What Is The Difference Between Weight Machines and Free Weights?

When building a program for strength, should you include more free weights or machines when first starting out?
This is a great question—as both develop lean muscle mass, strength, and power.
But which one is better? And which one should you focus on the most?
To be honest, it depends on a lot of factors.
If you’re a beginner—or it’s been awhile since you set foot in a gym—I usually recommend machines, since they are great for developing strength and building muscle, without adding stress to the rest of your body.
Machines follow a specific range-of-motion and focus only on the muscles you’re looking to target.
Free weights, on the other hand, focus on the muscles, supporting muscle, and other stabilizing tissue, like tendons and ligament.
And, you can change your focus using free weights so you can target the muscle differently, which you can’t do with a machine.
One other benefit of machines is it targets a specific muscle group, like the biceps for example, when other muscles are fatigued or sore.
This way you can still target the muscle you want, without putting stress on areas that may be too sore.
Personally, I do a combination of both. I love the added benefit of developing stabilizing muscles, or entire muscle groups, when doing free weights, such as a squat, deadlift, or bench press.
And, if I am tired or the free weights aren’t available, then I can turn to machines to get the same workout, often in less time.
You may also be more at risk for injury doing free weights compared to machines. Most free weight exercises involve more than one muscle group, and there are a lot of moving parts, which may increase your risk for injury.
Machines, however, minimize the risk, because you’re only going in one motion. Yes, if you’re doing the machine wrong, you can still injure yourself–but the risk goes down significantly compared to free weights.
For those coming back from an injury, machines are the best option, since you can be sure you’re using proper form, and focusing on the muscles you want to work.
The best workout combines both free weights and machines, so you can hit different muscle groups (free weights), and then focus your efforts on weaker areas so you can build strength and power (machines).
If you’re looking for the best workout possible, and you’re stuck between free weights or machines, the best program would include both. And if you’re unsure how to include both into you work out, let one of our trained staff guide you to developing the best program for your goals.
Your friend and trainer,
Paul F Sweatt
Train Smart. Train Hard. Train Safe. Train to Sweatt