Both free weights and machine weight have their uses when training specific muscle groups. I find that doing squats with machine weights allows me to train with heavier weights . . . . targeting the quads and calves. However when training chest I prefer to use free weights since this allows for a free range of motion and to fully incorporate my upper body.

When training my back I use a combination of free weights and machine weights. For example, I use a seated lat pull machine and dumbbells to exercise upper and lower back muscles.

The following article explains further the benefits and drawbacks of using of machine vs. free weights.

How to Maximize Your Workout: Free Weights vs. Strength Machines

How to Maximize Your Workout: Free Weights vs. Strength Machines

photo: Getty Images

By K. Aleisha Fetters

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: There’s not going to be any “one method is better 100 percent of the time” here. Both free weights and resistance machines can help you build strength, size, and generally get fit.

They do, however, each have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. That’s because free weights move freely forward and backward, side to side, and up and down, explains exercise scientist, Ed Hulit, CSCS, project manager at Technogym, which designs and produces top-of-the-line free-weights and machines. That’s all three dimensions, my friends. Weight machines, however, are fixed to an axis, meaning their weights can only move in a specified way—generally in only two planes. Sometimes just one.

See More: 5 Exercise Machines You Should Never Use at the Gym

It’s important to make that clear, not only because it affects how the muscles train and grow, but because some machines are not fixed and, by and large, actually belong in the free-weight camp, he notes. For instance, cable systems look like machines, but grab ahold of one and you can move its weight wherever you want. There’s no track pre-determining your motion. Machines, however, are only going to let you move that bar up and down. There’s nowhere else to go.

So, with that in mind, take a gander at the strengths and weaknesses of free-moving and fixed exercises:

They Train Several Muscles at Once
“You can’t go wrong with using multi-joint compound movements that can only be done with free weights,” says strength coach Chase Karnes, CSCS, NSCA-CPT. “They recruit more muscle mass than using machines since you not only are moving the weight, but are required to stabilize it. So when you’re squatting, not only are your quads and hamstrings working, but so are your calves, glutes, spinal erectors, abdominals, and lats. In comparison, on the leg press you’re only recruiting your quads and hamstrings.”

They’re Functional 
As of late, “functional fitness” has become something of a buzz-term—and for good reason. Movements that train your body using its natural biomechanics can actually help your performance outside the weight room, whether you’re sprinting to a bus or trying to lift a definitely overweight bag into a plane’s overhead compartment. Your body is trained and develops strength in movement patterns it was designed to perform, Hulit says. In daily life, you rarely, if ever, perform a movement that doesn’t hit all three planes.

They Require Awesome Form
When you grab a barbell, you really need to know what you’re doing, as improper form can lead to anything from so-so results to injury, Hulit notes.

See More: 7 Easy Ways to Boost Your Metabolism

They Isolate Specific Muscles 
When you’re trying to train the most muscles in the least amount of time, or just build all-over strength, this is a huge con. But sometimes, you do really want to hone in on a specific muscle. “For instance, when you are pushing the handles away from you on a chest press machine, you are only going to move in one direction, which isolates the pectorals and makes them grow more dramatically,” Hulit says. However, even if you aren’t looking to make a certain muscle pop out like never before, isolating muscles can also come in handy if you suffer from any muscle imbalance and you need to shore up said muscle’s strength, he says.

They Let You Lift More Weight 
Pound per pound, weight machines tend to be easier than free weights because you are moving only in one direction and don’t have to work to keep the weight from falling to one side or the other. That means you can move more weight on a biceps-curl machine than you could if you were wielding dumbbells. The more weight your biceps moves, the more it will grow.

They Don’t Always Provide The Right Fit
They have a reputation for taking the guesswork out of exercise, but if you don’t understand how to adjust a machine properly and don’t take the time to move any pegs in all of the right places, you could still be using poor form, Karnes says. More machines, however, are making moves to make proper form easier. For instance, on many of its machines, Technogym includes QR codes that can be scanned with your phone to show proper form. Meanwhile, all adjustments can be made while you’re on the machine, so you don’t have to keep hopping on and off in order to find the right fit for you.

In the end, for overall strength and conditioning, free-weight exercises—especially those that use compound movements—should be the bedrock of any strength-training plan. Still, machines can be great tools for helping you focus on and develop certain muscles (granted you use them properly).

For example, to get the most from the weight room, Carnes recommends starting your workouts with one or more multi-joint compound movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. Then, you can use a few carefully selected machines to strengthen any weak spots and craft the physique you want.

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P.S.  Before using any machines, you will need to seek the help of a trainer who can demonstrate proper form and technique to get the most out of the exercise.

P.P.S.  Visit How to Prevent Pre-diabetes where you will find proper exercise methods fully explained.

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One Response to How to Maximize Your Workout: Free Weights vs. Strength Machines

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