Free Weights VS. Machines (The Ultimate Guide)

Free Weights VS. Machines: everything you need to know.

By Coach Hunter Bennett

Free Weights VS. Machines — whats better?

In a past life I spent a lot of time trawling through bodybuilding forums watching people debate about training related stuff.

Sad?  Maybe.

Enjoyable?  Definitely.

Something I noticed is these debates often come to a close on their own. Over time, it becomes obvious that one side is better than the other, or people simply stop caring.

However, one debate that has stood the test of time is free weights vs. machines.

On one side, you have free weight enthusiasts stating their way of training is more “functional”. On the other, you have machine-lovers swearing that machines are best for joint health and muscle growth.

But surely they can’t both be right… can they? 

Free Weights VS. Machines

So, is one way of training better than the other?

Hint: it depends.

See, when it comes to weight training, there is no such thing as a “bad” exercise. Almost every exercise serves a function — when used correctly, that is. 

This holds true for free weight and machine based exercises..

Free Weight Exercises

A free weight exercise is anything that has you moving something through space. This means exercises using dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and even your own bodyweight fit the bill.

Generally, free weight exercises replicate athletic tasks like jumping, running, and sprinting, as well as things like walking up stairs and standing up from a seated position.

With this in mind, they typically have better carryover real world tasks

Additionally, as they require you to stabilise your body to produce force, they can improve stability to greater extent than machine based exercises.

But what about the gains, brah?

As a bonus, research clearly shows that any form of weight training will promote muscle growth and increased strength — including free weights

So, if they tick all the boxes, free weights must be better, right?

Not necessarily.

Remember when I said all exercises can serve a function?  Well that includes machine based exercises too.

Machine Exercises

Firstly, like free weights, machines offer a great way to increase muscle size

In fact, because they can isolate individual muscles more than free weights, they may offer extra benefits. I mean, if you want sick biceps — why not isolate them with a bicep curl machine (you know, a machine literally designed to train your biceps…). 

Obviously the same holds true for glutes, quads, hamstrings, and any other muscle group you can think of.

Secondly, although they may not improve real world strength like free weight exercises, they still develop muscle strength — which is important.

Many people entering a gym for the first time may not have the strength and stability required to perform free weight exercises safely. Which is when you can use machines to build up muscle strength and joint stability so you can get lifting free weights ASAP.

This process also has merit if you have any lagging weak points (i.e. calves or hip stabilisers), or are rehabbing a muscle strain.

Lastly, machines are the perfect way to train around injuries because they place less load on your joints. This means you can keep making gains while letting your body recover safely.

Did someone say win-win?

Free Weights VS. Machines: Key Points

Free weight VS machines, is one really better than the other?

In short no — they both have their benefits.

Despite what you heard on the interwebs, free weights and machines should have a place in your training program. They offer a heap of benefit, and when used together, can take your training to the next level.

So get both in your program and reap the rewards.


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