Free Weights or Machines: Which is Better?

When you walk into the gym for the first time, it can be a bit overwhelming to see all the different exercise equipment laid out in front of you. In addition to all the fancy machines—elliptical machine, Stairmaster, exercise bike, treadmill, dozens of weight machines, and the list goes on—there's also all the free weights racked along the wall. You may have NO idea where to start. Below, we'll take a look at free weights or machines to help you know which is your best choice:

Experience Matters

As a gym newbie, you may have NO idea what to include in your workout. It can be daunting to learn dozens of new exercises and have to master their form all at once. For many newbies, weight machines can be the safer choice. With their limited range of motion, the risk of injury is much lower. On the flip side, weight machines focus only on the prime movers, but don't recruit the secondary stabilizing muscles. To see serious progress, you have to get away from the machines and use free weights. As you start gaining experience and control, it's time to start incorporating more and more free weight exercises into your workout routine.

Space Matters

The amount of space you have to work out in is another major factor in the decision to use free weights or machines. If you're setting up a home gym, you probably don't have a ton of space to set up dozens of dumbbells, squat racks, bench for bench presses, and other free weight racks. A weight machine (with all its fancy additions) could be the space-saving option you want. However, if you're at the gym, space isn't really a factor. You have the entire gym floor to use, so you can take up as much room as you want! At the gym, free weights are a better option.

Training Matters

What type of training are you getting into? If you're new to working out, the training regimen isn't as important as the fact that you're training. Weight machines help you to get through the workouts quickly and efficiently and reduce your risk of injury. That's often more important your first few months at the gym. But as you become more proficient at weightlifting and resistance training, you'll want to incorporate new training modalities that focus on different aspects of fitness. That’s when it's time to switch things up, and free weights are the more versatile option.

Time Matters

Racking and re-racking your free weights takes time. You have to mess with the weight discs, grab new pairs of dumbbells, and wait for the other lifters to be done with that bench or squat rack. If you only have a short amount of time to work out, you may find the less-occupied machines are a better choice. But free weights are more efficient, hitting more muscles with every exercise. Ultimately, they're a better use of your time.

Fitness Matters

The fitter you are, the more you want to start using free weights. Machines can accommodate your lack of flexibility and the limited range of motion of your joints, but free weights push you to increase your ROM and flexibility. In the end, that will be much better for your overall fitness level. At the same time, every free weight exercises engages your core and develops strength in your abs, back, and obliques. The results will be much more visible thanks to this engagement. In the long run, free weights are ALWAYS the better choice!

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