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Free Weights vs Machines: What’s The Difference?



Free Weights vs Machines

Bodybuilding has long been about finding the best exercise routines, plans, diets, and more. As bodybuilders, we strive to do the best we can always to be ahead of the curve and push our muscles to the limit; with this influx of information on what the “best,” it can be challenging to know how to determine what the best is genuinely for you and your routine. Because of this, we’ve compiled all of the pros and cons of free weights and machines for you to have the best workout possible.

The Differences Between Free Weights and Machines

Differences Between Free Weights and Machines

Before we can establish the differences between the two sectors of exercise equipment, we first have to define what exactly they are:

  • Free Weights: Free weights can be classified as any piece of gym equipment considered a “low-tech apparatus.” Free weights mostly resemble their name as they are weights that can be freely moved any way the user so chooses. Some examples of these include but aren’t limited to: barbells, dumbbells, ankle weights, medicine or weighted balls, and pulley system lifts.
  • Free weights are great for bodybuilders because they allow a bodybuilder to add or subtract as much weight as required. They can also target particular muscle groups because of their versatility. This is important for any experienced bodybuilder with a muscle-specific exercise or training regimen. Beginners can also do free weights to build stamina and power from the beginning.

Examples of Free Weight Exercises:

  • Dumbbell exercises: Dumbbells are hand weights that are meant to be held in each hand and are made to strengthen the arms, shoulders, chest, and even neck. Exercises include- biceps curl, hammer curl, front raise, and shoulder press.

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  • Barbell exercises: Barbells are long metal poles that can be weighted at each end with weighted plates for lifts and presses to strengthen the arms, shoulders, chest, and back. Exercises include- bench press, military press, barbell biceps curl, triceps extension, and barbell good morning.
  • Weighted ball exercises: Weighted balls are typically a little larger than a basketball and are, like the name, weighted. They can be used to add more significant strain during calisthenics. Exercises include- lunges, squats, push-ups, extensions, and presses.
  •  Machines: Exercise machines are what we most typically associate with mass-market gyms. Mass market gyms love them for their clients because machines can produce a part to whole body workout with just one piece of equipment. This type of fitness equipment can give a generalized workout, which means it can two-dimensionally exercise many muscles simultaneously. Machines are referred to as two-dimensional because they can usually only be moved in two ways to be pushed or pulled.

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Examples of Machine Exercises:

  • Press machines: Press machines take all the traditional bench press exercises and turn them into devices. That is without the fuss of dealing with hard-to-grip barbells. Activities include- leg press, calf press, and chest press.
  • Curl machines: Curl machines allow you to do all the same conventions of regular free-weight curl exercises. But they will enable you to exercise more muscles. Activities include leg curls, bicep curls, triceps curls, and wrist curls.

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  • Extension machines: Extensions are challenging exercises to pull off with free weights safely while keeping good form. Devices will enable you to execute the workout safely. Activities include Leg extensions and triceps extensions.
  • Machines are a good route for targeting several muscle groups at once. They can also reach their maximum weight occupancy without the user requiring spotting or any assistance. This is a significant bonus for the more individually-minded bodybuilder.

So Which is Better? Free Weights or Machines?

Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy question to answer as there are no direct answers. The equipment you use is, or should be, entirely based on your personal preference and the goals you’re trying to achieve in the weight room on any given day.

The Argument for Free Weights: Pros and Cons

  • Pros: The ultimate argument for free weights is their versatility. No other piece of equipment can better test and train your muscles than simply using your strength and power to lift massive amounts of weight. Lifting free weights provides a bodybuilder with an altogether targeted workout, meaning if your goal is to build up your arms alone, then you can do that with free weights, unlike machines that stimulate more muscle groups.

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  • Cons: Because free weights are so targeted, they can often take a lot of time out of your routine as you’ll need to make sure you have lift time dedicated to each specific muscle group. Free weights also tax the muscles more and wear down joints and cartilage if not lifted with perfect form. This is because they aren’t made to transition smoothly with your body like a machine.

The Argument for Machines: Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Machines are a great overall workout, even for non-bodybuilders, because they offer such generalized exercise. Machine work was made to be felt throughout the body and be more limited in its impact on the body. Using machines is also shown to minimize the effects of over-exhaustion by working in such broad areas in a shorter time.
  • Cons: The downside with this more efficient workout is that even though machine exercise produces big muscles similarly to free weight exercises, it does not mean the muscle strength is created equally. Machines more evenly distribute their weight, meaning the individual muscles don’t become as strong as they would with a more targeted workout.

The Final Verdict:

A proper bodybuilder cannot go without strength training and muscle enhancements from free weights. But while free weights have come out on top. But this doesn’t mean you should ignore the benefits of machine exercise in your routine. A balanced workout with plenty of targeted free weight work topped off by generalized machine work will build significant muscle mass and create immeasurable strength.

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