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December 14, 2007

Machines vs. Free Weights

By Serena Daniels

When it comes to strength training, whether we should use machines or free weights to execute our workouts has long been debated. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and offer different uses for different women.

So which is the better option for you? Well, it all depends on your health, preferences and what you would like to achieve from your workouts. Let’s find out what the pros and cons are to using each.

Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong when it comes to machine and free weight use, so long as you maintain proper posture, execute the exercise properly and keep your abs tight throughout each exercise.

Free weights
Before machines, dumbbells and barbells even existed, men and women were lifting newborn calfs, and as the calfs would get older, they would get heavier, hence increasing the lifters’ strength.

Nowadays, women don’t have to lift small animals to develop their bodies. We have gyms that offer barbells, dumbbells, and cable machines so that we may target specific areas of our bodies.

Machines vs. free weights #1
Advantages of free weights

Versatile – You can use dumbbells or barbells anywhere in the gym or your home to workout and are not restricted to the area they’re at. So if every bench in front of the mirror is taken, you can carry the weights over to the cable machine and opt to do supersets.

Core muscles – Your need to balance the weights will help you build a better core and call other synergistic muscles into play. For example, if you’re performing squats with a barbell, you will keep your core muscles tight throughout the exercise to balance yourself and keep yourself from developing a back injury.

Sports skills – If you engage in any sort of active sport like soccer, baseball or hockey, lifting free weights closely matches the biomechanics of these sports skills and will help you increase and further develop them.

Machines vs. free weights #2
Disadvantages of free weights

Injury – It’s possible that training without a spotter (someone who helps you lift) can be very dangerous if you opt to go heavier than you’re accustomed to. As well, because you are required to rely on yourself for proper form, it’s possible that doing an exercise the wrong way can lead to injury.

Adjusting weights – Having to carry a weight plate to the EZ-bar and then remove everything is somewhat time-consuming and exhausts the muscles more quickly.

Body balance – If you’re not accustomed to balancing your body to life weights or are a beginner with weights, it will be difficult to isolate muscles at first.


Machines were first used to help people overcome injuries and beginners to feel comfortable before moving on to free weights, but it seems that today, machines have become much more than that to many female gym-goers.

Machines vs. free weights #3
Advantages of machines

Isolation – Machines are great for isolating a specific muscle without calling others into play, therefore allowing for a muscle-specific workout that lessens the chances of using momentum.

Safe – Because machines have one specific movement, there is no need for a spotter.

Ease of use – Using a dial or pin, you can adjust the weight on a machine without having to lug around any heavy weights. This even helps you complete your workout in less time.

Machines vs. free weights #4
Disadvantages of machines

No core work – Because resistance moves through a specific path, it will be more difficult to strengthen your synergistic or core muscles.

Tempo stagnation – Machines force the user to use a specific range and speed to complete each repetition, thus hindering you from increasing your pace.

Average size – Because machines are designed for the average-sized individual, if you’re shorter or taller than average, you will have a more difficult time with certain machines.

Bad form – Because a machine isn’t designed for you specifically, it may lead to improper form and, unfortunately, injury.

Machines vs. free weights

If you’re a beginner, elderly or have sustained an injury, then machines can help you adjust or recuperate.

Otherwise, you can incorporate both machines and free weights into your strength-training regime and ensure that you get the best workout possible every time.

Work it out.

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