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Versus Series Part 3: Machines V Free Weights

Here we are, back with another common concern when you get into the gym for a workout. Machines or Free weights?!?!?!

Where to start?

What to use?

Those machines look like torture machines...

The free weights section sure is intimidating!

All the machines and free weights can be overwhelming to someone who has no idea how to use either. Whether you're an avid gym goer or a novice learning the ropes, sometimes figuring out which route to utilize is a tough move. Before I get into some pros and cons for each, let me clarify that this is not a post taking value away from either. Both have value, should be utilized safely and to help achieve your goals.

Lets get to some Pro and Cons of each.



-Easy to learn/use: Pictures on many machines will give explanations and demonstrations for proper and safe use. It's fairly easy to create a small time efficient circuit going machine to machine.

-Isolate a single muscle group: Machines are a great way to isolate single/large muscle groups. You can really achieve the "pump" sensation when busting out some reps and gain some strength.

-Allows you to build strength and work a bit heavier: If you're new to working out, free weights may be a challenge if you're lacking proper technique- not allowing you to work with some challenging weight. Machines can be a great way to develop a nice strength foundation and work with a bit more weight. **Even machines should be used with proper lifting technique and form, not just free weights!!


-No functional value: As stated, machines are great for adding some size, strength and working with additional weight. However, they completely lack human movement patters that you do daily. Machines don't translate too well for improving daily activities, especially when looking at athletics.

-Neglecting stabilizer muscles: While on machines, you're using larger isolated muscles, the smaller (yet just as important) stabilizer muscles take a back seat. Neglecting these groups can add to injury down the road. **These are normal muscles but their function is to ACT as stabilizing muscles.

-May lead to injury: In conjunction with the pro about adding more weight- this can also be a con. It's still possible to over load on machines, combined with poor form/technique, that's a recipe for injury.

-Not accessible during peak hours: Self explanatory and something we've all dealt with. Gyms get busy and machines tend to fill up with people who aren't as efficient with their time. If you only know how to use machines this could be a real annoyance for you.

Free Weights


-Allows for proper functional movements: Free weight exercises allow you to have greater carryover to movements you use on the daily.

-Full range of motion: With proper range of motion you're not only giving your body the ability to improve daily movements but you're allowing the body to stretch and move naturally, unrestricted and to its full potential- flexion and extension. Machines limit your movement while free weights allow you to explore a wider range.

-Allows you to train anywhere: One dumbbell or kettle bell can be used for a variety of movements: squats, presses, lunges, swings, and carries. Train anywhere at any time with more efficient movements.


-Developing proper skill/technique: Higher learning curve for a beginner than hoping on some machines. People may need some further explanation to prevent injury. Creating bad habits early with free weights is something you want to avoid.

-Greater risk of injury: If learning how to use free weights appropriately is rushed and moves are done with poor form and ego it's quite easy to cause an injury. Make sure you're learning from a knowledgeable source and take the time to practice lifting safely.

-Needing a spotter: If you're lifting fairly heavy and working on certain progressions you may require a spotter for assistance and safety purposes.

Now that some pros and cons have been listed, I want to be clear that was not an end all be all list and one is not inherently better than the other. Ultimately it's up to you and what your preference is.

I believe there's a place for both machines and free weights and there is a balance in benefiting from each. Your personal goals or needs is what is going to direct you in which to use. When you're a client of mine and work with me, I do limit you on machine use because I see way more value in free weights and building up total body functionality. As I said, I LIMIT my clients on machines, we still use them but in a more supplemental way. It's never the focus of any program I put my clientele through.

Take a moment, asses what you're trying to do and then go from there. If there's one thing to take away from this and any of the other versus blog posts its that you don't have to choose one. In part one, cardio pre V post, the answer was essentially IT DEPENDS. In part two, high V low reps, the answer was IT DEPENDS. Part three, machines V free weights...IT DEPENDS. Find balance in using machines and free weights together.

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