Free Weights vs. Machines and the Benefits of Both!
Suzie Cooney, CPT Maui, Hawaii
I am often asked, should one train with free weights or machines? There is great discussion among specialists in my field, but I like to focus on the benefits of both!
They both have certain advantages in strength training and performance. They both also have limitations. It depends on what you have access to and where you are starting in your fitness program, if you are a professional athlete or coming off an injury, and what suits your needs.
Whether a high performance spin bike like the cool Keiser M3 or the home gym system, Bowflex® Home Gyms or a cable systems such as Precor Exercise Equipment, offer a more controlled movement and allow for complete muscle isolation.
Machines, if used correctly, don’t have to be so intimidating. They may be good for the novice person, or senior who has yet to establish the knowledge or the strength, to isolate the rest of their body as the base, and move the selected limb or target muscle group safely through a repetition. The motions are usually smooth and controlled.
For the experienced, machines offer a nice way to mix up the routine, avoid training plateaus, and don’t require a spotter. They also can be used for rehabilitation if you are injured, to protect a certain joint, such as the knee or shoulder.
Free Weights:I prefer free weight training, for it requires balance, coordination, and total body stability. More muscles throughout the entire body must be recruited to stabilize your base. Think of your body, basically as the base or “machine”. The feeling you get from free-weight training is much more natural.
Free-weight training offers a much larger variety of exercises that give you complete control, of speed, range of motion and the opportunity to progress the intensity of that exercise. For example, performing a simple bicep curl can be more challenging by standing on one leg, or placing a stability ball behind you with one foot, while the other foot in a deep lunge position! This takes huge balance, strength and serious muscle stabilization.
The equipment variety has changed greatly over the years. You may have noticed that these days, free-weights come is many different shapes. I love to use medicine balls, kettle balls, The Body Bar and even paper plates! I have noticed that one can achieve greater strength gains with this method of training.
Training with free-weights does require proper training and knowledge of how to perform each exercise safely! This is critical. I make sure all of my clients execute each repetition to perfection. We don’t progress up to a heavier weight or to the next level until we are both comfortable that the joints, back and extended limbs are strong. If you are attempting advance strength training, I highly recommend a spotter!
There have been numerous studies that conclude free-weights are not better than machines. They each have their role in fitness training, and I recommend getting comfortable with both. It’s also great to mix it up so you enjoy working out!