The debate over which weight lifting equipment is best has been raging for years. Are free weights better for bulking up? Should you choose weight machines if you’re looking to increase muscle tone? Which training method provides the best results? It used to be that the additional effort lifting free weights required gave them an edge over weight machines, but technology advances have all but leveled the field.
Free Weight Advantages
When you lift free weights, you rely solely on your body not only to control each movement you make and the amount of resistance involved, but to maintain proper form, coordination and balance by engaging the muscles of your core (abdominals, obliques and your back muscles). In other words: it’s all about you.
In comparison to traditional weight machines, the additional effort required to hold the weights when you’re not actively lifting is the primary advantage of a free weight workout. Your muscles are nearly always engaged because there’s no machinery to hold that weight for you.
The overall benefit is that free weights force you to work muscles during your workout. For example, when you perform bicep curls with free weights, you’ll naturally contract the muscles in your legs and abdominals to protect your lower back which you don’t the same need to do if you perform those movements seated at a weight machine.
If you choose to work out with free weights, it’s far less expensive to outfit your home gym with dumb bells than weight machines or home gyms (and they can be easily tucked out sight when they’re not in use). The hidden benefit here is that on the days when you can’t make it to the gym, you can still get your strength training done. Depending upon how you’re lifting or how hard you’re training however, you may be limited to what you can do without someone to spot you to help ensure your safety.
Weight Machine Advantages
If you’re new to strength training or you’re recovering from an injury, weight machines offer the distinct advantage of increased workout safety. Generally, there’s little to no need to have someone nearby to spot you in the event you’ve worked your muscles to the point of failure. Additionally, the physical structure of weight machines assists you in maintaining proper form to reduce the risk of injury by guiding your movements for you.
Weight machines also come with instruction panels that show you, step by step, how to perform the movements correctly. Unless your gym displays posters that illustrate proper form for free weight techniques, you’re on your own when it comes to remembering how to achieve proper form. Improper lifting techniques often lead to muscle overuse and injury.
Working out with weight machines helps prevent smaller muscles from tiring before larger muscle groups when you’re engaging in exercises that work multiple areas of the body. If you’re doing a series of squats, for example, your arms may give out before your legs, causing to drop the weight and decrease the resistance you’re working your legs against. Weight machines relieve some of the pressure from those smaller muscle groups so you can get the maximum benefit from the exercise and lower the chances of tearing one of those smaller muscles.
Weight machines allow you to isolate muscle groups from one another, so you can continue to build strength in one area while another area recovers from previous workouts or injuries. Free weights always require you to work more than one muscle group at a time in order to stabilize your body and maintain your balance, thus limiting the number of exercises you can perform if you’ve been hurt or need to rest one or more muscle groups.
Finally, some people tend to find weight machines, particularly cable resistance weight machines, more comfortable to use or who are intimidated by free weights.
A Matter of Preference
Every person’s body is different and not everyone has the same fitness goals. In order to determine which form of strength training is best for you, try both. Start with light to moderate amounts of weight for your current level of fitness and perform the same movements using both methods.
You’ll know fairly quickly whether free weights or machines feel better to you and which provides you with the resistance you want. If you’re unsure where to begin, enlist the help of a trainer at your gym to get you started. The good news is you don’t have to commit exclusively to one or the other: you may prefer free weights to work your lower body and machines to work your upper body. Alternating between the two may also prevent you from falling into a workout rut.
I'd like to present a case for choosing and using quality weight-resistance machines, while granting that free-weight "purists" do make some compelling arguments. In the course of this discussion, I will also allude to Weider and Parabody as two general types (and brands of) weight-resistance machines.
If you're trying to get in shape, training for a sport, or are just looking to build some extra stamina and leg muscle running is a great way t start, but you can always use a little help. Leg weights and Ankle Weights are an old training technique, but are extremely effective at building stamina and muscle, and you can use them anytime anywhere.