The majority of gyms nowadays have a combination of both free weights and machines, designed to help people build strength and muscle mass.
Some avid gym-goers will swear by free weights and free weights alone; others dabble with machines and others avoid free weights altogether.
This begs the question: which is better?
Machines get a bit of a bad rep…
However, they allow you to up the weight (without having to drag your mate along to spot) and focus entirely on the effort of the movement rather than worrying about the mechanics of the movement.
This also means machines are a great option for beginners who do not quite feel ready for free weights. Most machines will have a picture on them demonstrating how to use them safely… something you don’t get with free weights. Machines also allow you to isolate specific muscle groups as most of your body is supported, which is ideal if you have a specific area you want to strengthen.
Despite the positives that come with using machines, there definitely are cons.
Machines are fixed to an axis, which means that they usually limit your movement to one plane, and therefore are not very functional. A lack of functional fitness and you run the risk of injuring yourself outside of the gym.
Using solely machines can also result in you neglecting your stabilising muscles which are challenged during free weight exercises. If these are too weak, there is a great chance of injury or bad posture.
Using free weights requires the recruitment of more muscle groups, due to the fact you have to stabilise yourself. They also allow for three-dimensional movements across the different planes, which replicates real life more than resistance machines do. This means not only do they allow for functional training, but they also provide a more efficient workout, challenging more of the body.
However, despite the positives, free weights do not come without their flaws.
As you are less stable, you’re also more prone to injury. On top of this, free weights will often require you having a spotter. No one wants to be laid on a bench for a barbell squishing their chest…
Without a spotter, it can be difficult to progress and so, if you train alone, this might be a bit of a problem.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Just as with compound Vs isolation exercises, when it comes to free weights Vs resistance machines, neither exactly reigns supreme.
The most successful programmes tend to incorporate both as they challenge the body in different ways. If you’re able to use free weights, we wouldn’t suggest neglecting them as functional training is vital. However, don’t roll your eyes at the chest press machine! Resistance machines can really help you to make progress and target more specific body parts.