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Why Free Weights are Better Than Machines
It's amazing how many people instinctively gravitate towards the weight machines, particularly the newbies to the gym. There's something awesome about being able to sit down and start working out, even if you don't have a trainer to help you. Machines make it possible for n00bs to hit the gym hard on their first day, but don't make the mistake of getting accustomed to working out with machines! Free weights are way better, and they'll lead to a much more effective workout all around. Why is this?
Machines Offer Stability
Machines offer stability, as they work in a single dimension (one direction). Your body only moves in the single direction that the machine is designed for, and you hit that single muscle hard. However, you need to work more than just one muscle at a time. The more muscles you engage, in fact, the stronger you will become. The stability offered by machines actually slows your overall progress.
Free Weights Have No Stability
Free weights are just that: "free". There is nothing holding them in place except for your muscles. They can wobble, slip, tilt, and fall if you don't take care to hold them stable. This means that ALL of the secondary muscles have to engage to keep the free weight in place. You end up building a lot more strength in muscles you didn't even know you were working out, simply because it takes effort to control the movement of that heavy weight.
Machines are Stiff
Think about the Smith Machine. It's a barbell that slides up and down, with absolutely no flexibility for the forward and back or side to side. It allows for a single plane of motion. The human body, on the other hand, is designed to move in three dimension (up and down, forward and back, side to side). Machines can't mimic the natural movements of the human body, and thus they aren't the best choice to help you build functional strength.
Free Weights are Limitless
With a free weight, you can press it, pull it, curl it, carry out, or fling it around. Free weights allow you to move in every direction, so there is no limit to what you can do when working out. They give you a much greater range of options for exercises, and the movements are all natural--ideal for working out.
Machines are Easy
Probably a bit too easy. When you use a machine, you end up relying on the stability and stiffness of the machine to keep your form tight. You don't have to push yourself hard to perform the exercises with the right form, and most of the time you are sitting or lying down as you work out. This means that there is far less strain placed on your body, and you just don't get the same quality of exercise as you would without the machine to back you up.
Free Weights are Hard
Have you ever tried to Squat or Lunge with free weights? It's much harder than doing Leg Presses or Leg Extensions, right? How about trying to bench press a heavy barbell? Much harder than using the Press Machine, right? The truth is that working with free weights is harder, but that difficulty is what will lead to muscle growth. Without the difficulty level, you'll just be wasting your time at the gym. It's the struggle that causes you to pack on the muscle and grow stronger, so anything that’s too easy is going to be doing you a disservice. The harder the better!