As the scene of weightlifting shifts over the years, periodically questions will arise about what is better between two options, especially at the gym. The argument about using free weights compared to machines is a common area of discussion. Is it better to utilize one over the other and if so, why?
Let’s take a serious look at both and try and come to a good conclusion.
Benefits of Machines
- Great for Beginners – Machines are the number one option for people new to a gym because gyms are typically set up with a machine for each muscle group and grouped together so you can go from one station to the next rather easily.
- Easy to Use – Machines have a fixed range of motion as well as instructional placards on them (or at least most of them). That makes them very easy for people to use without assistance or much instruction.
- Excellent Focus – Machines are fairly focused to provide work on the belly of the target muscle. Generally it makes it easier to focus on the target muscle and feel it working because you have less to think about.
- Comfortable – With padded seats and comfortable positions, working with machines is pretty easy on you overall. Leg presses are much more comfortable than shouldering up a heavy barbell for squats.
Benefits of Free Weights
- Builds Greater Strength – You cannot build the same level of basic strength with machines compared to free weights. Part of the issue is that big compound exercises that stress more areas of the body at once (such as squats or deadlifts) cannot be easily replicated by machines.
- Increases Agility – More muscles are incorporated in helping balance and control the weight through the range of motion which helps increase you natural agility and mind-muscle connection.
- Increased Secondary Function – More muscles (secondary) are used in raising and lowering a weight when using free weights. Those muscles used for balance and support (such as the core) are not used in machines.
- More Options – There are more exercises and angles available with free weights. This means more variety and more ways to attack the muscles and spur great growth.
- Harder – Because of all of the above reasons, free weights are a lot harder of a workout from a basic standpoint.
Which is Better?
Hands down free weights are the superior choice for weight lifting. They will allow you to build a stronger, more powerful body than just machines. With that being said, machines are much better for beginners to teach them the basics. Also machines are fantastic for a few particular exercises as well as variety and can be incorporated into a lot of routines regardless of experience level.
As an experienced lifter I typically use a 2-1 or 3-1 ratio for free weight exercises versus machine exercises. Certain machines are a staple in my routines such as leg extensions, leg curls, calf machines, cable rows, cable triceps exercises, and chest flyes. Other exercises get rotated in for variety to help keep the muscles guessing. Ideally you should never limit yourself and utilize whatever helps give you the best workout possible.