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Free weights vs Machines


Free weights vs Machines


Should I use free weights or machines?!


The age-old debate with the realms of fitness “Free Weights Vs. Resistance Machines,” has been a pivotal point of discussion for fitness enthusiasts and beginners alike. The classic debate delves into the very essence of muscle building, toning, and strength training questioning the effectiveness of the diverse types of weights in the gym. This blog article will unfold the pros and cons of each as well as understanding which type of weights aligns best with your fitness journey.


In short, if you want to maximise your results, incorporating both free weights and resistance machines into your weekly training regime is going to allow you to get the best out of both worlds, so you excel in your fitness journey.


Free weights


As you may have already guessed free weights are every type of weight in the gym that isn’t a resistance machine, like dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls and all the other movable types of weight you can find on the gym floor. Due to their versatility, they allow for limitless range of motion and promote natural movement patterns of squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling and locomotion. Free weights require a degree of internal stability to execute exercises well which engages multiple muscle groups at once, enhancing proprioception which is the body’s ability to perceive its position in space, fostering balance and coordination.


Who can use free weights?


Essentially, anyone can use free weights. However, beginners should consider starting with lighter weights to build competency in movement quality whilst paying special attention to where they place their load, no pun intended.


As they are free standing, there’s a few variables to take into consideration when using free weights as a loading parameter, position of load makes a huge difference. It can significantly change the centre of mass of the exercise which depending on your skill level may benefit or hinder your progress. As a beginner prioritising an anterior load i.e. A goblet squat over a barbell back squat will aid in you being able to sit back into a squat movement and learn the lift before progressing the loading parameter to a dual kettlebell front squat or barbell variation, remember exercise execution is paramount to progress so take your time to walk before you run when it comes to weight training.


What are free weights best used for?

Free weights are best for compound and functional exercises which mimic everyday movements, they can improve overall body strength, endurance, agility, and can be beneficial for athletic performance and day-to-day activities.


We’ve broken down the main benefits of Free weight exercises as well as the cons, so you have a balanced perspective.


  • Enhanced muscle activation and coordination
  • Improved balance, stability, and functional strength
  • Versatility in exercises
  • Greater calories burn due to engagement of stabilising muscles.


  • Risk of injury due to improper form
  • Can be intimidating for beginners.
  • Requires some knowledge of how to safely perform the exercise and complete it with correct technique.


What are Resistance Machines?

Resistance machines are equipment fixed to a frame, designed to guide your body through a specific path, isolating muscle groups whilst providing a lot of external stability. Examples include leg machines at the gym such as a leg extension which targets your quadricep muscles or lying hamstring curl which targets your hamstrings. They offer-controlled movements, ensuring safety whilst performing the movement with low risk of injury whilst providing targeted muscle engagement.


Who Can Use Them?


Resistance machines are suitable for everyone, from beginners to bodybuilders and even rehabilitation. Due to their isolating nature of specific muscles / areas resistance machines are optimal for individuals who wish to strengthen specific muscles without stressing adjacent joints of muscles and allowing to pinpoint specific weaknesses or dysfunction which is great for beginners who lack a degree of internal stability, it allows you to get stronger and build some degree of muscular endurance and strength before challenging yourself in a less stable environment.


For bodybuilders the external stability of the machines allows the trainee to take a muscle closer to failure without risk of technique breakdown which if your goal is to build as much muscle as possible is something to consider. Starting with more skill-based movements like free weight exercises then moving onto resistance machines allows you to take a muscle to failure safely.


What Are Resistance Machines Best Used For?

Resistance machines really excel in isolating and targeting specific muscle groups individually making them invaluable for rehabilitation, muscle definition, and structured muscle building machines where you can safely take a muscle to failure.


Main Benefits of Resistance Machines


  • Safer and more stable movement
  • Ideal for targeted muscle development and isolation
  • Suitable for beginners and rehabilitation
  • Low risk of injury due to the external support of the machine


Cons Of Resistance Machines


  • Limited engagement of stabilising muscles
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Less functional adaptability and crossover to sport



  1. Should I be using free weights or machines?

Your choice hinges significantly on your fitness goals and where you’re currently at. A well-balanced program will incorporate both types of weights is crucial for overall muscle symmetry and strength however if you’re in the older age bracket and have never stepped foot inside a gym before it might be a good idea to build some initial strength and muscular endurance first utilising resistance machines before challenging yourself with free weights.


Start with the higher skill demanding exercises using free weights and progress onto resistance machines later in your program to get the most out of your compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and bench press. If you’re not sure where you should start speaking to one of our incredibly knowledgeable coaches to point you in the right direction with a program.


  1. Why do people prefer free weights over machines?


The preference leans towards free weights due to their versatility, ability to engage more muscles simultaneously, and the promotion of functional strength and balance, perceived work is always a factor as you probably want to walk out of the gym feeling like you’ve worked right?


During covid lockdown most people took to buying dumbbells, barbells, squat racks, and home gym set ups to the point where you couldn’t purchase anything without paying over the odds for these pieces of gym equipment but that wasn’t the same for resistance machines. You can perform a full body workout with free weights with minimal equipment in very little time to still have an effective workout which is why for most people in the modern-day world who are short on time it provides a fantastic option to utilise time efficiency with training.


  1. What is a disadvantage of using free weights over machines?


The main disadvantage of using free weights is the increased risk of injury as without correct exercise execution and prescription of using the right tool for the job there is a heightened risk of poor technique being performed which could load your joints or structure. If you’re not confident performing a movement or you’d like one of our team to ensure you’re getting the most out of a movement then let’s speak to one of our team members next time you pop in, and they’ll be happy to help you out.


  1. What’s the safest option? Free weights or machines?


Resistance machines are generally deemed safer, especially for beginners, due to their controlled and guided movements and external support; this can minimise the risk of injury by isolating specific muscle groups and maintaining proper alignment by fixed position mechanics. You can’t go far wrong using resistance machines making it a safe option for everyone no-matter what your age or fitness level.


  1. Which will provide me with faster results: free weights or resistance machines?


Results depend on individual goals, consistency, and workout intensity regardless of the modality chosen. For overall muscular development and functional strength, free weights may yield quicker results, while machines are paramount for targeted muscle development and definition and toning.


For fat loss free weights are going to yield a higher caloric burn per workout due to muscular co-contractions and muscles working synergistically which is why you may bias more free weights to bias better caloric burn and output from your workouts, just remember fat loss comes from a calorie deficit (total calories burnt vs calorie intake) and not any magic “fat burning workout”.


The opposite could be said for muscle gain, if your goal is to develop and grow more muscle in a specific area then you may way to spend more time utilising resistance machines allowing you to put more tension and load through specific muscles that you will to develop, again remember that barbells are a fantastic tool from a load ability standpoint by developing muscular co-contractions you’re improving a multitude of muscles cohesively to get stronger which in turn will allow you to build more muscle and lift more when using resistance machines.


While the debate between free weights and resistance machines rages on, the consensus within the fitness community is that there’s a place for both in a well-rounded workout regimen. It essentially boils down to an individual’s personal goals, experiences, and comfortability with the equipment. By amalgamating both forms, you can harness the multifaceted benefits of each, optimising your workout routines to yield the best results when it comes to developing a strong, athletic, muscular physique that is free from pain and injury.


If you’re still unsure about which type of weights in the gym is right for you and where you’re at and you’re ready to kickstart a balanced fitness journey, then reach out and come on down for a free trial?


Whether you’re a fan of free weights or swear by resistance machines, we’ve got it all. Sign up now or chat with our reception to tailor your fitness journey with our diverse range of equipment, addressing all your workout needs!

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