As you go about designing your workout program, one conundrum that you will run into is whether you would be best off choosing free weights or exercise machines.
Free weights and machines are different in how they challenge the body; while one has the benefit of challenging stability and greater range of motion, the other is ideal for isolating muscle groups. Despite the fact that both are going to strengthen the muscle tissues, each method does have its pros and cons.
Generally speaking, for most people free weights will be the better route to go for a wide variety of different reasons. Let’s take a quick look at the main reasons why free weights tend to be the superior choice over machine workouts.
- Free weights activate the core. Since you won’t have a machine as a backrest or other support, you’ll call the core muscles into play more, enhancing their strength level.
- Free weights don’t lock you into a pattern of movement. With machine-based exercises, you are basically fixed into one motion, and this can place you in awkward stress patterns that lead to injury. It can also mean your biceps are really well-prepared to handle one angle of movement, but weak in any other direction.
- Free weights are better for home workouts. Since you likely can’t afford to purchase machines for a home gym (or have the space to keep them!) free weights make exercising at home possible.
- Free weights offer more exercise variability. There are far more exercises that you can do with free weights compared to machines, keeping boredom at bay.
- Free weights are easier to switch up for variety. With free weights, you can do many exercise variations such as close-grip bench press, reverse-grip bench press, incline bench press, and decline bench press – all of which you couldn’t do in a standard chest press machine.
- Free weights work balance. When you use free weights, you will be challenging your body to balance while holding a heavy weight and moving in a slow, controlled motion. This means your muscles, especially your core, have to engage to stabilize you.
- Free weights allow for supersets. If you’re working out in the gym, you may have to wait for another person to finish their set before using a machine, but with free weights, you can do two exercises back to back with no rest between.
- Free weights come in smaller weight increments. You can add 2.5-pound weight plates at a time rather than having to go up by 5 or 10 pounds, as with machine-based exercises.
- Free weights are easier to utilize. Once you know the movement pattern, it’s simple and straightforward. More people get confused by weight machines.
- Free weights prevent muscular imbalances. Since one arm will be responsible for each weight rather than both arms pressing one weight together, this can reduce your risk of muscular imbalances.
The Bottom Line:
Next time you’re in the gym, consider using free weights instead. While machine weights can bring you some benefits, generally speaking you will see faster success if you opt for free weights.
If you feel uncomfortable using these because you aren’t quite sure how to properly execute the movement patterns, then it would be a good idea to book a session with a personal trainer who can show you the proper techniques to use. This will ensure you maintain good form and stay injury-free well into the future.