Free Weights vs. Machines

Have you ever wondered which is better- free weights or machines? While both have their benefits, there are some major differences between the two. Both have benefits, and obviously, if you don’t have access to free weights, machines are just fine, and it’s not a question of what’s “right” or “wrong”. However, we tend to lean towards free weights, and here’s why. 

Free weights work more muscles. Ever wonder why you can lift heavier on a machine than you can when you perform the same movement with a barbell or dumbbell? Machines use a track to guide the weight for you, which means you don’t have to engage other parts of your body to stabilize the weight. However, when you use free weights, the rest of your body has to support the movement. When you do a shoulder press with free weights, for example, your core, traps, and triceps are engaged to support the weight, not just your shoulders. So even if you lift “less,” lifting with free weights is way more efficient. In less time spent in the gym, you can work more muscles, even the smaller stabilizing muscles you might not even know exist. So even though you might feel stronger when you use machines due to your ability to add more weight, you get way more bang for your buck (and end up working muscles you wouldn’t commonly condition) when using free weights!

Free weights give you more options. Think about all the complex movements you can do with a single kettlebell. With one kettlebell, you can do weighted squats, single-arm overhead presses, kettlebell swings, single-arm kettlebell rows, suitcase carries, windmills, halos, and the list goes on. You can do a total body workout with one small piece of equipment. You would need a gym full of machines to accomplish the same full-body workout! Using a combination of different free weights also makes it a lot easier to incorporate HIIT training and other exercises that keep your heart rate up as you switch quickly between movements because you can have everything you need right by you the whole time! 

Free weight training translates better to day-to-day activities. When moving objects around in your daily life, you are much more likely to move in a way that uses stabilizing muscles. Balance has a lot to do with stabilizing muscles too. That’s a part of functional fitness! Plus, because you are taught to monitor your form carefully when using free weights, you are more likely to be aware of how you move outside the gym. This reduces your risk of injury! 

Are there any benefits to machines? Even though we personally prefer free weights, yes, machines have their own benefits, especially for beginners who don’t have anyone to teach them as they learn how to lift. Since machines guide your movements, if you don’t know what you are doing, you are less likely to have sloppy form, which results in injury (although you can incorrectly use machines and end up in the same boat; it’s just less likely than using free weights if you aren’t aware of your form). Some people also use machines to target specific muscle groups, which can be beneficial!

At the end of the day, it’s really about preference and what you are trying to achieve. We like the versatility, efficiency, and functionality that come with using free weights, but we can also understand why some people prefer to use machines! What matters most is that you are out there exercising, no matter how you choose to do it!