Like most people, you’ve probably wondered which is better: free weights or machines. There’s undoubtedly been a debate on the topic with solid arguments on both ends.
On the one hand, some people recommend machine training because it allows you to focus on muscle contractions and isolate muscles better. But on the other hand, countless trainees swear by free weights as tools for superior muscle overload and the development of stabilizing muscles.
So, who is right? Let’s discuss.
What Does It Take to Train Productively?
Apart from specialized disciplines like powerlifting, effective weight training can take many shapes. In other words, we have guidelines and best practices to cover for safe and effective training:
- Range of Motion
The movements you do should put your muscles through a good range of motion, allowing for proper stretching and contracting.
- Feel the Right Muscles
Your workouts should allow you to engage the correct muscles, feel them working, and get a pump.
- Potential for Overload
Most of the exercises you do should allow you to gradually increase the difficulty, leading to ongoing progress.
The activities you perform should allow you to stay safe and train without feeling any pain or discomfort.
- Mind-Muscle Connection
Each movement you do should allow you to feel the correct muscles working because that is a meaningful sign that you’re activating the correct area and causing growth.
So, Free Weights… or Machines?
As you’ve probably gathered from the previous points, free weights and machine-based exercises can cover all critical criteria. Both types of equipment can be beneficial for people looking to get stronger, build muscle, and lose fat.
If you’re interested in making the best possible progress, using a combination of free weight and machine movements will be your best bet. First, doing so will allow you to perform a variety of more difficult and less demanding exercises, allowing you to accumulate the necessary volume to grow without exhausting yourself. Second, changing up the equipment you use is beneficial for keeping your training fun and engaging.
Plus, both types of exercises offer unique benefits. Let’s compare two popular exercises: the barbell back squat and leg press. Both movements are excellent for leg development, but their impact on your body differs significantly.
For example, the squat develops your quadriceps and allows for significant overload. But, learning to perform the exercise is challenging, and doing squats involves other muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, midsection, back, arms, and shoulders.
Similarly, leg presses are fantastic for training your quadriceps. But, unlike the squats, that movement is easier because it emphasizes the legs without requiring significant involvement from your upper body. Plus, unlike the squat, leg presses are easier to learn and often feel less demanding. It’s one thing to do eight sets of squats and another to split that work between squats and leg presses.
Trainees often ask ‘either or’ questions, looking for the theoretical best ways to do things. But, in most cases, the answer isn’t as black or white as we would like. In the case of free weights versus machines, neither is the winner as both offer unique benefits.