Machines vs Free Weights

Free Weights vs machine training. Which is better? This is a question that continues to be asked usually by potential clients viewing our facility or even by people requesting me to set up home training programs for them. This is a good time to look at machine weight training vs free weights.

I think it is obvious by the look of our facility which is my preference. Yes, we have power racks. But the only “machines” in my gym is a lat pulldown and cable row. There are no chest press machines, leg press machine or hip abduction/adduction equipment. Yes, I do have a Smith machine, but it is not used for it’s intended use.

inverted row

The only use our Smith machine gets is for progressing pushups for those not able to complete a “full length” push up on the floor. We also use the Smith machine for inverted rows. But, you will never see a bench press, squats or lunges performed on our Smith machine.

In my gym you will fine dumbbells, cable stacks and plenty of open space to move. Sleds, ropes, kettlebells all keep us moving and getting stronger in the “real” sense.

Machine Training:

Machines do have a very limited advantage – they are easy to use and learn. They require no special instruction which I think is why the “big box” gyms have a multitude of machines for every conceivable muscle group.

chest press

Machines support too much. They are isolative, in that you are working muscles in isolation as opposed to incorporating several muscle groups as well as core stability. Machines works on a fixed path, so do not allow the muscles to work naturally. This tends to work the prime movers, but does recruit stabilizer muscles to the same degree.

leg press

Machines do not require you to “weight bear”. Since you are sitting or laying down, you are not moving your body under load hence the benefits of building stronger bones is lost with machine training.

Machines also don’t stimulate the nervous system as much as free weight training. Strength gains are not just from muscles getting larger. Strength grains are also due to the nervous system’s adaptation to resistance training. As the brain “learns” the movements involved, the nervous system improves as well.

The most obvious disadvantage of machine training is the transfer to real life. How does sitting in a machine chest press or laying down in a leg press machine help you with lifting groceries out of the trunk of your car or lifitng/carrying your child. Even transfer to sporting activities is non existent.

Free Weights:

You only have to look at the variety of exercises available not only with dumbbells, but with kettlebells, sleds etc to see the obvious benefits of training with free weights. The variety of exercises and tools allows the entire body to be trained. It is more functional, allowing the body to move through natural motions as well as all planes of movements. This freedom of movement mimics activities in real life.


Free weight training allows you to increase whole body strength. Prime movers as well as stabilizer muscles are all active. These vitally important stabilizers are not neglected as they are in machine training.


Free weights allows for simplicity of movement and equipment. You can do a wide variety of exercises with just one set of dumbbells or one kettlebell. No more huge “total gym” pieces of equipment taking up all of your workout space. These huge pieces of equipment that advertise total body training are not only expensive but counter productive to real world strength.

home gym

Free weights on the other hand are inexpensive, portable and take up very little space – leaving room to move!

If you are looking to set up a workout area at home, keep in mind free weights. The variety is endless and the benefits are endless as well. Just ensure that you seek qualified help in getting started.

If you are looking for a fitness facility, look for open space. If the gym is crammed full of machines, this should not be a facility of choice. Current research has proven beyond a doubt that free weights and movement based training is far superior to machines. These big box gyms crammed wall to wall with machines are dinosaurs and not staying current with the science of training. Once again, though seek our professional help to get you started.

Till next time – move free!

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    thanks, will try in my gym


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