Free weights or Machines?

There’s really only one answer to this question when it comes to the choice of using free weights or machine weights, both are excellent so it`s really based on your personal preference, your physical fitness level, your fitness goals and your access to equipment.

People are different and have different needs, so no single piece of training equipment is best for everyone. Both free weights and machines can help you increase your strength. Other types of resistance, such as using resistance bands or body weight, also can help increase your strength.

Even nowadays with gyms seemingly everywhere, there are still some small towns that don’t have a gym within reasonable driving distance and free weights are not that expensive. Some of my best workouts happened when I didn’t have access to high-tech gyms, it wasn’t always like it is today with big name gyms everywhere. It’s surprising how creative and motivating you can get with a basic set of weights and dumbbells in the garage or bedroom.

So, both free weights and machines have their uses, let`s take a closer look at both options.

Free weights

Free weights, with their extreme versatility are the ultimate tool for both structural and functional goals.

For instance, if a bodybuilder is bench pressing and wishes to put on mass, a choice of reps in the 8-12 range would make a good choice. If one is also a football player who desires to put on some mass the bench press again is an excellent choice because it develops more real-life strength.

What is often called functional strength due to the need to stabilize and control the barbell in all three planes of motion, just like the athlete will need to do on the playing field.

However, if the football player decides to use all high-tech strength machines for his chest work, he may build some impressive pecs but will be lacking in the function department due to the lack of three-dimensional stability required in those exercises. Therefore, his structure would have improved but without a corresponding increase in his function.

Now let’s look at a scenario where a bodybuilder, who’s chest development has been stuck for some time. His workouts usually consist of free-weight only with some standing cable fly’s thrown in to finish off his chest workout.

If this person were to add some machine work at the end of his free-weight workout, he may be able to add some more volume and thus trigger some new growth. After his traditional free-weight workout, his shoulder stabilizers may be so fatigued that his chest is unable to get more work during his final sets.

However, by finishing off with some machine training he may be able to exhaust and stimulate more pec muscle fibers because the machine is taking some of the load off his rotator cuff. This is a scientific application for the use of machines.

For many exercises and goals, whether structural or functional, free-weights usually offer the most variety as well as total body stimulation because many muscles other than the prime movers (muscles responsible for moving the load) are stimulated as stabilizers.

Free weights are versatile and inexpensive. They also simulate real-life lifting situations and promote whole-body stabilization. Free weights are generally safe when used with the proper technique. But it may take some practice to get used to lifting with free weights, and it’s essential to use proper technique to avoid injury.

Weight machines

Weight machines take the guesswork out of good technique. Weightlifting machines are ergonomically designed to place your body in the optimal position and to promote proper range of motion. Working with dumbbells or barbells opens the door for poor technique, especially when lifting heavy, so that’s where weight machines have an advantage. Since weight-training machines are a nearly foolproof way to perform an exercise, they’re an ideal choice for beginners.

If you’ve ever seen someone drop a barbell on himself during a bench press or had a dumbbell slip to the floor, you realize the added dangers involved in lifting with free weights. Machines virtually eliminate these types of dangers and potential injuries. Because weight machines have a fixed range of motion, it’s nearly impossible to injure yourself because of poor form or technique. The guided motion offered by machines makes it a good choice for rehabbing muscle injuries.

Machines target specific muscle groups more effectively than free weights in many cases. This is again because machines promote optimal technique and range of motion. This is beneficial if you want to design a muscle-specific workout plan or if you need to rehab a particular muscle group. By exercising larger muscle groups – chest, legs, shoulders and back — using weightlifting machines, you get a more targeted and quicker workout.

Most weight machines use weight plates that you can adjust super easily by moving the pin to the desired weight. This makes it easy to quickly switch resistance levels, which is a must when doing super-sets or trying to dial in the optimal resistance level your first time using the machine. Weight increments vary depending upon the machine, but machines designed to work larger muscles groups, like quadriceps or chest, typically use 10-pound increments. Abdominal, tricep, bicep and other machines designed to exercise smaller muscles typically feature five-pound weight plate increments.

Machine weights also can be effective weight training tools, as long as you use machines that adjust to your body dimensions and allow your joints to move through their natural motion paths. Machine weights are generally safe when used with the proper technique. Many people can learn to use them quickly.


The bottom line is this; choose a weight training system that you enjoy and that fits into your lifestyle. Aim to do weight training exercises of all the major muscle groups at least two days a week, keeping at least one day between strength training sessions.

And whatever type of resistance you choose, remember that proper form and technique is more important than the specific type of equipment because should you injure yourself you might not be working out at all.

So. After reading this blog, what is your preference between free weights and machines and why?

Author: Nigel Taylor

I`m Nigel Taylor – originally from England – owner of The Backyard Gym in Round Rock Texas. We specialize in personal training, kickboxing cardio and self-defense. With over 25 years experience as a personal trainer, I know what works! From weight loss to bulking up to toning up, I can help you get your desired look and achieve your fitness goals. I can also offer you the privacy of a 100% private personal training studio in which to enjoy and get the most out of your workouts.