When it comes to training and working out in the gym, we all have our own personal favourite exercises and/or pieces of equipment for training. There are some people out there that absolutely adore treadmills and pieces of cardio equipment, whilst there are others that can’t stand them. Some people like dumbbells, some like barbells, some like chest press machines, some like leg press machines, the list can go on and on. If you really want to start an argument and watch people get especially heated however, get a group of fitness enthusiasts together, and ask them whether free weights are better than isolation machines. Some people will swear that free weights and free weight exercises are the best, whilst others will be adamant that gym isolation machines are the more beneficial of the two. So, if one set of people is telling you one thing, and another set of people is telling you something else, who do you believe? Well, in reality, it all comes down to trusting your own judgement, and looking at things objectively, from a neutral perspective. As you know, there are numerous different methods of resistance training in gyms and fitness centres all across the globe, and each one presents its own unique benefits and advantages, it’s simply down to you to discover what they are. For some people, free weight exercises are more beneficial than machine based ones, whereas other people prefer machines. Here we’ll be taking a look at the two different forms of training, and will be looking at which, if any, is the better of the two. So, without any further hesitation, let’s look at free weight exercises VS machine-based exercises.
What are free weight exercises? – Basically, free weight exercises are exercises which are performed using free weights such as dumbbells, barbells, or other similar free bars. Basically, as long as the weights you are using are not attached to a machine, they count as free weights. As mentioned, common examples of free weight exercises are those involving dumbbells and barbells, but as there are different bars, any of them count.
What are the benefits of free weight exercises – When it comes to bodybuilding, most old school bodybuilders prefer free weight exercises as these are considered simple and basic, yet incredibly beneficial. Whether you consider yourself a bodybuilder, or simply just a fitness enthusiast, here’s a look at some of the primary benefits associated with free weight exercises.
Work more muscles – One of the main benefits of using free weights for training and working out, is the fact that they allow you to work more muscles with each movement. Free weight exercises are commonly considered very beneficial compound exercises. As mentioned, a compound movement is a movement that incorporates and recruits multiple muscle groups at once. Barbell bench presses, for example, work not only the pectoral muscles, but also the core, the triceps, and the deltoids. The more muscles you work, the better.
Increased muscle mass – As we’ve just looked at, as free weight exercises work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, they are absolutely ideal for anybody looking to increase their muscle mass and pack on the size of their frames. When you perform barbell curls for example, both heads of the biceps muscle are targeting, along with the forearms, and even a little deltoid as well. This results in more muscle growth and size.
Great for the core stabilizer muscles – When you perform free weight exercises, the weights are free, which means that, as they aren’t attached to anything, it is down to you to control them and stabilize them so that you perform them correctly. The great thing about this is that free weights help you to strengthen your core and your stabilizer muscles, and as you may or may not know, a strong core will benefit you in countless other ways in the process.
Great variation – Another huge benefit of free weight exercises, is the fact that there is so much variation to choose from when it comes to your training. All you need is a set of dumbbells and you can work every major muscle group in your body, and not only that, but you can actually perform a number of different exercises for all major muscle groups in the body. With machines, you are limited to doing only what the machine is designed to do, and although different machines work different muscles, you are still only limited to whichever machines your gym has in stock.
What are machine exercises? – Now that we’ve covered free weight exercises, it is now time to take a look at machine exercises. We’ll get right to the point here, by telling you that machine exercises are basically exercises which are performed using resistance machines in the gym. There are different machines that target different muscle groups, so let’s look at the benefits.
What are the benefits of machine exercises? – Some of the primary benefits of machine-based exercises include the following:
Great for injury prevention – One of the biggest benefits associated with machine exercises is the fact that they are considered to be one of the most efficient ways of greatly reducing your likelihood of injury in the gym. With machines, your form is perfect because the machines are designed to allow you to only work the muscles that the machine allows you to work. Because of this, other muscle groups aren’t recruited so you are less likely to put them under extra strain and pressure. With free weights, all it takes is for you to swing or arch your back slightly, and you can potentially pick up a very painful and very nasty back injury that could keep you out of the gym for a number of weeks, or even months.
Great for isolating stubborn muscle groups – If you have one specific body part that is lagging in comparison with the rest of your body, using machines to help bring up the body part in question is extremely beneficial. For example, if your chest is small in comparison with the rest of your body, if you were to perform free weight chest exercises, other muscle groups would also be used, and so they too would grow. If they grow, even as your chest grows, it will still look small in comparison. With chest machines, however, you are able to isolate and target the chest, and only the chest, so by placing an emphasis on chest training via machines, you will be able to add some quality size and definition.
Great for your form – Another benefit of machines is the fact that they guarantee you perfect form, every time you use them. A lot of people for example, will use barbells or dumbbells, and will perform certain exercises incorrectly by executing an improper form, and will then wonder why they can’t see or feel any benefits to the muscles that they were trying to train. With machines, however, the machines are designed so that it is virtually impossible for you to execute improper form, so you know for a fact that the exercise is targeting the muscles that it is supposed to be targeting.
Great for definition – For people looking to increase muscle definition, machines are very beneficial as they allow you to target specific muscle groups, with a much lighter weight if need be. If you are looking to shape and sculpt your muscles, machines are useful.
So, which is better? – In reality, there is no one true answer to this question because it is all relative. Some prefer free weight exercises, whilst others prefer machines, and some prefer both. For optimal results, experts recommend combining free weight exercises and movements with machine-based exercises, so figure out what your goals and targets may be, and then go from there.