Free Weights vs. Machines

by Anton Maartens

Should you do your strength workouts using free weights or machines or both? This is probably the question that is most often asked in the world of fitness.

Many articles have been written about the topic and it continues to be controversial issue among fitness enthusiasts and experts alike. Some believe that free weights are superior to machines, while others will bet their bottom dollar that training on a machine is the only way to go!

Actually, I don't see what all the fuss is about. The fact is that both free weights and machines have a lot to offer, but each also has its disadvantages. I believe any strength training workout should include exercises using both machines and free weights.

Machines isolate the target muscles much better and are safer to use when you want to experiment with new or different techniques. Futhermore a machine provides your with much better control and stability and requires less co-ordination and skill. It also saves a lot of time, because you don't have to go around stacking plates and carrying dumbbells all the time.

The disadvantage of using machines is that they do not offer you much variety and can become boring after a while. Another problem is that machines are often designed for the average person, and may be uncomfortable to use for a very tall or very short person.

Free weights, on the other hand, allow you to use your body in a more 'natural' way, simulating real-life movements more accurately. It encourages you to employ your stabilizer muscles properly and to use correct body alignment. Free weights also offer you much more variety and can be used in lots of different ways to target different muscle groups.

Free weight exercises are normally suitable for most exercisers, but often beginners need a lot of guidance to ensure they are using proper form and technique. People who do not have the necessary skills may develop serious injuries by training incorrectly. Training with free weights is also a very time-consuming process.

As you can see there is no reason to exclude free weight or machines. Both have a place in any strength workout, depending on your goals, fitness level, skill and time constraints. To put it simply, a chef does not debate whether pots are better than pans. He uses both in his cooking. To him it is more important that the end result is a success. Maybe the fitness industry should start thinking the same way.

Note that free weight and machines are not the only option you have when doing strength training. Using your own, natural body weight can be just as effective in resistance exercise. In fact, those traditional, 'old-fashioned' push-ups, pull-up, dips and sit-ups remain some of the best strength exercises one can do. You don't need expensive, state-of-the-art gym equipment to get results!

© FitnessZone International 2000. All rights reserved.