Let’s put this matter to bed, once and for all.
I’ve used both free weights and resistance machines in the last 12 years I have working out, and like you, I have had loads of telling me;
“Resistance machines suck, free weights are the only way to build muscle!”
“Machines are great, there’s no need to use free weights!”
But which is it? I wondered for years, but through my extensive personal, and professional experience, plus a considerable amount of research, I am going to save you years of wonderment, and help you realize which you should be using!
Now, let me clear one thing up straight away: both can work for you. The principles behind building muscle and torching fat are the same regardless of what equipment you use. So if you are just starting out, follow the basic principles of muscle building, (check out our article on this here), and choose which one you have the best, easiest access to!
The reason being, when you start out, almost any form of exercise yields big, quick results! This is because your untrained body isn’t using it’s a full potential right away. In fact, it learns this in your first few months of training, which means in that initial stage, you aren’t actually getting that much stronger, you are simply learning how to use the muscle you have! The key point here is to get the work in, consistently, so stop reading this, and go hit the gym!
Still reading? Then you must pass that initial phase, and in the exciting area where what you do makes a bigger difference! What I’m going to do for you now is break both free weights and resistance machines down into pros and cons, explain the key differences, take you through which is better for you!
Free Weights Resistance Machines
- Full ROM
- Higher stabilizing-muscle activation
- Can isolate muscle groups more easily
- Can generally move more weight
- No need for a spotter
Free Weights Resistance Machines
- Less beginner friendly
- Less safe – spotter recommended!
- Harder to work around an injury with
- Can be harder to isolate muscle groups
- Less ROM
- Less functional
- The machine has limited exercises
- Can be harder to burn calories
Ok, so we have a neat little table here, but what does it mean? With free weights, you are going to be using a greater amount of muscle in total, and your body isn’t forced into a single plane of motion, which means the strength gains you make will be far more functional.
With machines you can isolate the muscles better, keeping the tension on where you want it, rather than on the muscles that would otherwise support the movement, allowing you greater control of how you build muscle, so helps with aesthetics (how you look).
So on the face of it, it looks like its free weights for strength and function, and machines to look good, right? Well, it goes a little deeper than that.
While free weights are better for building total strength, they can also be limiting. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and often when we fail with these weights, it’s because of a smaller, weaker muscle.
For example, when performing a deadlift, it is often the forearms that tire far more quickly than the back, glutes or hamstrings.
This means we can use machines to train our stronger muscles harder than we could with only free weights, leading to greater gains!
And if like me, you want to look great on the beach this summer, free weights can help with that massively! By using a greater amount of muscle, your body produces more testosterone, which means you build more muscle! Plus, you burn more calories, making managing your bodyfat easier!
The only other real differences are costs and space. If you go to a commercial gym, one person doing the exercise you want to do can be a real pain if your using machines, however, the weights area can often be rammed full of big sweaty guys that leave you no space!
And if you are building your own gym, machines can take up more space, (unless you get a multi-gym!), and can also be more expensive, whereas with free weights, although taking up less space and being cheaper, you also have to take flooring and potential damage to anything nearby in to consideration.
At the start, I said I would guide you towards which is better for you. The real answer is, whichever you prefer doing, and are more likely to use and push yourself to get the work done on, should be your main priority. And if you also use the other to supplement your workout, then you will be charging forward to hitting your goals.
Fired up for a workout? Try this exercise today!
Or building your own gym? Check out our range of quality home gym equipment!