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Free Weights Vs. Machines In Strength Training

Free Weights vs. Machines In Strength Training

So there is that age old question that has bounced around inside of yours and everyone else’s head at one time or another about the matchup between free weights and machines. Which one is better? Is one good? Is one bad? Well today we’re going to examine that very thing my young Jedi of strength.

Good Or Bad?

So to start out I think I want to preface this examination of the use of free weights and machines by addressing the question regarding Good or Bad in the above headline. This is really the wrong question to ask, or at the very least it’s not a complete question for what we are trying to address.

Instead we should ask in regards to free weights and machines…Is one better or worse for your particular situation? That is a more correct and fitting question regarding this comparison that has been around for decades.

Moving on to the issue I can tell you that having been in the fitness business now for over 13 years I can attest to the fact that fads will always pop up and that the public’s interest in free weights and machines will shift back and forth between the two like a swing on swing set.

I already know what you’re thinking. So coach why are there so many articles on the internet talking about how machines are bad and free weights are good? What about the articles that say that free weights are not all that great and machines are the way to go?

The thing to remember is that everything serves a different purpose and every individual has a different purpose related to their strength and fitness goals. Now having said that I personally prefer doing free weighted movements simply because it’s been my personal experience that free weights give me the type of strength I need to move well and it serves the purpose of developing overall athleticism for many of my students.

The decision to use one, or the other, or a combination of the two really depends on what I’m trying to accomplish. In addition to this there may be specific individual needs that may demand the use of one over the other with a particular trainee. This video offers great perspective on the issue, but I just want to warn you that some of the language is pretty strong so don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Regardless, the point of the message lines up nicely here with the theme of today’s post.

As you can see the key is recognizing what benefits your situation. Just as I stated earlier free weights in my experience often benefit the development of more athletic physical needs than machines, but there is also an element of athleticism that can be derived from some machine type equipment as well.

Many factors should influence how you train. First of all needs should be at the center of your universe. What do you need to train and what can you do to address those needs? This may also be determined by a number of factors ranging from what equipment and resources (free weights or machines) you have available to you for your given situation. In other words, convenience may have a lot of influence as well.

Secondly, how advanced are you and how much time do you have to fit in your training? This is big deal. To give you an example here I’ll use myself to clarify this point.

Some days between me training a full schedule of students and having to hit my writing deadlines for other magazines and online platforms I get pinched with time. Now I’m not making the excuse I don’t have the time to train, but what I am saying is that with what time I have available I have to make use of it then…or it probably wouldn’t happen at all.

Because of this I know I move very well and am very familiar with proper technique concerning various kettlebell movements so this particular free weight serves as an ideal tool for me to fit in a time sensitive effective workout. For those that share a similar ability in training they could say the same thing.

On the other hand, if I happened to be a more novice lifter and were pinched for time machines may be a better option in those fast paced time crunches. In this case taking advantage of a couple of basic pieces of lifting machines may serve me better at that moment to make my workouts go quicker and safer, especially since I may be lacking in experience.

Although I believe everyone should work to acquire an optimal level of physical function saving time on having to get into more complex lifting positions with free weights, racking weights, and just being able to get to a physical location with the space to house bigger free weighted options may prove to be to burdensome if one happens to have a hectic life schedule.

Once again I personally prefer free weights, but certain machines for certain situations serve a purpose. Check out this guy’s take on the use of machines in training. Pay close attention to when he references the part about the professional bodybuilder Dorian Yates.

As you can see there can be value here as well. The point is that the value can be assessed based upon what fits your lifestyle and where you want to place the most emphasis in your training.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post and if you have an opinion of your own don’t be shy about posting up below in the comment box! Stay strong and keep training smart.

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I'm a Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and author. I have had over 17 years experience in MMA fitness, strength and conditoning, and athletic performance for most every sport. As an author and specialist I've written close to a million words on fitness and strength. I'm also a Muay Thai practictioner and enjoy helping others to reach their peak potential through fitness and performance.

This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. I don’t think its about which are good or which are bad, in my opinion its down to preference. Some people like to workout with free weights and feel they have better control but then some people like the assisted help from the machines. I think working biceps and triceps can be done better with free weights than on a machine but then I like to work quads on the leg press rather than having a barbell across my shoulders and squating. Like you said how much time do you have. If your working out on the machines I find more people use machines than free weights so you can be waiting around to finish your workout.

    1. You’re exactly right. It’s definitely about preference. I personally love utilizing a hybrid approach with free weights and bodyweight training even though I don’t mention the “bodyweight” part here. I’m going to be launching a new online coaching program here in the next couple weeks to demonstrate to a great deal how I like to combine the two. That being said there is room for some machine work in training depending on the individual, their goals, availability of resources, and time. Thanks again for your insight!

  2. Great I will look out for that. No I see you didn’t mention body weight training but I think that others think body weight training isn’t as good as free weights or machines. You’ve not got the weight to build strength. Me on the other hand I like to do body weight squats.

  3. Brandon, I’ll mention bodyweight training. Machines, Free weights and Bodyweight all have their merits.
    I like free weights for heavy compound movements: DL, Squat, Bench, Row
    Machines are better for me doing shoulder work and some leg and chest work.
    Body weight is unrivaled for pull-ups, pushups, dips, abs and ring work.
    Combine all 3 and you’ve got one badass program. All I need now is the recovery time of a 20 year old:)
    Good article and thanks for your time.
    Dave P –

    1. David you are right on my friend. Bullseye dead on actually. Yes, I love bodyweight too and regularly use bodyweight in my programs. One general “rule of thumb” I have and recommend to folks is that I very much believe that people should “earn the right” to lift by first mastering some foundational bodyweight movements (push ups, pull ups, squats, etc.). I’m betting your recovery is better than you’re leading on…especially if you’re hitting the bodyweight stuff regularly! Thanks for the feedback David!

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