just to use machines or just use free weights. You can use both, according to your needs.
However, if we could recommend only one of these choices, we would recommend free weights.
Due to all the benefits offered by free weights, they are the best option for the vast majority.
Famous professional athletes trainer, Jeff Cavaliere, is against the use of machines. One of his several reasons for this is because they work muscles individually and do not work the stabilizers. However, athletes in competitive situations require stability and for the muscles to work simultaneously. Machines offer neither.
As stated above, the way you train depends on your goals.
For most people, the best choice will be workouts focused on free weights and some accessory work on machines. So you get the best of both worlds.
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