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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 most we can to always be ahead of the curve and to push our muscles to the limit. This influx of information on what the “best” it can be difficult to really know how to determine what the best is truly for you and your routine. Because of this, we’ve compiled all of the pros and cons of free weights and machine for you to be able 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 by any piece of gym equipment considered to be a “low tech apparatus.” Free weights mostly resemble their name as they are weights that can be freely moved anyway 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 be used to target very specific muscle groups because of their versatility. This is very important for any experienced body builder with a muscle specific exercise or training regimen.

Examples of Free Weight Exercises:

  • Dumbbell exercises: Dumbbells are hand weights that are meant to be held one in each hand and are made for strengthening the arms, shoulders, chest and even the 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 just like the name, weighted. They can be used to add greater strain during calisthenics. Exercises include- lunge, squat, 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 partial 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 at one time. 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 tradition of bench press exercises and turn it into a machine without the fuss of dealing with hard to grip barbells. Exercises 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 allow you to exercise more muscles. Exercises include: leg curls, bicep curls, triceps curls, and wrist curls.

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  • Extension machines: Extensions are hard exercises to pull off with free weights safely while keeping good form. Machines will enable you to safely execute the exercise. Exercises include: Leg extensions, and triceps extensions.
  • Machines are a good route for those who are looking to target several muscle groups at one time. They can also reach their maximum weight occupancy without the user requiring spotting or any assistance. This is a major bonus for the more individually minded body builder.

So Which is Better? Free Weights or Machines?

Unfortunately this isn’t any easy question to answer as there are no direct answers. The equipment you use is, or should be, entirely based upon your own 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. There is no other piece of equipment that can better test and train your muscles than simply using your own strength and power to lift massive amounts of weight. Lifting free weights provides a body builder with a completely targeted workout, meaning if your goal is to build up your arms alone, then you can that with free weights, unlike machines which are made to 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 have a tendency to tax the muscles more and wear down joints and cartilage if not lifted with perfect form at all times. This is because they aren’t made to transition as smoothly with your body as a machine.

The Argument for Machines: Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Machines are a great overall workout even for non-body builders because they offer such generalized exercise. Machine work was made to be felt all throughout the body and be more limited in its impact upon the body. Using machines is also shown to minimize the effects of over exhaustion by working such broad areas in a shorter amount of time.
  • Cons: The down side 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 true body builder cannot go without the strength training and muscle enhancements made from free weights. But while free weights have come out on top 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 not only build large muscle mass, but also create immeasurable strength.

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