Free Weights Vs Machines
“Which method of training produces better results, Free Weights vs Machines?” seems to be a frequently asked question throughout bodybuilding. Whether you are browsing message boards and forums or even just being asked the question in the gym, it certainly is a hot topic.
I’ve decided to highlight the main positives and negatives of both free weights and resistance machinery to help you make an informed choice of which to incorporate into your bodybuilding routine, free weights vs machines?
Free Weights Vs Machines – The Pros and Cons of Free Weights
The main point to remember when working with free weights is that you are relying solely on the force of gravity as a means of resistance against the weight your body is trying to lift or move. This means that the resulting force of lifting the weight will only be at its maximum or peak when lifting in a fully vertical 90 degrees plane of movement. As our body parts naturally move in a series of rotary movements about an axis it can be hard to produce the maximum force of the weight we are lifting throughout a full range of motion.
This can result in the weight feeling heavier in certain stages of the movement rather than others. For example with a barbell or dumbbell curl our range of motion is dictated by our elbow joint allowing our forearm to move in a range of about 160 degrees which only allows us to feel the full force of the weight when our forearm is completely parallel to the ground (where gravity is pulling down and we are pulling directly upwards). This is the only stage of the movement where 100% of the muscle fibres in our bicep can be activated. Once we have passed this point in the range of motion, the force will start to decrease and the weight will feel lighter with a lesser stimulation of the muscle.
Now we have covered the main limitation of free weight exercises, let us move onto the positives. Free weights offer us the full freedom of movement allowing us to operate in a natural range of motion when completing compound exercises. This is a major positive as we are able to adjust movements and challenge our selves more so than resistance machines will allow.
This results in a greater emphasis on balance and coordination which helps to stimulate supporting muscle groups and build core strength that would usually be neglected when basing your routine purely around resistance machines.
Using barbells for compound movements not only help to stimulate supporting muscle groups but they also give us the opportunity to work more than one muscle group at the same time. A key example would be the deadlift which will employ pretty much all the major muscle groups ranging from our legs, core muscles, upper and lower back and arms with each lift. These types of exercises are better suited to building a solid foundation of muscular development due to a far greater amount of muscle being employed when lifting the weight. This in turn allows our body to withstand a larger amount of resistance and therefore stimulate a greater amount of muscle growth.
Free Weights Vs Machines – The Pros and Cons of Machines
As the main positive offered by free weights is a full range of motion, you can probably guess that one of the major negatives of resistance machinery would be the lack of range of motion, which is often the case. Resistance machines don’t allow for freedom of movement and are limited to a guided range of motion within the machines pre-built constraints. This will prevent us from adapting the movements to suit our natural range of motion which results in us losing most of the positives taken from free weight exercises.
The upside of this is that we are able to isolate certain movements to focus on certain muscles, this can be useful for lagging body parts of even in the rehabilitation of muscular injuries. However as discussed in the free weights pros and cons, compound movements have been proven as a means of building a greater amount of muscle mass overall so you need to weigh up what is required of your bodybuilding routine.
Another positive for machines is that they are not limited by gravitational force in a vertical plane due to many machines force being delivered by a series of cables, pulleys or levers. This means the resistance can be redirected at any angle required which can sometimes be useful for exercises such as the lat pull down which would be impossible to execute using barbell.
Some machines can be easier and safer to use for beginners, however this can be countered by propper gym induction via an experienced lifter who can teach you the correct form and technique required for free weight movements.
Free Weights vs Machines – The Conclusion
A combination of both free weights and resistance machinery is a good option to go for when putting together a routine. However, I didn’t write this article with the intention of sitting on the fence! If you are a beginner looking to build mass, I would definitely recommend you pick up a simple routine based mainly around free weight compound exercises. Seek the correct advice by experienced gym members on the correct form and technique and you won’t go far wrong. If you already have a solid foundation to build on after years of hard lifting, then I would still recommend using heavy compound movements using free weights to build mass, however I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend resistance machinery as an option to address certain lagging body parts.