Whether you work out in a gym or at home you may be wondering what’s best when it comes to strength training – free weights or weight-training machines? Both offer great benefits and neither is necessarily better than the other, it comes down to personal preference and your personal fitness goals.
Generally, weight machines are ideal for beginners because they encourage proper form and help reduce the risk of injury. However, this does not mean that the experienced weightlifter can’t benefit from using a weight machine. Free weights, on the other hand, tend to allow the user to work more muscles while promoting functional fitness while being more accessible and versatile. In this blog, we’ll break down the differences between working out with free weights and weight machines so you can decide which is best for you.
The short answer is both free weights and weight training machines primarily work the same muscles. However, if you’re drawing a direct comparison, free weights enable the user to work more muscles than weight machines do.
Consider performing a dumbbell shoulder press. During this workout, your shoulders, core, traps, and triceps are all engaged. When using a shoulder press machine you’ll have a fixed range of motion that guides the weight which eliminates the need for extra upper body stabilization. What this means is using the machine will primarily work your shoulders.
For the average user, both free weights and weight machines offer many of the same benefits. However, typically users can lift more weight performing the same exercise when using a machine due to their fixed nature, while free weights tend to work more muscles during that same workout. This means you can get a full-body workout quicker using free weights as you’ll be engaging many of those smaller stabilizer muscles as a natural result of your chosen exercise.
As we mentioned earlier, weight machines can be a great choice for those who are new to weightlifting or who want to target a specific muscle group. When lifting weights, it’s vital that you utilize proper form to help prevent injury while maximizing the benefit of each exercise you perform. Machines can help you get a sense of how to perform each movement and alert you to which muscles are being strengthened.
Even if you prefer to work out with free weights, weight machines can be beneficial to target a specific muscle group. For example, if you just performed a set of deadlifts and want to work out your quads without fatiguing your other legs muscles, you can use a leg extension machine and work your quads without involving other muscles in your legs.
Intermediate or advanced users will likely prefer using free weights primarily for the weight training workouts, and supplementing with machines as needed similar to the example above.
It’s important to remember that there’s a learning curve for both machines and free weights. With weight machines you need to first adjust them to fit your body, this means adjusting the seat height, grip width, etc prior to using the machine. Remember, even though weight machines are meant to be used by all they are not universal machines and need to be adjusted to your specific height, weight, and body structure. All of these factors can impact how you use a machine, if a movement doesn’t feel natural, stop and readjust the different settings.
With free weights, it’s important that you pay attention to your form. Each exercise you perform will have its own set of nuances that need to be paid attention to. Pay attention to your head placement, lower back position, stance, shoulder placement, and so on. Be sure to understand how to do each exercise so you get the most of out each movement and avoid injury. It’s also important that you don’t go too fast, when it comes to free weight exercises slow and controlled movements are best. You should also choose lighter weights until you feel comfortable performing an exercise, then increase the weight.
Both free weights and machines have their place in any user’s strength training routine. By taking your personal goals and fitness level into account, each user will be able to decide which is best for your workouts.