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Free Weights Versus Fixed Weights

Have you ever wondered which is better: free weights versus fixed weights? Whether free weights vs machine equipment is a better way to work out?

Here are a few points to keep in mind…

Machines: The Gym is Full of Them!

  • Exercise machines are often not designed properly for a particular individual
  • Machines use motion in a fixed plane, making you conform to the movement pattern of the machine
    Example: Smith Machine squats, where the bar travels straight up and down. If you look at the movement pattern of the bar in a natural squat you will see that it does not travel straight up and down.
  • Machines tend to isolate a particular muscle or group, which means very little involvement from stabilizer muscles
    For example: the leg press targets the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, which are the same primary movers as the free weight squat. The difference is that during the squat, in addition to the prime movers, your abs and many back muscles will powerfully contract to stabilize the torso during the movement.
  • Machines are useful for performing some exercises more safely alone
    The chest press is best used for this, since performing a bench press alone is very dangerous. Other than that, free weight exercises are just as safe as machines as long as the proper precautions are taken during the lift and you execute the exercise with good form.
  • Beginners tend to feel more comfortable using machines for strength training (they are less intimidating!)
  • Machines can provide constant rotational resistance matching natural movement well
  • Exercise machines are useful for rehabilitation purposes, they make it easier to work around an injury
    Free Weights Versus Fixed Weights

Free Weights for Meatheads Only?

  • Free weight exercises are basically adaptable to everyone -the path of motion follows your own biomechanics
  • Free weight exercises require movement in 3 dimensions with increased muscle recruitment due to stabilization
  • Free weight barbell bench press is dangerous if performed alone
  • Free weights may seem intimidating to a new trainee. They may naturally choose machines in the free weights versus fixed weights debate.
  • Free weight resistance changes over the range of motion (bicep curl)
  • Free weight exercises most closely match functional requirements of the human body
  • If you travel, your exact free weight routine can be done anywhere (45lb is always 45lb) – on machines true resistance varies depending on the design
  • Muscle imbalances are easy to spot and correct with free weight movements

Free Weights Versus Fixed Weights – So What’s the Verdict?

In general, you’ll get the best results by learning how to use free weight exercises in your routine. It’s far easier to develop an effective (involve all your muscles) + efficient (time saving) workout using free weights. Plus, the strength you develop will translate better into real world activities.

However, it’s important to learn the movements correctly to reduce your risk of injury and to insure you are getting the most out of the exercises. With good instruction you can soon be training safely with free weights, versus fixed weights which offer the feeling of more safety immediately even without any instruction.

You can immediately start using free weights safely with instruction from a personal trainer. Working with a qualified trainer eliminates the fear.

When considering free weights versus fixed weights, although overall free weight exercises do have the advantage, there are some machines in particular that you will definitely want to include…

Machine Pullover – This machine provides rotational resistance that can’t be matched by free weights.

Calf Raises – Standing calf raise, seated calf raise, and donkey calf raise machines. These are all useful in comparison to the free weight alternatives due to difficulty balancing.

Assisted Pullup/Dip These are good for someone that hasn’t yet developed the strength to do full bodyweight pullups or dips.

Cable Machines – These are basically in a class by themselves. They eliminate most of the negative points associated with machines by allowing free motion in 3D and involving much more in the way of stabilizer muscle activity. Cable machines have the added benefit often providing resistance over more of the movement path than free weights.