Strength training is an important part of any fitness plan. To work their muscles, some people head to the gym to use weight machines, while others strength train using free weights like dumbbells, barbells or even their own body weight. Most people have their personal preference and usually, stick with one or the other. Which should you choose? Will free weights or weight machines help you better achieve your strength goals?
Free Weights vs. Weight Machines: Is One Better Than the Other?
Both weight machines and free weights give an effective strength training workout. The major difference between weight machines and free weights is free weights recruit more muscles to do the additional work of balancing and stabilizing. Recruiting these additional stabilizing muscles not only increases static strength but functional strength as well because you have to control the weight in more than one dimension.
Weight machines have the advantage of better isolating a particular muscle group, but the disadvantage is the machine does some of the work for you because you don’t have to balance the weight.
Even though free weights sound like they’re superior since they work more muscles, there is a disadvantage to using free weights for strength building. Unless you have someone to spot you, you can only safely lift so much weight. When you use machines, you can push yourself a little harder because you don’t have to worry about dropping the weight on yourself.
Weight machines are also ideal if you’re new to strength training because they’re less likely to cause injury, and they’re less complicated to use. Free weights can be a little intimidating to people who have never strength trained.
Free weights have another advantage. If you like to work out at home, it’s less expensive to fill your workout room with dumbbells and barbells than to purchase expensive weight machines. Dumbbells and barbells are affordable and take up a minimum of space. You can even hide them in a closet when you’ve finished using them.
Weight machines allow you to better isolate a single muscle group and give you the ability to safely eke out another rep or two without a spotter, while free weights have the advantage of building functional strength. Why not use both? Training with both free weights and weight machines will add diversity to your workout and engage your muscles in different ways. Using both can help avoid strength building plateaus.
You can even combine free weights with weight machines during the same workout. Work a muscle group to fatigue using free weights, and then try to do a few reps on a weight machine that targets the same muscle group. This additional challenge will stimulate new muscle growth, and you can do it safely on a machine even if your muscles are already fatigued.
You also can add kettlebells and resistance bands to your strength training workout. You have more tools than ever to help you build strength these days. Use them to your advantage. So which do you prefer – free weights or machines?
Bodybuilding.com. “Machines or Free Weights”