Resistance Machine vs Free Weights, what should I use?
The age old question, should I use the resistance machines or the free weights?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to try and find an answer!
To give some insight, here are some examples of resistance machine and free weight exercises:
Resistance Machine Free Weight
Leg Press Barbell Squat
Shoulder Press Machine Military Press
Seated Row Bent Over Row
First things first, no one is better than the other, there are specific advantages of each!
If you are looking to supplement a cardio program or build muscle, some form of resistance training is needed in your training program, whether this comes through using machines or free weights is irrelevant as long as it is being done!
Resistance machines are designed to specifically target muscle groups in the body - and are very good at doing that. The chest press works the pectorals in the chest, the lat pull down works the latissimus dorsi in the back. If you think you are working a certain muscle, 9 times out of 10 you will be (everyone makes mistakes somewhere!).
It’s very hard to get the technique wrong on machines - resistance machines allow us to lift weights without having to worry too much about technique, a lot can go wrong in a free weight squat whereas very little can with a leg press with similar muscle activation in both exercises.
Free weights recruit more muscle – these type of exercises recruit a high amount of stabilizing muscles as well as the main muscle group being worked. The increased muscle fibre recruitment will help us get stronger in the long run compared to just using machines alone.
Free weights enhance our intra-muscular coordination – where resistance machines dictate which muscle are being used, free weights require us to do this process. This allows for greater control of our muscles and a better transfer across to sporting performance.
Also more variety - there is a greater variation of free weight exercises which can reduce the likelihood of boredom setting in and keeping us going to the gym on a regular basis!
To conclude, both resistance machines and free weights have their own advantages and are both excellent for training. My best advice would be if you have learnt the techniques required for free weight exercises, start your session with free weights and use machines for accessory exercises. If you are worried about technique then use the machines and ask an instructor to go through the free weight exercises with you and add them to a structured exercise program.
Written by Tom Smith, fitness instructor & strength and conditioning coach