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Machine Weights or Free weights?

Well that’s a good question. There seems to be a bit of hype around swinging heavy kettlebells and barbell hip thrusts to gain those ultimate glutes… but are free weights really better?

Firstly there are instances when we recommend machines, simply because they help you get in the right position to perform the move and its easy to change the mount you are lifting to get it right so if you:

  • Are just starting out in the weights room
  • Are recovering from injury
  • Want to go heavy and you don’t have someone to spot for you

Then machine weights are definitely your best option.

Benefits of free weights?

If you’re training for overall strength, power or athletic ability free weights are a better choice. The stability and skill required for free weights will better prepare you for explosive moves as well as increase strength in your natural movement patterns of pushing, pulling and lifting.

An example: in a study of improvement in jump performance, 100 men were divided between two groups and studied over eight weeks. Half performed the parallel barbell squat while the other did leg presses twice a week. The barbell squat group were able to significantly increase their squat jump and countermovement jump. Meanwhile although the leg press group did not see improvement in their jumps, they were able to significantly increase their 1-rep-maximum.

Isolation Exercises

Generally speaking machines can be good for working targeted muscles. You might have fatigued your back and torso muscles doing a barbell squat, but still want to work your glutes and so you can do a glute kick-back on a machine. Arnie was famous in the seventies for workouts that included both free weights and machines.

Best for Muscle gain?

The answer might surprise you = it actually doesn’t make that much difference! A post-graduate study of 15 men and 21 women, using both types of equipment tested muscle mass, thickness, and strength at both the beginning and end of the study in which some men used only free weights, some only machines. The results showed no significant difference between the groups.

So what should you do?

Well, machines will allow you to put up more weight and lift heavier than free weights, because the limited range of motion will allow you to lift heavier, and if you just want to put on some headphones and train alone – maybe machines are the go. If you have a training partner and no injuries then free weights might be the go! Ideally your program will include both and be tailored to your goals. It’s worth checking in with a trainer to make sure that your program aligns with what you’re after.

Complimentary meetings with a trainer to discuss your training plan are included free as part of your Hiscoes membership.