06 Oct 2016

Discover the Difference Between Machines and Free Weights

Fitness and workout advice

If you’re looking to tone, bulk or just improve your strength, weights are the way to go. But the topic of machines and free weights is still hotly debated – which works best?

The main difference between machines and free weights is your movement dimensions.

When using machines, you are fixed to an axis that moves in one or two planes. By using only machines, you’re limited to targeting selected muscle groups, which could lead to a lack of functional fitness.

When using free weights, you have the freedom to move forward, backwards, horizontally and vertically.  This three dimensional movement is natural for the body, and ends up engaging more of your muscles due to having to manually stabilise your weight.

Machines

For those new to strength training, or not confident enough to hit up the weights room, machines are often the first port of call. Easier to learn and easier to stabilise your body weight and spine, self-contained machines are extremely supportive. Padded seats, back rests and handles on a fixed path means you are free to work out in comfort without a spotter.

Resistance machines allow you to focus on effort, rather than the mechanics of the movement. By targeting one or two muscle groups at a time, muscle isolation means being able to strengthen a specific part of your body just got a whole lot easier. 

Generally, machines also ensure the correct body movement for lifting, which means your form won’t slip when muscle fatigue sets in.

Free Weights

Dumbbells, barbells, ankle weights and medicine balls – whatever your choice, free-weights are an extremely versatile tool in strength training, and may be more effective in producing muscular strength than machines.  

Thanks to multi-joint compound movements, free weights can train several muscles at once. Recruiting more muscle mass than machines, these exclusive free weight exercises require you to stabilise your weight, rather than relying on machines to balance it for you.

Mimicking your body’s natural movement, free weights are versatile, inexpensive and portable, leaving you to undertake a wide variety of exercises with a simple set of weights – anywhere, and anytime.

The verdict

While machines can give you a great foundation for strength training, you can’t beat free weights for a better all-round workout.

Keep in mind:

  • If you’re in a hurry, stick with machines.

  • If you’re nursing an injury, stick with machines.

  • When working out at home, stick with free weights.

  • To get the most out of each workout, stick with free weights.

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