Should You Use Free Weights or Machines?
As a trainer I get asked this question very often and my answer is always the same; “it depends on what your goals are”. The short answer is that in most cases using both free weights and machines is ideal. By the way this is a hotly contested debate in the fitness industry and other fitness professionals may disagree with me. For general fitness I suggest using free weights about 70% to 80% of your workout and then work in some machines about 20% to 30% of the time. If you are a competitive athlete and or your goals are strictly performance related then you will be using almost all free weights and very little to no machine work. If you are body builder and or your goals are rooted in improving your aesthetics then you may want to incorporate more machines. Fitness professionals who focus on athletic and or functional training are almost always big fans of using free weights and they typically discourage using most machines. The argument is that free weights require more balance, coordination and utilization of stabilizer muscles. For example, if you’re doing a standing dumbbell shoulder press, you’re not only working your shoulder muscles but also your abdominal and leg muscles to stabilize your body. Free weights are more versatile than machines, allowing more range of motion and variation. The science clearly shows that you are going to build more muscle and as well as strength, stamina, coordination and flexibility with free weights. Movements using free weights occur in a three-dimensional plane, while most weight machines allow movement only in a single plane. With machines, the movement is guided, so only the major muscles required to perform the movement are used. With free weights, the added task of balancing the weights in the three-dimensional plane recruits other functional muscles that machines do not recruit. From a performance standpoint free weights is the clear winner. However, let’s be honest we all want to look good too right? Have you ever seen that trainer at the gym that does only functional training whose physique is let’s just say “unimpressive”? Functional training is always the best way to improve the way your performance but not necessarily they way you look. Bodybuilders and Physique athletes incorporate machines into their routines because machines have added benefits when it comes to aesthetics. Machines are also great for beginners who still need to learn how lift with proper form and technique because they offer more support and guidance. The bottom-line is that Machines and Free Weights both have benefits and limitations and it all boils down to what your goals are. Whether you use machines or free weights, the bottom line is consistency, intensity and variation of your workouts. Don’t be afraid to mix up it up. It’s your body—push it, challenge it and most importantly—enjoy it.