Free Weights vs. Machines

  • It's an old question. Is there a difference if you feel the burn during the workout, no matter how you get to that point? At the college gym I workout at, many of the free weight stations are clogged with bodies during the morning, and so I'm kind of forced to the machines. I seem to feel just as much benefit with the machines as I do the free weights. Thoughts?

  • I've always felt free weights are better than machines.  Machines work the specific muscle, but free weights require supporting muscles to help maintain balance and good form.  


  • Hey Colossus,

    I just posted on another discussion about this very same topic.

    Machines are typically safer (when they keep the weight more stable) and allow you to lift more weight (which can help with faster muscle growth).  The down side is that you aren't working the stabilizer muscles which give you control  and this can make you more prone to injury in other activities.

    Free weights can more easily cause injury if you don't use good form.  Because of the control needed, you develop the stability muscles which gives your body more control in general and can help make you less prone to injury in general (assuming you follow good form).  You typically won't have as much muscle growth this way (especially with dumbbells).  

    So in my experience I have had to decide what is most important for me - do I want to have more muscle growth or do I want to have more control.  I like the idea of mixing things up and working on muscle growth some and then doing something that helps my stability.  

    Barbell exercises sort of meet in the middle.  For example: Chest press with dumbbells requires the most control and use of stabilizer muscles so you likely won't be able to lift as much as a barbell bench press.  Lifting a barbell for a bench press is easier than the dumbbell press to control the weight so you can usually lift more.  If you use a machine with the chest press motion you can often lift even more because you usually only have to control the press motion.

    Hope this helps.


    2012 Body for Life Champion

    Men 18-29

  • David has a great point on the machines and barbells.  Do not forget that you can use dumbbells too.  And you can use them in every situation as the barbell stations that you are waiting for.  If you are working on your back and the lat machine is full...go do pull ups.  If you are want to use the squat machine and its got a waiting list....grab some dumbbells and do dumbbell squats.  The only true machines that I feel are the best workout for the muscles that they are for are the leg ext, and leg curl machines.  Everything else you can do with barbells and dumbbells.

    Machines are a great tool and can be used for other areas that free weights cant hit, but your overall best workouts are with free weights...period.


    Tis better to look UP in the mirror to be inspired than to look DOWN at the scale and lose your desire!! - SEM

  • Greetings, I used both during my last challenge (some machines on cardio day), right now I am using cardio and just machines but for real gains I will be going back to free weight within the month,  just finished AR this week so It's back to work soon, going to try a 3-4 day workout courtesy of another company for one month.