Free Weights or Machines. Which is better?

We’ve all gone to gyms and seen the majority of people in the cardio and machine-related sections of the gym.

We’ll also notice others that stick consistently to the squat racks and free weight sections of the gym for the majority of their workouts.

Which one is the better bet?

Are we better off with one over the other depending on our fitness level and how experienced we are in the gym?

In general, a machine-based exercise will lock you into a fixed pattern or range of motion where your main focus is on “pushing” the weight. Many machine exercises are created for a small number of exercises. They’re typically designed to perform a standardized movement pattern which can make it seem appealing to beginners in a gym setting. Machines can be easier to learn for this reason since they’re intended to perform one specific exercise and are so structured that it’s difficult to do an exercise incorrectly.

On the other hand, a free weight exercise is controlled specifically by you. You need to control the direction of the weight as it’s being moved which gets your stabilizer muscles involved. In general, free weights create more muscle activation relative to exercise machines. This means they’ll typically do a better job of helping with your muscle growth since there are additional muscles that are being recruited.

In addition, by focusing on compound movements using free weights, there are numerous muscle groups that come into play depending on the exercise. For example, with a squat, you’re working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abdominals and back. This means that if done correctly, you’re getting a much bigger bang for your buck in comparison to doing hamstring curls or leg extensions which are isolation-based movements that are targeting one main muscle group at a time.

This is why the bulk of personal training programs will focus on compound movements as they are much more effective in driving the results that you’re looking for in a fraction of the time since they actively involve multiple muscle groups instead of isolating one muscle in particular.

That being said, machine exercises can also be very useful at the end of your workouts. If you noticed that some of your muscle groups are completely drained and you want to get in some additional volume, adding in some machine exercises can be a great idea. For example, let’s say your arms have next to no energy left in them towards the end of your workout, but you felt as though you had some volume left in you for some chest work. Hitting the incline chest machine could be a great alternative if you know that you won’t have the same amount of output when doing a bench press with free weights.

Overall, we definitely suggest focusing the majority of your time on free weights in comparison to machines. Free weights will help you reap significantly higher benefits in the majority of cases. As always, it’s important to ensure that you have the correct foundation and that you’re using correct form when executing these movements. Having the help of an expert personal trainer will help mitigate any risk of injury by ensuring that your form is on point. Assuming that your form is on point, doing free weights over machines is definitely a no-brainer in our opinion.

If you’re interested in setting up a complimentary session with one of our personal trainers, feel free to give us a call at 1-888-682-0724 or sign up on our website at We’ll be happy to hold a quick call with you to learn more about you and your goals so that we can pair you with the right personal trainer on our team for a complimentary session.

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