So you are looking to find the right workout plan to get your body summer ready. Whether we are interested in bulking up or getting toned, many of us face the question of whether free-weights or machine weights are a better choice. There are pros and cons to both, but neither hinders fitness, unless used wrong or beyond one’s ability.
Free weights are any object or device that can be moved freely in a 3-dimentional space. These “free-weights” include dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls, and body weight exercises. Machine weights are stationary equipment that uses “simple machines” such as pulleys and levers to generate a resistance for strength training. A leg press among the numerous machines is a perfect example of a machine weight.
So which is best?
- Have a fixed range of motion
- Minimal need for a spotter
- Easier to learn
- Easy to change resistance
- Require upkeep & maintenance
- Only targets specific muscles
- Free range of motion
- Bone loading
- Lower cost
- Convenient/ portable
- Fit everyone
- Greater neural contribution
- Some exercise may require education or knowledge
So how do you choose? For example, let’s say a football player wants to improve the strength of his chest to improve his performance on the field. When using the bench press, the football player is not only using the chest muscles to push the bar up, but also using muscles in the shoulder to stabilize the bar throughout repetitions. This is referred to functional strength because this effort of the muscles mimics those that will be used, in football player example, on the field.
However, if the same football player wants to add muscle mass to his chest, he could add in a machine chest press to increase the structural strength of the pectoral muscles. However, the chest press will not improve his functional strength because it does not require 3-dimensional stability.
An ideal way to add function and structural strength to your program would be to add in a few machine exercises at the end of a free weight workout to isolate the specific muscle you are looking to improve. Whether you choose free weights or machines, any physical activity is better then no physical activity.