Free weights vs weight machines

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of strength training, but it can be confusing to know whether you’re better to do this using weight machines in the gym or free weights. We’ve checked the pros and cons of both so you can decide which might work best for you.

Are you uncertain whether you should use free weights or weight machines as part of your strength training routine? They both have their plus and minus points and a lot will depend on the fitness goals you’d like to achieve. We look at both options so you can make an informed decision about how they can fit into your workouts.

How do free weights work?

Free weights are usually handheld and include dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. Your body has to use a lot more muscles to keep the weight stable, which is where many of the benefits come into play.

How do weight machines work?

Weight machines are also known as resistance machines, and your muscles need to use extra force to overcome the resistance that they produce. A few examples of weight machines that you have probably heard of include leg extension machines and chest press machines.

Benefits of free weights

Free weights are portable and are usually quite affordable. This can make them a good choice for doing strength training activities at home. It’s easy to fit in a few reps while you have a bit of spare time.

Since free weights require more work to keep your body stable while using them, they tend to be more effective at engaging and exercising muscle groups.

Free weights are also a great choice for building functional fitness. If you’re not familiar with this idea, it’s all about making sure that your muscles and joints can cope with everyday activities such as lifting, stretching and bending. Free weights allow you to execute forwards, backwards, horizontal and vertical movements that mimic the kinds of motions you’re likely to use in everyday life.

Drawbacks of free weights

There is a risk of injuring yourself if you use free weights incorrectly. If you use a heavier weight without proper lifting form, you can easily run into problems.

Benefits of weight machines

Weight machines are a great option for targeting specific muscles, so this can be a great option if you want to focus on certain areas. Isolating specific muscle groups can also be particularly helpful if you’re recovering from strains or injuries.

As weight machines work muscles to a lesser extent than free weights, they’re a good choice for those days when you want to go a bit easier on your body but still work certain muscles.

If you want to add extra weight but aren’t sure about doing this with free weights, some weight machines offer a way to adjust resistance while lowering the risk of injury.

Drawbacks of weight machines

Using weight machines incorrectly can easily cause injury, which can be an issue in a home gym setup. For example, if you haven’t had the proper form or technique demonstrated for you like you might in a professional gym, you run the risk of sustaining an injury.

Since weight machines only engage certain muscles, they offer way fewer opportunities for three dimensional movement than free weights and don’t mimic the kinds of activities you’re likely to participate in day to day. As a result, you can easily pull muscles simply going through everyday movements such as lifting and bending. This is why people often choose to do functional fitness training in combination with weight machines.

Do you need to use them in a gym?

Form is so important in using weights properly, and many people start off using them in a gym environment. Alternatively, if you don’t have the space or budget for having weight machines at home, choosing the right gym is going to be your best option for including them in your workouts.

If you don’t have a gym membership, it’s worth taking advantage of free gym trials in your area to see whether you like the equipment, facilities and staff. It’s best practice to try a few gyms out until you find one that ticks all of the right boxes for you.

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Clare Cribbin

Clare works as the assistant publisher in the shopping team here at finder.com.au. She is interested in anything health and fitness related, whether it be the latest trending health drink, a new kind of workout class or hunting down a gym membership bargain.

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