The free weights vs machine debate has been going ever since machines have made their way into the gym. This is Iron Simba’s attempt at clarifying this issue. So when should you use machines and free weights in your training?
The answer is that it depends on what you seek to achieve and where you are in your training. In more other terms, where are you now and where do you want to go?
The nature of free weights
Free weights give you the possibility to perform natural movements. Each individual is built in a similar yet slightly different way, making our body unique. So one machine is not able to fit everyone perfectly. Free weights, on the other hand, do. In addition, because you alone control the weight, you need to balance it and recruit secondary muscles to do that. This means you work more muscles than using machines. Compound exercises are especially suited to free weights. The natural movement and greater recruitment of muscles both help you to lift heavier.
The fact that free weights recruit different muscles means they do not target a specific muscle well, instead calling on secondary muscles to help. Machines are able to focus all the efforts onto a particular muscle and also removes the need to balance the weight. All you need to do is push or pull and when your muscles are tired, you can keep going past your limit by just focussing on the movement. It’s safer too when you are past your exhaustion limit. Machines are a good choice when you need to add definition to your muscles.
Machines also introduce new movements and exercises that may not be possible with free weights alone: many back row exercises are done with machines; hack squats and leg presses cannot exist without machines.
Making a wise choice
Now that you know what machines excel at and what free weights are good for, you can answer the questions at the beginning and decide how machines and free weights can help you.
Where are you now? Are you a beginner who needs to learn the basics and focus on building muscles? Or are you an intermediate lifter who is ready to expand his training by incorporating advanced training techniques by combining machines and free weights? Have your workouts reached a plateau?
Where do you want to go? What is your goal? Are you entering a bodybuilding contest or do you want to hit the beach with your best body? Then you need to focus on defining your muscles. Alternatively, if you enter powerlifting or strongmen contests, then you need to train for strength.
You can start by choosing the right tricep exercise for you.
The bottom line is that any activity that actively works your muscles is bound to make them grow. But you want to train effectively and get as much gain as possible from each workout. So it pays to learn when to use machines and when to use free weights by matching their advantages with your training goals. So it really is about machines AND free weights. What’s your opinion on it? How do you incorporate these two in your workouts?