weight machines vs free weights

When stepping into most gym’s you will notice an array of machine’s as well as free weight is as a veteran personal trainer for over 3 decades, I have put together a few pro’s and con’s when it comes to working with either machines or free weights.

Invented in 1796, it was the forerunner of modern machine-based fitness. It was for this reason that Zinkin created his own multi-stack weights machine in 1957. Soon produced under the name Universal Gym, Harold’s first machine allowed users to quickly switch between weights by simply moving a pin up or down a stack. If we also go back to the 50’s Jack Lane was credited to invent the cable machine pully system.

Let us first go back into the late 70’s when most gyms were free weights and even a do it yourself machine you could find at an old grungy gym where you would have a welder come in and weld some equipment together and we would just get buy with what we had.

In the early 70’s nautilus equipment was introduced by Arthur Allen Jones, this study piece of equipment based on a chain pulley system was proudly made in America and quickly caught on in the fitness world.

The first piece of equipment I could recall when I first stepped into a gym in the early 80’s was this big blue thing called a torso pullover, I recall it would take up most of the corner of the gym and what I really loved about this machine is that it focused on giving the body a great stretch in a seated position and worked on activating the lat’s and abdominal muscles. Jones was certainly onto something as athlete’s like me started spreading the word and if your gym has nautilus equipment it would be a no brainer. To join up.

Most bodybuilders at the time found the nautilus equipment extremely rewarding and fun at the same time a way to add variety into their workout’s, of course other companies started to copy, and some did well while other failed miserably resulting in many injuries and lawsuits, I am sure.

However, the real origins of modern lifting are to be found in the 18th and 19th century strong men people like Eugene Sandow and Arthur Saxon would perform in circuses and theatre’s and the very first version of barbell appeared in 1860 in European gymnasium’s having evolved from the dumbbell design and came with fixed weights or fillable globes at the end of a six-foot bar.

So now we know a little about the history of weight machines vs free weights I have listed below a few benefits to consider when working with the two.

Pin Loaded Machine and Cable Pulley Advantage

As a veteran Personal Trainer for over 3 decades the very first advantage is:

  1. The convenience of machine easy and safe effective way
  2. The ability to move the weight quickly
  3. Great for any limited motion and muscle isolations
  4. Less injury risk and guide you through a proper range of motion
weight machine

Free Weights Advantages

The biggest advantage is that you get stronger with free weights and allows you to incorporate and recruit a variety of different muscles.

You are lifting and getting a good sense of your own body weight so you’re progressing through the muscle chain.

It requires your attention and concentration, so you stay more focused than ever before.

free weight

With free weights, you have complete freedom of rotation so that something like an overhead shoulder barbell press can feel much more natural and comfortable with free weights compared to weight machines.

So, if you’re a beginner or intermediate and looking to get back into the gym I have put together a program below that would incorporate a combination of machine and free weights it should look something like this, of course, a lot will be based on your goals, the below program is based on a male or female over the age of 40 and looking to get back into shape working on a 3 day program working with a repetition range of 8-12 for upper body and 12 -15 for lower body with a time for around 35-45 minutes;

Day 1: Upper Body

  • Warm up on rower 100 metres this can be timed to aim for around 5-7 minutes
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Seated Cable Row
  • One arm Dumbbell Row
  • Barbell Deadlifts
  • Triceps Cable Push downs
  • Barbell Curl

Day 2: Lower Body

  • Warm up treadmill incline 5 speed 5 for 20 minutes
  • Leg extension
  • Leg press
  • Barbell back Squats
  • Walking and static dumbbell Lunges
  • Machine leg curls

Day 3: Upper Body

  • Warm-up on a stationary bike or elliptical machine for 15 minutes increasing resistance every 3 minutes
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Barbell Upright Row
  • Standing cable side lateral raises
  • Barbell bench press
  • Incline Press on the smith machine
  • Dumbbell Pullovers
  • Lying leg raises

So, there you have it just remember your exercise program can incorporate a mix of both as shown above just remember to continue to push without sacrificing your form so that you are gradually making progress each workout.

You could also work with a personal trainer who will ensure they guide you and keep you accountable and therefore looking out for q’s and having your best interest at hand.

In any case, whatever you decide to do working with weight is one of the best things you can do from a health perspective as it will give you the following advantages:

  • Better Sleep
  • Improved Muscle Tone
  • Reduce the risk of injury and strengthen bones
  • weight management and increased muscle-to-fat ratio – as you gain muscle, your body burns more kilojoules when at rest.

So go ahead pick up that weight move your body in all different directions and it will thank you for it time and time again.

After all the older we get the more we require to recruit all the muscles in our body and lowering inflammation and staving off chronic disease, among a laundry list of positives.

FAQs About Weight Machines vs Free Weights

Are weight machines as good as free weights?

Machine weight are not as good as free weights especially if your goal is to move more and drop excess weight, machine weight are one dimensional and free weights requires more muscle recruitment.

Can you build muscle with weight machines?

You can build muscle with machine weights however not as fast as you can with free weights as free weights far outweighs the benefits of machine weight working with compound movements such as deadlifts and squats whereas machine weights work more on isolating the muscle.

Are gym weight machines any good?

Gym weighted machines are generally particularly good as they are commercial grade and require proper maintenance and upkeep, most gyms have a good standard of machine weights ranging from lat pulldowns to seated or standing cable row’s.

Are free weights or machine weights better for building strength or hypertrophy Why?

When your goal is muscle hypertrophy then nothing beats free weights, however a word of caution you can just stat doing free weights as a beginner you really need to engage the services of a personal trainer to guide you as you can cause major injury if your technique is not right.

Can you build muscle with just free weights?

Yes, you can certainly build muscle working with free weights using barbells and dumbbells and even kettlebell’s which have been around for centuries. Free weight’s enable the body to move through certain movement patterns ranging from pulling to pushing movements.

About Fred Liberatore

My name is Fred Liberatore and I’m a Body Transformation Expert at REALfit, located in East Malvern in Victoria. If you’re looking for a Personal Trainer, look no further. The REALfit team will train you hard while you slim down and learn how to live a healthier lifestyle here’s proof, click here to view our Success stories.

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