It’s an argument as old as the machines themselves: which is better? Free weights or weight machines?
As with most things to do with building muscle, there is no 100% right or wrong answer. Because both free weights AND weight machines have their pros and cons, depending on what you’re trying to do.
Benefits of free weights
First, we should probably answer the question: what are free weights? Basically, free weights are any weights you can pick up and carry around: dumbbells, kettle balls, barbels and so forth.
So, now that you’ve got a handle on what they are, let’s take a look at the benefits of free weights when it comes to bodybuilding.
Firstly, free weights make you use more muscles simultaneously. As well as the muscle that you’re working, you have to engage more of the surrounding muscles in order to keep your balance and maintain your form. You’ll also have to work harder, so each rep will likely have more impact.
Free weights are also way more versatile, because you have a much greater range of motion, giving you the ability to use the same weights to work different muscles.
On the other hand, free weights are also significantly riskier to use because you don’t have a machine there to support the weight or limit your range of motion. The chance of injuring yourself when using free weights is higher – YOU have to ensure that your form is on point and your risk is greater if you choose to workout with free weights at home or at the gym without a spot to keep an eye on your form or take some of the weight for you if you tire unexpectedly.
Benefits of using machines at the gym
The first thing to cover off: what is a weight machine? When we refer to weight machines, we’re talking about any apparatus that uses gravity to provide resistance in conjunction with support that limits the range of motion that you can use while lifting.
And while this is one of the great benefits of using machines at the gym, it’s an even bigger benefit of using a weight machine at home, when you’re far more likely to be exercising alone.
Because of the limited range of motion that machines allow you to use, they are far safer than lifting free weights, always assuming that you’re using them correctly that is. It’s always a good idea to either have a PT run you through how to properly use a machine, or at the very least, take the time to look at the diagrams detailing how to use it so that you’re getting it right.
They’re also specifically designed for using particular muscles, which means that you can target certain areas more specifically and rest sore muscles, even if you want to work ones that are close by.
Finally, as a general rule, you should be able to lift significantly more weight when using a machine than when you’re lifting with free weights because the machine takes balance and stability out of the equation, leaving you free to just lift. So if you want to bulk up particular muscles, the very specific range of motion that machines will allow, plus the fact that you can lift heavier means that machines are likely to get you more bulk for your buck.
Obviously, because machines are designed to do very specific things, you’re unlikely to find one machine that will do everything you want, without it taking up a huge amount of space. The size of the machines is definitely one of the cons you’ll have to consider if you have limited space available.
So that’s the lowdown on free weights vs machines – basically, if you’re in the gym there’s nothing wrong with mixing it up and using machines at the gym as well as free weights (especially considering the fact that you might not be able to jump on certain equipment all the time) as long as you’re careful about your weight and form. And if you’re working out at home and need to decide whether to go for free weights or machines, this’ll give you a bit more information about the pros and cons of each that will help you choose which way to go.