Free Weights Versus Machines – Which is Better?

One question that you might have come to ask yourself as you go about your strength training routine is whether you’re better off using free weights or whether you’d see far superior results using machines instead.

You often see individuals using both pieces of strength training equipment in the gym but still aren’t quite certain which is going to move you closer to your long-term goal of success.

Are you better off slugging it away on a variety of different weight machines that guide you through the path of movement or are you better off testing your skill at the free weights where you have to direct the pattern of motion?

Answering the question as to which is the best method to utilize as you put together a weight lifting program, whether it has a muscle building or fat loss focus requires you to understand the differences that each variation offers and closely look at the pros and cons of each, applying them to your own individual situation.

Let’s have a look at this more closely so you can see for yourself which is going to be best for you.  Remember, what’s best for one person may not necessarily be the route you should take, so think for yourself as far as this one is concerned.

The Advantage Of Guidance

As just mentioned, the very first benefit you’ll see with the machine weight lifting equipment is that it will guide you along the pattern of movement.

For the beginner who has never stepped foot in the gym before, this can be a very good thing. You’re feeling uncertain about how to complete the exercises and likely a little overwhelmed with everything that can be done in the gym facility.

Exercise machines will be comforting to you as you’ll essentially just get in them and move through the pattern of movement directed by the machine.  They tend to be very safe, straightforward, and ‘comfortable’ for the beginner.

On the negative side here though, one thing that’s important to note is that in some instances, the path in which the machine directs you on may not be right for your body.

For instance, if you’re a taller individual standing in a smith machine to do squats, you may be forced into a range of motion that isn’t right for your height and natural movement pattern. In that case, this is not going to be the best thing for you to do as it will up your risk of injury.

Generally speaking, if you’re using machines and it feels natural and comfortable, you’re okay to carry on.

If at any point it feels awkward though and like you’re moving in a way your body shouldn’t be, that’s your signal that you may be better off with the free weights for that particular movement.

The Element Of Core Strength

Second, the next thing to assess is the core strength element.  When you’re using machine weights, you’re basically sitting in the machine, being fully supported. How much core strength do you really think you need to maintain to carry out the exercise?

Hardly any.

But, when you’re using free weights, now your abs will be called into action in order to keep the body upright and maintain your balance.

If you’re on a quest for six pack abs, or even just a strong middle for that matter, free weights will be your best bet.  These will challenge the abs unlike machine weights will giving you a much more complete workout session.

Assessing The Risk Of Injuries

Moving on, also consider the injury risk. One of the biggest problems with free weights is the tendency to use poor form.

If you’re going about your free weight exercises and are not using good form, you could very easily pull or strain a muscle. Since you don’t have that machine there for support and guidance, the chances of this occurring are much higher and you really have to know what you’re doing in the gym at all times.

One small form slip and it could mean you having to take weeks off to recover.

The risk of injuries will be considerably higher with free weights than machines, so this is another pro and con of each to consider in your selection.

Considering Exercise Variation

Finally, the last issue to touch upon is exercise variation.  Since most gyms will have about 15-20 different machine weight stations (or less, depending on your particular gym), you will only have those particular options available to you.

With free weights however, the options are almost limitless.  There are many different exercises that can be performed with a set of dumbbells or a barbell so you’ll tend to have a much easier time challenging the body and beating a plateau.

If you often find you get bored going into the gym each day and doing the same thing over and over again, this makes free weights a far superior option for you.

Making Your Informed Choice

So there you have all the main factors to consider when selecting free weights or weight machines.  To summarize for you, let’s go over the pros and cons of each once again.

Free Weights:


  • Great for building up core strength
  • Plenty of exercise variation
  • Doesn’t lock you into a certain pattern of movement
  • Easy to perform at home


  • Risk of injury is higher if not using the right form
  • Can be intimidating for someone just starting

Machine Weights:


  • Is great for guiding you through the exercise
  • Tends to have a lower risk of injuries provided your body is a good size for the machine


  • Less exercise selection
  • Can be difficult for very tall or very short individuals to use
  • Doesn’t call the core into play so you will be required to perform additional core work on top of your weight lifting exercises

So next time you’re headed into the gym to do a workout, be sure to take all of these factors into account. Many people will choose to use a combination of both free weights and weight machines, but the choice is really yours to make.

When incorporated in properly and used in the correct situation, both pieces of equipment can be very beneficial for getting you the results you’re looking for.



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