I wanted to touch on the free weights vs machines debate in this post because the switch from “gym workouts” to “home workouts” means you might need to make use of alternative exercises. That is if you’re using a pre-planned routine to get in shape.
When I first started my home fitness quest I did a lot of research to find suitable solutions to replicate the same type of muscle stimulation. I actually did a lot of research to replace the typical exercises in my workouts.
I came away with a strong opinion, and resolve, that free weights were the best solution. But, can ideas and opinions change?
For some, this is a clear black and white debate. One has to clearly be better than the other. The common rule is to never talk about politics or religion in the work place. If someone ever asks you the loaded question, “Free weights vs machines, which one’s better?” Unless you want an argument, don’t fall for it!
The Pros and Cons of Choosing Your Poison
As time went on and I started including more pieces of equipment into my garage setup, my definition of “machine training” changed. I use a cable setup in some of my routines, and while it doesn’t weight a ton it is still technically a machine.
You might expect that I’d be all about free weights. It is, after all, how old school training was done. With respect, how could I say those classic bodybuilders were wrong?
I do want to emphasize that while free weights actually perform better when building muscle, machines are a great option for beginners. Even though machines do limit the range of motion, they generally are better at reducing the risk of injury (by pushing yourself or by dropping the weight on yourself) and will foster proper form better than free weights can in the beginning.
Here’s my cue to segue into the talking points for each side of the free weights vs machines debate.
Free Weight Pros:
- You get more output from the muscles to complete an exercise. Far more stabilizing muscles are engaged in each exercise.
- Movements replicate “real life” needs.
- A hell of a lot cheaper.
Free Weight Cons:
- Using proper form is critical staving off injury.
- Unless you have a quick changing system on your barbells or dumbbells, switching weight can take a bit of time.
- Sometimes experience is required.
- As stated above, there less chance of injury when using machines in a workout.
- Generally, machines are easier-to-use.
- There’s a lesser amount of strain on the joints (e.g. a press machine will not stress the shoulders as much as it’s free weight counterpart.)
- Repetitions with bad form will cause injury.
- Stabilizer muscles aren’t called into action as with free weights.
- Replicating the weight you lift with a machine won’t match up to it’s actual weight.
Recovering From Injury or Just Trying to Prevent It
Free weights are probably going to be the best method for building muscle. But if you train exclusively this way, you’re apt to feel the toll it can take on the body. Namely, the joints are affected the most.
That’s how machines can one-up free weight training. It won’t wear down you’re body as much. Using the bench press with a barbell for example, there’s shoulder strain that comes along with that exercise. Using a Hammer Strength machine in the gym will assist to reduce the amount of stress put on the joint.
If you’re recovering from injury then taking it slow and doing rehab on a machine is preferably the way to go.
The home fitness versions are easy to figure out. Targeting your back? Try the bent-over row as the free weight option. The classic chin-up is going to get you the same results as the lat pull-down machine. If you can’t do a chin-up, assisted or negatives will still get you the results as while build up your strength. There are plenty of other alternative you can pick to replace machine movements.
What I would like for everyone to take away of this article? You have options. No matter how you choose to lift, if you’re on one side of the free weights vs machines debate or not, making sure you’re performing each exercise with proper form and staying safe is the most important thing.