Free Weights Exercises versus Machines


In the world of fitness today there’s an issue about free weights exercises versus machines.  This is about whether or not training with free weights exercises is superior or inferior to training with weight machines (high-tech apparatus).  This old argument has in fact been going on for years.  Both sides have some merit.  It’s the battle of free weights versus machines and typically one of bodybuilding’s longest running debates but anyone interested in strength training itself such as a football player would like to know the skinny on this one.

Free Weights Develop the Stabilizer Muscles whereas Machines Don’t

A stabilizer group of muscles can also be thought as the antagonistic muscles to the ones you are working.  If you are pushing using your front deltoids, pecs and triceps, then the pulling muscles being your biceps, lats and rear shoulders are surely helping you stabilize during a pushing movement.  It is true that the so called opposing muscles are not recruited as much with machines because the machine’s built in structural course of motion tends to take the place of the helping stabilizer muscles.  There is a higher learning curve with learning to do an Incline Press with dumbbells to learn balance rather than learning, for instance,  a press on a Smith machine.

Free Weights are Better for Beginners for Learning Lifting

A used cheap set of barbells and dumbbells is usually cheaper than machines. Following this argument is okay if one is only curious about strength training and doesn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a machine or a gym membership after watching some infomercial.

Free Weights Represent a more “Real World” Kind of Lifting

This argument also brings up the concept of compound (also known as) multi-joint exercises.  Compound exercises are those in which you rely on many muscle groups to help lift a weight.  You will surely have the ability to lift more weight with a compound exercise than when doing what is called an isolation exercise.  Although exercise movements on a machine tend to be more isolationist than with many types of compound free weights exercises, you usually will be able to press more on a machine press than a press using free weights.  This is because with a machine, you don’t need to balance the weight and the machine is taking the place of the stabilizer muscles.

It is harder to cheat when using machines

Each machine is featured to be used in a specific way to isolate the muscles intended for engagement.  This argument can, however, be turned around in favor of the compound nature of barbell exercises in which more muscles groups (motor units) are engaged at one time.  What exactly does one mean by cheat?

Machines are safer

This argument is certainly true.  You can pretty much close your eyes and be having a conversation on world oil  at the same time thrusting away on a leg press machine.  You don’t need to balance anything.  If you let go, no vertical heavy load will effectively crash down on your head or torso.  You don’t hear about concussions or thorax compression injuries happening too much when using machines because either the weights are a distance away from you or else the machine uses bands or rods.

A machine Offers Ease of Use

Stick a pin in a slot for your already known weight and you’re set to go.  There’s no hunting around for plates when changing to another exercise.  Machines certainly cut down on the work out time unless you have a multiple sets of barbells and dumbbells with the exact weights for each exercise.

Weight Machines Target Certain Areas Better

This is more of a bodybuilder argument.  As has been said before, machines tend to isolate more and not use stabilizers as much so if you wish to improve performance in a particular area rather than getting stronger in a movement, machines might be better.  If you care about only developing the chest and not so much about getting a bigger bench, switching chest press machine exercises whenever you plateau is usually the best thing than deciding a different hand grip with dumbbell flyes.

Conclusion

This debate has no signs of stopping.  Most tests done, if you can call them that, are based mostly on personal experience from different coaches and trainers. Free weights appeal to “old school ways” guys and machines to more gimmicky minded practitioners.  It tends to have more to do with the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands).  That is, if you practice free weight benching, then that’s what you’ll get good at.  If you get to be good at a machine press then you become adept at that.  Oly and Power lifters will gravitate towards the free weights in their weight lifting workouts because they are using free weights (barbells) rather than machines in their events.  Bodybuilders will tend to prefer machines because the equipment is designed more for developing the muscles of specific body parts and are very much compatible with different types of circuit training.  Powerlifters might possibly benefit from machines if they used them only for assistance work.  The debate of free weights exercises versus machines will never end.

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