Free Weights vs Weight Machines: Unlocking the Secret to Effective Strength Training
Weightlifting is one of the most effective ways to build strength, endurance and tone in your body. It’s also the cause of the most arguments around the water fountain in the fitness world. Lifting weights, at its core, is simple. You see the heavy thing, you pick up the heavy thing, and you get big muscles, right? Seems simple. But as our understanding of fitness has developed, so has the nuance with which we approach weightlifting.
Form has changed, best practices have changed and trends have developed and dissipated in gyms worldwide. One of the most critical developments in weightlifting has been the invention of weight machines. These use weighted plates to provide guided resistance for the fitness fanatic, leading form and targeting specific, isolated muscle groups. Most people have a preference for either free weights or machine weights, and heated discussion often ensues when the subject is broached. But which type IS better? The Trojan team took a deep dive into the benefits of each type to get to the bottom of it.
Understanding the differences between free weight and machine strength training
At a fundamental level, the difference between free weights and weight machines is the range of movement. In short, machines are fixed in place and only move in certain directions whereas free weights can be moved in any way the user chooses. This means that machine weights are usually focused on a specific muscle group, whereas free weights can be used with multiple muscle groups.
The free weights are the barbells and dumbbells in the gym, as well as bags, balls and other movable equipment. The machines are any resistance-based workout machines such as the leg press, assisted chin-up machine, lat pull-down and even the rowing machine. Free weights force you to use your “stabilizer” muscles in order to control the weight and keep it steady, whereas resistance machines can help you with the move by keeping you in place, allowing you to focus all your efforts on the muscle group you’re choosing to work.
The benefits of free weight training for beginners
Free weights are functional
Because using free weights necessitates moving through all planes of movement, their use mimics the way you move in everyday life. By building free weight strength, you’re making your body stronger for living, allowing you to perform daily activities with much more ease. Think carrying heavy boxes, climbing stairs or going on walks. Free weights strengthen the body as a whole, which makes everything physical outside of workouts a little easier.
Free weights are efficient
Because they’re not attached to anything, you can move your free weights however you please. This means you can perform dynamic workouts that work multiple muscle groups at a time. If you’re short on time, a free weights workout can train the major muscle groups you’re working on in just one set of reps. There’s also the question of balance. Because your body has to work to support the weight and control the movement, your larger muscles, stabiliser muscles, and core all work together to control your movements.
Free weights burn significant calories
Due to the fact that you have to consistently engage your core to use free weights effectively, you’re always passively burning calories during a workout, which is great news if one of your goals is losing weight. Free weights also allow you to perform compound movements that work your entire body at once, which can turn a resistance workout into a cardio workout, too. Free weights are great for consistent fat loss if you’re not so big into the whole “cardio” thing.
Free weights are totally scalable
When you use free weights, the sky is the limit! Because you can just choose to add more plates or pick up larger equipment, you won’t hit a “limit” with how heavy you can lift. You can keep adding to your lifts as long as you stay safe and do so gradually, which means your potential here is infinite! If you’re looking to really push that potential, then the best way to do so is by using free weight lifting as a testing ground. Be sure to increase your lift gradually and safely, though!
Free weights are super convenient
Though they may be heavy, free weights are also relatively compact. Your whole gym setup can be stashed away in a cupboard, which is ideal if you want a home gym but you have limited space to store it in. Most free weight setups are also modular, which means they’re easily portable and can be taken on the go with you; an exciting prospect if you’re someone who moves around a lot or likes to keep fit while travelling. Your weight set can fit perfectly in the boot of your car!
Benefits of machine strength training for beginners
Machine weights control your path of motion
Because exercise machines control the path of motion and place the greatest amount of force where a muscle is the strongest, using them can be a safe way to reach your “mechanical overload.” Your “mechanical overload” is the amount of resistance placed on a muscle that’s necessary to grow it by forming small tears in the muscle fibre that heal to create strength. By guiding your movement, machines let you form these significant micro tears but prevent you from really hurting yourself, especially when you’re just starting out.
Machine weights focus on the part of the muscle that builds strength
Whereas free weights engage groups of muscles, machine weights often focus on specific parts of individual muscles. Every muscle in the body has an “elastic” component that’s responsible for providing shape and transmitting forces from one section of muscle to another, and a “contractile” component that’s responsible for controlling muscle contractions. When you want to get stronger and bigger, you should be focusing your efforts specifically on that “contractile” component. Many weight machines are specially designed to work this part of the muscle, maximising your workout gains.
Circuit training on weight machines is time efficient
Circuit training requires transitioning from one exercise to another with a minimal amount of rest in between. This specific type of weightlifting keeps your body warm and encourages muscle growth by keeping your heart pumping. This assists with the release of beneficial chemicals and hormones that come from exercise flowing through your body during a workout that builds your capacity for gains. By hopping from machine to machine, you can get quick, targeted and effective full-body weightlifting workouts.
Machines allow you to focus on specific muscle groups for aesthetics
Though there are a multitude of benefits to weightlifting, including more energy and better mental health, a significant reason why many people exercise is for the way it makes them look! When you do isolation training using weight machines, you can really focus your efforts on the specific muscles you want to change the appearance of. Say you want to have defined abs, or you want to enhance your glutes – weight machines will allow you to expend your efforts on those specifically, while not wasting energy on muscle groups you’re not interested in defining.
Machine weightlifting can be safer for beginners
Though free weights are totally safe if executed correctly, one needs to understand one’s own capacity as well as correct form and injury prevention to make sure you’re secure in your workout. With weight machines, total beginners just need to follow the instructions printed on the machine and the failsafe these machines are equipped with will likely keep you from hurting yourself. If you haven’t yet developed a base level of strength or basic movement skills (don’t worry, they’ll come), using free weight equipment could increase the risk of injury. Machine weights mitigate this factor.
Finding the right balance? It’s by combining free weight and machine strength training!
It turns out both types of weight training have significant benefits! Choosing between free weights and machines for strength training isn’t necessary, because here at Trojan, we believe you’ll see the greatest progress if you choose to incorporate both into your workout plan. The functional scalability of free weights training perfectly complements the isolation and safety benefits you get from machines. So it’s going to help you reach your goals if you make both of these practices part of your routine.
Thankfully, you can do this from within the comfort of your own home! Trojan Health and Fitness stocks an exciting range of free weights, perfectly suited for every strength level, and our home gyms are the ultimate versatile weight machines to help you bring the power. To reach your full weightlifting potential, shop our range of high-quality yet affordable products at a Game or Makro
outlet near you!