The Differences Between Free Weights and Machines

The Differences Between Free Weights and Machines

You just completed a hard workout today, finishing another full-body circuit which you measured to burn 250 calories.  You feel pretty good following this circuit strength workout right?  Have you ever wondered if you are being as efficient as possible when working the machines at the gym?  Do you find yourself looking over to see some exercisers performing the same exercise, but without the assistance of the machine?  These are valid questions many experience in the gym and depending on your goals, machines or free weights may best suit your exercise needs.

Free Weights Basics

Free weights consist of any piece of equipment which does not assist in the movement or guidance of the range of motion of the exercise.  In other words, using free weights is generally harder than using machines.  Free weights are great for working the core and other postural muscles which is normally stabilized or assisted by one the machine.  Some machines allow more selection when it comes to your range of motion.  For example, the Smith machine allows you to lower the glutes down as far or as high as you desire in a squat, all while assisting the anterior and posterior positioning of the barbell.  When comparing the Smith machine version squat with a free weight, unassisted version, there is quite a noticeable difference.  First, you are in charge of moving the weights front and backwards and you are on your own when lowering down into a squat.  If you are not familiar with a free weight back squat and have chronically used the Smith machine in the past, it is highly recommended to use light weight until you are familiar with the range of motion and how to properly control the movement.

Machines Basics

In contrast to free weights, machine exercises can be a great way for beginners to learn a particular range of motion.  The muscles in the body need to learn a movement and adapt before they can move to more strenuous forms of exercise, such as the free weight exercises.  Individuals recovering from an injury or older adults may especially benefit from using machine weights during strength training.  The assisted movements from a machine provide more control and are able to better isolate particular muscle groups [1] when compared with free weights.  Depending on your exercise goals and level of experience in strength training, it may be optimal to start your program using machines.

The Benefits of Using Free Weights vs. Machine Weights

One great element about exercise is there are numerous different ways to achieve the same result.  A squat on a machine versus a squat using a barbell behind the shoulders both are performed to strengthen the hamstrings, quads, and glutes, but they are two different exercises.  Listed in the remaining part of this article are some benefits and weaknesses of using either piece of equipment to achieve your fitness results.

Benefits of Machines

  • Teach and allow full range of motion in an exercise [2]. Machines may assist with some of the movement, but they allow you to move through a full and complete range of motion.
  • Reduced risk of injury [3]. Machines are geared to prevent over straining when working, which is why they are great for rehabbing and for preventing injury.  The machine style exercise is your safe haven for consistent exercise.

Weaknesses of Using Machines

  • Slower gains. Machines may give you gains in strength, but it will take slightly longer.
  • Cheating happens. The mind is very clever which is why, when performing an exercise which is physically straining, the brain generally will find a loophole on the man-made machine to create more “assistance.”  This slows muscular strength gains and could lead to quicker injury.

Benefits of Free Weights

  • The strength gains are much quicker. Free weights add a different dimension.  While you may be performing a deadlift, overhead squat, or bench press, you are working a number of other muscles in order to stabilize and control the weights.
  • You are generally more in the zone when using free weights. Machines tend to dull or slow individuals during a workout, which can cause boredom.  Free weights on the other hand help prevent this by adding that element of excitement with each lift.

Weakness of Free Weights

  • Free weight exercises are more likely to add to injury than machines. Due to the higher intensity nature involved with free weight lifting, it is more likely that you could experience injury or strain than from using a machine.

 

References

[1] http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/strengthening/a/aa050702a.htm

[2] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/expert-answers/weight-training/faq-20058479

[3] http://www.askmen.com/sports/bodybuilding_100/141_fitness_tip.html

About the Author

, Celebrity Personal Trainer and Fitness & Nutrition Expert headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ. He specializes in helping men and women achieve weight loss, muscle building, toning and other customized fitness & nutrition programs to create a Healthy Lifestyle. James offers private luxury personal training, 12-week custom workout plans, and personalized nutrition meal plans. Follow on Google+.

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