This is probably one of the oldest debates in the fitness industry that has been going on for, literally, years and years to come – machines or free weights are the best way to go?
There are professionals that will tell you that free weights is the true path to growth and at the same time other professionals claim that machines allow you to grow and develop your body’s aesthetics far better.
And the worst part is that the more you try to read about it on various websites, blogs and forums the more confusing and frustrating it gets over time. This applies for both beginners and intermediates who have just recently tasted the taste of the tasty, tasty sundae that is the fitness industry.
The problem here is that this topic should not be a subject of subjectivity but rather of utter objectivity. Obviously, people are free to express their own opinions, but if doing so there needs to be something tangible that will help them back up their acquisitions, right? Especially when the subject matter is of such importance that it may alter the understanding of thousands of innocent beginners.
One of the biggest issues with all of this is that these individuals not just claim that either one of those methods is the best one but they also shun the other – for example, “Free weights are much better, don’t do machines!”, or “Machines are for lazy people and will not help you grow or lose fat like free weights will”.
The truth of the matter is that both methodologies need to be integrated in any individual who seeks to improve muscle growth and definition’s workout program. Both have advantages and disadvantages and in today’s article we are going to do exactly that, uncover the the differences and benefits of both training methods.
The free weight resistance training method is without doubt full with a whole bunch of benefits that will help your body experience insane growth of muscle mass.
The name alone pretty much explains the methodology by itself – the use of free, or unattached/uncontrolled weights that allow for more freedom when controlling the weight.
This brings me to the first main advantage of free weights – freedom. With free weights there is a virtually endless range of options when it comes to exercises that you can incorporate in your workout program that allow you to hit every muscle in a specific way that you have never hit before.
It can go further than that and you can even make variations of one exercise that initially would have targeted the muscle from only one angle. You can see and experience this for yourselves – the dumbbell biceps curls, dumbbell biceps curls with supination, hammer curls, reverse dumbbell biceps curls, and so on.
Furthermore, the beneficial freedom that comes with free weights in a way allows you to experiment and be creative both inside and outside of the gym and discover newer, perhaps even, better methods of activating specific muscle groups in ways that others have not yet thought of.
Interestingly this advantage also comes with a disadvantage. The amount of freedom that you are exposed when training with free weights increases your chances of an injury. A lot of people get carried away and increase the weight to the point where it exceeds their strengths threshold and end up with a thorn ligament, hurt wrist, or even a thorn muscle fiber.
And we have all seen those weird guys and girls at the gym doing bizarre exercises at the gym that, quite honestly don’t make sense that will only help you get an injury rather than anything else. Like the dude on the right hand photo.
Free weights also make it much harder to control your form and make sure that you maintain proper control of the weights without injuring yourself.
In the world of fitness, an injury is considered to be a scary fable and a word that we never mention within the gym otherwise it may actually happen to you! Or at least that’s what the legends claim.
Seriously, though, an injury only means staying away from the weights for long periods of time. The longer you do not train the more your muscles will wither away and the more body fat will accumulate over time.
The second most noticeable advantage is full range of motion (ROM). Full ROM is a fundamental beneficial element to free weight training as it allows for proper concentric (exposing a muscle to a load while shortening its length – flexing the muscle) and eccentric muscle contraction (exposing a muscle to a load while increasing its length) to be achieved.
The latter, eccentric muscle contraction, is considered to be the biggest driver to muscle growth and development by athletes and scientists alike.
However, similarly to freedom, this comes with many disadvantages.
One disadvantage is the lack of good form. People forget that when trying to achieve a full ROM you must make sure that you are maintaining proper form throughout the execution of the specific exercise. If such form is not maintained then you are just elevating your chances of injury, which, as discussed above is something that you would want to avoid!
Another disadvantage is inability to use the weight properly. A lot of people end to overdo their range of motion and they forget that their muscle, and their targeted muscle alone, must be under constant tensions when performing a specific exercise. What a lot of people tend to do is rest the weight as they “achieve a full range of motion”.
For example, extending to a full their elbows when doing the bench press (taking away stress from the triceps and chest and placing it on the elbow joint) elevating the bar way too high when doing barbell biceps curls (taking away strain from the biceps and placing it on their shoulders), or when doing squats they would go too low allowing for their quads and hammies to rest during the exercise.
The longer your muscles are under stress, the better the results.And the third and final benefit of free weights is crude power. The best and only way to build crude power and strength is trough free weight exercises. This will not only benefit your overall growth but will also assist in the execution of complimentary exercises. For example, parallel pull-ups really improve your pulling strength which as a consequence helps improve your performance during biceps related exercises such as biceps curls, hammer curls, barbell curls, etc.
Furthermore, exercises such as deadlifts, thrusters, kattlebell swings, etc are basically a conjunction of the two beneficial elements – crude power and freedom – that will assist you with your overall aesthetic growth by improving 1) your metabolic rate (simply enough, more muscles being worked means that more muscle will need a flow of energy/calories in order for their proper recuperation) and 2) your testosterone levels.
Obviously, by the looks of it free weights are an essential element to anyone hoping to achieve great results. This, however, does not mean that machines need to be neglected.
One of the major con of free weight exercising, as you can probably tell, is the high risk of injury. This brings me to the first benefit of machines safety. A lot of people seem to forget about how important it is to be safe, especially in the gym.
Like I mentioned previously, an injury, even the smallest one, means that you will be inactive for a fair amount of time through which your body will catabolize itself, logically, considering that you do not use those muscle, why would your body want to maintain something that just gobbles up energy and requires more food. That’s the same as buying 10,000V lamp, hypothetically, putting it in a closed room that you don’t even visit or use and letting the lamp run every single day.
Machines guarantee safety as they allow us to exercise specific muscle groups without facing the dangers of injury.
This, however, comes with a con as it decreases our freedom greatly.
Machines are rigid, not flexible, they allow us to workout one muscle group and one muscle group only, unless you are one of those dudes or gals at the gym that love to experiment and use every single gym equipment in a manner for which they are not meant to be used and ironically end up injuring yourself.
Technically speaking, your range of exercises is limited from the range of machines that can be used, that is if you only rely on machines to exercise in the first place.
Another benefit worth mentioning is the fact that with machines you can workout with heavy weights and with no assistance being necessary. This comes in handy for all of us lonely wolfs, self included, that love going to the gym, undisturbed, with headphones in, and just working out.
Furthermore, machines assist inexperienced people greatly as it fixates their form and ensures that they do not cause any injury to themselves, or those around them, I’m looking at you Graham. Also, they are easy to use and understand as there is literally a little guiding sticker that tells you which muscle groups that specific machine activates and what is the proper execution of the exercise that the machine imitates.
In this case scenario, machines can be looked upon as the helping wheels our parents used to attach at the back of our bicycles. Similarly, as soon as you start understanding the concept of the mimicked exercise by the machinery and build up the necessary strength, you can remove the helping wheels and start doing the same exercise without the fixated assistance of the machine guiding you.
Machines can also be very useful for the elderly and for people who are trying to rehabilitate.
But probably the most noticeable element for which machine workouts are known for is their ability to properly isolate a specific muscle group. This, again, can come in handy for newbies who do not grasp the execution of specific exercises and require some bonus help from machines.
However, this does not mean that the use of machines is limited to just inexperienced, injured or cowardly individuals. The isolation of the muscle group works really well as it also helps fitness experts work on balancing out their muscles or working on their weaker muscle groups more concentratedly.
It’s not just rainbows and butterflies when it comes to machines, though, as one of the most noticeable cons when using machine excising is that it does not help you workout out your physique evenly as it leaves out smaller muscle stabilizing muscles out of the main picture.
Free weights are perfect for this as all muscles growth and develop respectively to your other muscles, which results in an aesthetically pleasing physique as there is, almost, perfect symmetry involved. Everything falls in place, as if by magic.
There is no need to debate which form of workout is the best one when they are both equally important and both carry an equal set of positive and negative elements to your workout program.
Obviously, free weights are fundamental, and MUST be in practically every single person’s workout program, as they help you sculpt your foundation and build crude strength and power. This does not mean, however, that machines can be neglected and considered to be completely redundant.