Are Free Weights Better Than Machines? Let’s Find Out!


Our Summary and Answer:


Both methods of training have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. The decision ultimately depends on your personal preference since both free weights and weight machines have their benefits.


You can combine both methods in your workout routine too! For example, you can use a bench press for working out your chest muscles while using the curl machine to isolate your biceps.


If you’ve ever been to a gym, you know there are two kinds of equipment: free weights and machines. Free weights include dumbbells and barbells, which can be used with or without weight plates attached.


On the other hand, machines work for only one muscle group at a time and require that each exercise be performed in a fixed plane of motion.


But which one is better for you? The answer might surprise you! So, keep reading this blog post to determine if machines or free weights are better for you.


What Are Free Weights?

Free weights are tools that can be used with bodyweight training and weightlifting exercises. This includes barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, resistance bands, and more.


When doing free weights, you must balance the weight yourself, so you don’t need a machine to perform exercises. In other words, free weights require that each exercise be done in a fixed plane of motion.


An example would be the bicep curl exercise. You use a barbell or dumbbell to perform the bicep curl by lifting the weight up and down from your thigh to shoulder height.


Free weights can be used for compound exercises as well as isolation exercises. Compound exercises work for multiple muscle groups at once, whereas isolation exercises target only one muscle group at a time.


What Are Weight Machines?

Weight machines are machines that provide a guided path of motion for the user. This means you usually won’t have to balance yourself while using a weight machine, making it easier to perform exercises.


When doing weight machines, you don’t need a spotter to perform the exercise safely. However, weight machines do not work for compound exercises necessarily and can only target one muscle group at a time.


An example would be the leg press machine. You can use this exercise by sitting on a bench and pushing a weighted platform away from you until your legs are fully extended.


Benefits of Free Weights

Now that you know what free weights and weight machines are, let’s talk about the benefits of free weights:


#1 - Free weights build muscle endurance and stability

Free weights are beneficial for building muscle mass, which can help you to burn more calories throughout the day.


Using free weights during your workouts builds up arm muscles and leg muscles, making it great for burning calories. Free weights also help you maintain stability since each exercise is performed in a fixed plane of motion.


#2 - Free weights work for multiple muscle groups at once

Free weights can be used for compound exercises, which means you can target multiple muscle groups simultaneously, such as your abs and lower back muscles.


For example, you perform an exercise such as a deadlift or squat with free weights that target many muscle groups at once, including your back and legs. These exercises provide a great way to work out your entire body at once and burn more calories than isolation exercises.


#3 - Free weights require a lot of stabilizing muscles

One problem with machines is that it doesn’t allow you to build up muscle mass or improve stability. This means exercises on a machine won’t challenge your core and stabilize muscles the same way free weights will.


Working out with free weights helps you build strength in your stabilizing muscles since your body has to balance itself while exercising.


#4 - Free weights are beneficial for developing coordination

Free weights can be used for compound exercises, which target many muscle groups at once. Doing an exercise that involves more than one joint movement will require you to coordinate your whole body together while stabilizing each joint.


For example, performing a lunge with free weights requires using both your upper and lower body in coordination with each other. This increases your coordination while building up your stabilizing muscles, which is beneficial for preventing injury in the future.


Benefits of Machines

Now that you know how free weights are different from machines, let’s talk about the benefits of weight machines:


#1 - Weight machines are beneficial for exercising large muscle groups

Weight machines target one muscle group at a time, which means you can focus on your biceps or your chest muscles. However, exercise machines don’t provide you with a way to build up strength in many stabilizing muscles while performing an exercise.


For this reason, some people prefer to use machines for exercising large muscle groups since it provides a more guided path of motion.


#2 - Weight machines can be used for isolation exercises too

Isolation exercises involve the movement of one joint and only target one muscle group.


Some weight machines can be adjusted to make it easier or harder for you to perform an exercise. This allows you to include more stabilizing muscles when using a machine, making it beneficial for beginner lifters since you can rely more on the machine.


#3 - Weight machines help learn new exercises

If you’re starting, weight machines are great for learning how to perform an exercise correctly.


All of the movement is already preset, so all you have to focus on is stabilizing your body while performing an exercise. The fact that you can follow the machine’s resistance makes it beneficial for beginners to learn proper form right away.


#4 - Weight machines target specific muscle groups more than compound exercises

If you prefer to work out one muscle at a time, then weight machines can be great for that. Free weights are used for compound exercises that involve the use of multiple muscle groups at once.


For example, weight machines can be beneficial for working out your chest and arms simultaneously since it targets these muscle groups one at a time.


#5 - Weight machines are beneficial for beginners

If you’re beginning, weight machines can be beneficial for learning the proper form of an exercise before transitioning to free weights.


Weight machines help you perform an exercise with more guidance since they force you to move in a specific motion path. Machines also allow you to easily adjust the resistance and make it harder or easier to perform the exercise.


This means that if you’re new to working out, weight machines can be more beneficial than free weights since they will allow you to move at your own pace without worrying about learning too much. In addition, this will enable beginners to grow into their workout routine one step at a time.


5 Drawbacks of Using Free Weights

Now that you know the benefits of free weight and weight machines, let’s talk about the cons of using free weights:


#1 - More Prone to Injury

Compared to weight machines, free weights are more prone to injury. This is because free weights involve the use of multiple muscle groups that need to be stabilized together.


This means that you’re more likely to injure yourself when using free weights because there’s no guided path of motion to follow. As a result, if you lose coordination, you can efficiently perform an exercise incorrectly and risk injury.


#2 - More Difficult to Perform Exercises

Some people find it more challenging to perform an exercise with free weights.


Since weight machines have a guided track of motion, you can easily follow the machine’s resistance without thinking about how you should move your body. Since free weights are not guided, some people feel discouraged when there’s no support or resistance to help them.


#3 - More Difficult to Adjust resistance

If you’re performing an exercise, you’ll need the machine to give you resistance to make it harder.


However, free weights are more challenging to adjust since you’ll need to put more weight on the barbell or dumbbells. In addition, some free weights can be harder to hold due to their size and shape.


#4 - Can Require a Higher Skill Level

If you’re starting, free weights can be more challenging to use. This is because free weights require you to stabilize your body and its resistance when performing an exercise. However, since most machines already come with preset motion paths for you, it’s easier to follow than having to move your entire body in coordination.


#5 - Not the Best for Isolation Exercises

Free weights are often used in compound exercises that involve multiple muscle groups. For example, they can be beneficial for doing squats or bench presses since it consists of various muscles in your body.


However, free weights are not as beneficial when performing isolation exercises that focus on one specific muscle group at a time.


5 Drawbacks of Weight Machines

Now let’s go over the drawbacks of using weight machines:


#1 - Machines Limit You from Adding Resistance

When performing an exercise with a machine, you can only go at the machine’s resistance level given to you. However, if you feel like you can do more, it becomes difficult.


Since machines are separated into sections that locks in specific muscle groups, there’s no way to add resistance other than putting weight on the machine itself.


#2 - Machines Can Be Uncomfortable

Weight machines can be more uncomfortable compared to free weights. If you think about it, most weight machines are designed for a specific body type and size. In addition, the seat might not be comfortable with some people, which could affect their posture while working out.


#3 - Can Lead to Muscle Imbalances

Machines can limit your muscle development and make it harder to strengthen specific muscles. In addition, since the track of motion is guided and you aren’t performing an exercise in a free-weight environment, your muscles might become imbalanced compared to other parts of your body.


This means that you can end up with soreness or discomfort in your shoulder if you’re doing too many chest exercises using machines.


#4 - Can Become Boring

Since it’s less engaging, you might find that your workout becomes boring. This is because machines are the same each time you use them since they don’t require any adjustments or resistance changes. 


#5 - Machines May Not Challenge You

Since machines can come preset with general muscle group exercises, you might find that your muscles don’t become challenged. This means that free weights will be more beneficial since they make you think about how you should move and adjust the resistance for each exercise.


Top 10 Tips When Doing Free Weights and Machines

Now that we’ve added the pros and cons of both free weights and weight machines, you should consider these tips:


#1 - Free Weights Can Increase Joint Stability

Free weights can increase your joint stability when performing an exercise since you’re not working with preset motion paths. However, this means that the muscles in your body will need to contract and work harder to control the weight while managing its resistance.


#2 - Machines Could Be Beneficial for Newbies

If you’re new to strength training, you might find that machines are more beneficial compared to free weights. This is because most beginners don’t have the coordination for doing complex exercises using free weight.


#3 - Machines May Be Useful for Exercise Variety

If you’re looking to add more variety to your workout, machines can be helpful. This is because each machine targets specific muscle groups and allows you to perform a wide range of exercises without ending up too tired.


#4 - Free Weights Can Increase Strength Gains

When performing an exercise with free weights, you can increase your strength gains since there’s no preset resistance path to follow.


#5 - Free Weights Can Challenge Your Muscles

If you want to challenge your muscles, free weights are beneficial. This is because each exercise requires the same full range of motion, which means you’ll have to work harder if you’re using a lighter weight.


#6 - Machines May Be Better for Bodybuilding

If you want to improve the appearance of your muscles, machines can be beneficial. This is because most machines are designed to work specific muscle groups, which can help shape your body over time.


#7 - Free Weights Can Increase Core Strength

When performing free weight exercises, you’ll be engaging your core muscles to stabilize the rest of your body. This means that when using free weights, you can improve your balance and coordination over time.


#8 - Machines Are Helpful for Injury Rehabilitation

Machines are helpful when you’re recovering from an injury. This is because machines can help isolate specific muscle groups, decreasing the chance of engaging other muscles that may be injured.


#9 - Free Weights Can Improve Balance and Agility

Free weights require coordination, balance, and agility, which means greater movement control over time. This means that free weights can improve your agility and balance over time.


#10 - Free Weights Can Improve Your Athletic Performance

Free weights may be more beneficial than weight machines if you’re an athlete since the weight is not preset and requires muscle control throughout each exercise. This means that you’ll have to engage your muscles to manage the weight while building strength and explosive power.


Final Thoughts

After looking at the benefits and disadvantages of free weights and machines, we can see that there is no clear winner.


As always, it depends on your personal preference and what you’re trying to accomplish in terms of fitness goals. Whether you prefer one type or the other all comes down to the specifics for everyone.


Just try both out! That way, you’ll know which will work best for YOU! What’s been your experience with either free weights or machines? Let us know by leaving a comment below!